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Is It a Profile in Courage?
At Steady, we hope to provide context, perspective, and, at least on Saturdays, a smile. We also want to create a space where we can learn from each other and see the world from new perspectives. We hope to spark discussion, debate, and even, perhaps, disagreement.
We have a feeling that today’s topic might be a little controversial, and we are eager to read your thoughts in the comments section below. As always, we ask that we treat each other with respect. We can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.
Last Friday, I saw this series of tweets from Illinois Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger:
As most of you know, Kinzinger has become, along with Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, a vocal Republican critic of President Trump and his assault on American democracy. Both members of Congress are serving on the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack.
In response to Kinzinger’s public regrets on not voting for the first Trump impeachment, I tweeted the following:
Well, the response was quite, shall we say, varied. There were many who agreed with the characterization that this was a courageous act:
But many others, maybe even the majority, took exception. And some quite strongly. I want to make it clear that there are often trolls who seek to attack on social media, usually proffering lies and propaganda as their weapons of choice. Those I ignore. But this discussion was very different:
I do read the comments, and I appreciate the sentiment.
A common refrain was that if Kinzinger is such a courageous defender of democracy, why has he opposed voting rights laws?
Others had some version of too little, too late:
Some explained that with rather colorful analogies:
Some wondered if I was joking:
Alas, it was not shade.
I want to begin by granting the validity of all the points raised above and many others people offered in the comments to my tweet. That said, I want to explore with a bit more nuance what I think of the stand Kinzinger and Cheney have taken, and why I think it represents a profile in courage.
I believe it is human nature to find it difficult to dissent, especially when the overwhelming tide of opinion in your group is pushing in a certain direction. It is one thing to harbor doubts in private, maybe even to work an inside game. It is very different to speak out vociferously about what you think is wrong and to call out your peers for their mistakes. It is even harder to acknowledge your own. That all of this is happening under the vindictive eye of Donald Trump and his army of true believers makes the stance of dissent all the more noteworthy.
I have been around Washington a long time, and I know how rare it is to go against your party on something so central to prevailing political ideology. But the high burden of dissent isn’t limited to politics. It can be found in corporate structures, the military, sports teams, even newsrooms.
History isn’t merely a passive assortment of dates, names, and events. It doesn’t accumulate like sedimentary rock. We shift it by the actions we take in the present. That there are members of the Republican Party—not former officials, not people waiting to cash out on book deals, but elected members of government—who have not only spoken but also acted in defiance of Trump and his legions of attack dogs has fundamentally changed how this period of American history will ensue.
Republicans who seek to protect Trump, or just wash their hands of the entire mess and hope the voters forget, are stymied every time Kinzinger takes to the airwaves or Twitter. It isn’t easy to paint all of these investigations as partisan witch hunts when two people who have decisively Republican legislative records, including on matters that infuriate Democrats like opposition to voting rights, stand up to hold Trump accountable.
Those who demonstrate profiles in courage are not by definition heroes. You could argue that they should still be defeated when they stand for election. Their policy positions can and should be criticized when necessary. Their contradictions are fair game for political criticism.
But one of the trendlines that I fear has gotten us to a perilous state in American politics, and indeed world affairs, is that too many people try to see the world in black and white, overlooking the inherent complexities of events, nations, and individuals. Progress often means finding points of agreement and compromise with people with whom you disagree on a whole host of issues.
As I have stated many times in this newsletter, there are a whole host of issues about which I disagree with Adam Kinzinger. And voting rights is first and foremost among them. I hope that his journey of self-reflection includes reexamination of that topic. I have witnessed similar journeys from others in the past, and I have hope. But in the meantime, I value the courage he has taken in this one particular stand. The clarity of his statements and conviction around Trump’s actions and his (un)fitness for office carry an important moral weight.
In my mind, it is a profile in courage, when America desperately needs it. I understand others see it differently. And I respect that point of view.
I now open the floor to all of you.
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