Wanted: Profiles in Character and Courage

“To be courageous… requires no exceptional qualifications, no magic formula… whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces, if he follows his conscience – the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men – each man must decide for himself the course he will follow.” – Profiles in Courage, by then-Senator John F. Kennedy

Living a life of principle is not easy. Demonstrating personal character and courage in times of crisis is the heart of ethics.

Right now, in this moment of uncommon domestic crisis, Congressional Republicans are not just failing a test of character, they’re failing to live up to their oath of office.

Watching President Trump in the White House Rose Garden in a Q&A with reporters regarding a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico that he has insisted on since day one of his campaign, I kept watching those who stood behind him in silent support: Representatives Steve Scalise and Kevin McCarthy and Vice-President Mike Pence.

I kept thinking, when did they abandon their oath of office? At what point did they go along with even a partial shutdown that would directly affect the lives of more than 800,000 government employees, contractors and their families?

When did they choose a wall over fundamental principles of honesty, fairness and responsibility?

At one point, each of these men stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and, in the case of Mike Pence, the Capitol steps and repeated to God and country:

“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

In that Rose Garden, all three of these Republican leaders stood in front of the country and listened to flat-out falsehoods told by a man they continue to vigorously support.

What about other Congressional Republicans who took that same oath? Senators Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, Patrick Toomey, Susan M. Collins, Ron Johnson, Tom Tillis, Richard Burr, David Perdue, Johnny Isakson and John Cornyn…

“…that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”

When did they replace faith and allegiance with tribalism and unreason?

Rob Portman, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Ted Cruz, Joni Ernest, Chuck Grassley, Tim Scott, Roger F. Wicker, Dan Sullivan, Roy Blunt, Lindsey Graham, Pat Roberts, Bill Cassidy, Todd Young, Jerry Moran, John Boozman and Lamar Alexander…

 “…that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion…”

When did these Senators evade their responsibility to the majority of the country in favor of a vocal minority known simply as “the base”?

Mitch McConnell, John Thune, Deb Fisher, Richard C. Shelby, John Hoeven, Shelley Moore Capito, Steve Daines, John Kennedy, Lisa Murkowski, James M. Inhofe, Mike Crapo, Mike Rounds, Tom Cotton, James E. Risch, John Barrasso, James Lankford, Ben Sasse, Michael B. Enzi, Mike Lee and Rand Paul.

“…and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.”

When did they break faith with the American public they serve only to support a man who is not only conspicuously unfit to serve, but has dissipated the expertise of respected leaders like National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell, Secretary of Defense General James Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security and Chief of Staff to the President John Kelly, Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn, FBI Director James Comey, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, Director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

In a speech last May to the Virginia Military Institute, Tillerson summarized the issue before Americans, perfectly.

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom. …

“If we do not, as Americans, confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both public and private sectors, then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years.”

When will we see a return of political character and courage?

1 comment… add one
  • Andrew Reis January 10, 2019, 4:43 pm

    When our elected representatives breach their oaths of office, as Jim cited, they lack courage most probably because they fear political backlash. That backlash may well mean the end of their careers, whether initiated by the President, Congress, or the voters.

    This democracy belongs to “We The People,” and we must exemplify courage in the ballot box to show that a breach of political oath by our elected officials will not be tolerated.

    I do believe the President and his silent supporters will ultimately face adverse political consequences. Perhaps those silent supporters ought to muster some courage not only because it is their ethical duty but because doing so is in their long term self-interest.

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