This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As a former kicker at Brigham Young, Jason Chaffetz is used to people trying to rattle him.

Sorry, Utes fans, you don't compare to what he faced at a raucous, chaotic town hall Thursday night.

"Rice Stadium was even more polite than those folks were," Chaffetz said Friday.

But Chaffetz didn't need to hit a field goal Thursday. He already won just by showing up.

While other congressional Republicans have ducked for cover or opted for safer, controlled telephone town halls, Chaffetz, to his credit, stood on a stage in front of what he knew would be a hostile crowd and took the lumps.

Yes, it's probably the bare minimum we can expect from our elected officials, but it also takes a degree of courage to stand on stage and defend some really terrible ideas.

The venom directed at Chaffetz was astounding, as a packed house shouted him down during answers, booed responses they didn't like, and heckled him at every opportunity.

It was a profound demonstration of the anger and frustration that is boiling over in the early days of the Trump administration, and outlets like MSNBC and CNN broke into coverage to carry the chaotic display nationwide.

By Friday afternoon, about half a million people had visited sltrib.com to watch the train wreck in its entirety, because apparently it's hard to get your fill of shrieking and mayhem when Real Housewives isn't on.

Picking through the wreckage of the town hall, however, it's hard to see what was accomplished and how anyone benefited but Chaffetz.

Was the congressman chastened or swayed in the slightest? It sure doesn't sound like it.

"It's nothing short of bullying and intimidation," he said. "The Democrats own this. I was trying to have a civil dialogue. I genuinely wanted to reach out and have an opportunity to listen, not listen to them scream. They were flailing and screaming like I've never seen a 2-year-old do."

Chaffetz says he was the focus of a coordinated national effort, claiming paid operatives were brought into Utah to help inflame opponents and are doing the same to disrupt town halls across the country. He offered no evidence of this.

But, the congressman says, he has been "inundated" with response to the event from Utahns who were "appalled" at how aggressive and rude the crowd was.

He has managed to use the backlash to make himself the victim. And it's easy for him to do. While those who packed the town hall hailed it as a victory, the optics for outsiders were starkly different.

Those people didn't see an engaged audience, but an angry mob. The scene Thursday night was not unprecedented. In 2009, there were similar displays from the right as tea-party loyalists packed town halls and shouted down members of Congress, getting in the face of people like Sen. Arlen Specter and forcing others to cancel events entirely.

Now the political pendulum has swung the other way. But it's also time for those fuming at President Donald Trump and Chaffetz and Congress to be more than tea party 2.0 and learn from the failures of that movement.

Keep in mind, the tea partyers sought to crush the political establishment and ended up tearing themselves apart. The Republican Party in Colorado, Arizona and Nevada are still trying to patch up the holes the rowdy crew left behind.

I get that people are angry about the election and furious about what Trump has done since, with good reason, and it's heartening to talk to people who have not been politically active who now are getting involved.

But simply being loud isn't always the best way to be heard.

I've encouraged friends to focus their efforts locally — it's a prime opportunity to lobby their legislator — where they can make a real difference.

Whatever the direction, this kind of energy needs to be channeled in a constructive direction. It has to coalesce around issues and goals and messages.

That will be the real test in the weeks and months ahead.

Otherwise, as we saw Thursday night, it has the potential to burn the whole house to the ground.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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