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Opinion | Why Donald Trump and Liz Cheney Are Locked in an Endless Feud

Whatever else it is, this old honor culture has deepened today’s identity politics. Ostracized from the genteel establishment, many working-class Wyomingites see themselves in these new shows of Trumpian bravado. Like other Americans, they feel a sense of kinship with those who act like them. As Ms. Stubson lamented, “We had never been able to connect to the larger community.” Her husband, Tim Stubson, a former Wyoming representative, admitted that “there was a current there that we were not aware of.”

Honor culture isn’t about just identity, though. This primitive code also seems indispensable to those Republicans radicalized by today’s polarized politics. If one is persuaded that the left is on the verge of destroying American civilization, then electing as many fearless fighters and strongmen as possible is the order of the day. That is why a prominent MAGA donor like Tom Klingenstein said he sees Mr. Trump as “just what the doctor ordered” in “these revolutionary times.”

Enter Harriet Hageman, Mr. Trump’s proxy candidate in his war against Ms. Cheney. A lawyer who once aligned with the old guard, Ms. Hageman broke from Ms. Cheney’s clique to pursue power. Attuned to Wyoming’s new right, her first campaign ad is already appealing to the state’s deeply rooted honor culture. It accuses Ms. Cheney of breaking the “code of the West,” one that requires “loyalty,” “honor” and a willingness to “fight” for compatriots.

Ms. Cheney, though, is fighting on behalf of her own code of honor. Hers is driven by a fidelity to what the Yale political theorist Steven Smith calls “enlightened patriotism,” one that insists on “loyalty to a particular constitutional form that we call liberal democracy or constitutional democracy.”

Such patriotism has always been in tension with the motto “my country, right or wrong,” because it is beholden to abstract, creedal principles, such as equality, individualism and the rule of law. And because these principles are open to interpretation, patriotism in the United States has long had a distinctly critical, questioning character. Mr. Smith even suggests that it birthed the nation, since the American revolutionaries regarded themselves as the true British patriots, not traitors.

Not unlike those British subjects facing a subversive king, Ms. Cheney had no real choice when faced with Mr. Trump’s assault on our constitutional order. To Ms. Cheney — and her Republican supporters in Wyoming — it would have been shameful to remain loyal to Mr. Trump. This is why, on the first anniversary of the Capitol invasion, she admonished on Twitter, “Anyone who denies the truth of what happened on January 6th ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Beneath the surface of their honor feud lurk clashing understandings of political ambition. Unlike Mr. Trump, Ms. Cheney is seeking the esteem of future generations by doing what’s in the public interest even if she is cast out of office for doing so. Ms. Cheney told a Wyoming paper that just moments before her fellow Republicans pushed her out of House leadership, she warned them “that history was watching.”

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