The New Profiles in Courage
Terry H. Schwadron
May 18, 2019
Time was, “profiles in courage,” like those about whom John F. Kennedy wrote in 1957 were lonely characters who stood for the common good against a tide of anti-liberalizing tradition.
It’s a big step to now, when such profiles of courage are for people like Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, who has stood against his Senate Republican colleagues to subpoena Donald Trump Jr. to rectify or re-align his sworn committee testimony — before allowing Junior to set the terms of a private interview. Burr has faced intense pressure to drop the subpoena and quickly wrap up the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation about what happened during Russian interference in the 2016 election seemingly with no changes in mind.
In my mind, it’s a low bar these days.
Senate Republicans appear to be more interested in protecting Donald Trump from anything that looks like criticism associated with the all-things-Russia probes than deciding, say, whether Junior had lied — a crime. The president has been non-stop in his declarations that the report by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III (as interpreted by Atty. Gen. William P. Barr) “exonerated” him (and Junior) totally of any criminal conspiracy or obstruction of justice changes.
The Mueller Report did neither, of course, but it did stop short of criminal charges because there are rules about indicting a sitting president. Indeed, Junior has now won agreement to limit his remarks to five or six topics, which may make the whole appearance less than it had seemed.
To many Republicans, the news of Trump Jr.’s subpoena presented a painful dilemma: Stand with a respected GOP chairman who has held together his committee for years during a contentious probe, or with a president who takes vengeance on fellow Republicans who cross him and his family.
I wonder about all this because it seems totally reasonable to demand an accounting from Junior as a discrete matter, without undermining the Trump presidency. If Junior lied to Congress, his testimony should be referred to Justice for prosecution.
But that’s not how current-day profiles in courage are working.
Instead, seemingly no public statement these days escapes hard definition by narrow partisan political category. We have lost the ability to be able to see this statement or that event in a manner that runs counter to the banners of pro-Trump or anti-Trump.
There is nothing about questioning Junior in this case without it being seen as a reflection on whether we should re-elect his father. That’s nuts.
Besides, Junior is either going to skip out on the subpoena, creating a new problem, or plead the Fifth.
Instead, there is talk already about a yet-more-conservative primary to bring down Burr in conservative North Carolina. Burr himself suggests he won’t seek reelection.
You might rather think that the people we ought to be looking at a profiles in courage involve those very FBI agents who were part of the investigation at the beginning, the same ones now being targeted by a vengeful Justice Department. It is easier to judge in retrospect, but these people were called upon to find out secretly whether a candidate for the presidency were unduly involved with Russian intelligence operatives — a tall order that took guts to undertake.
Or what about former White House lawyer Don McGahn Jr., who, as detailed by the Mueller Report, who was willing to stand up to Trump and not move to dismiss Mueller from his appointed task of investigating but who may not now be willing to answer his own House subpoena? Or Mueller himself?
Broaden this idea, and you see a lot of willingness to heap manure and disreputable talk on anyone willing to take a stand.
Rather than praise AOC — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — for fresh, if sometimes outlandish remarks on issues ranging from climate disruption to ethics, it is too easy to dump truckloads of ridicule on her for opening her mouth altogether. So too with congressional colleagues who raise issues relating to Palestinian support or dissent from our hardening immigration policies.
Donald Trump is first in line at decrying the use of “political correctness,” a sense of awareness about swiping whole classes of people in partisan remarks. But he is also first in line to rebut real political correctness when it involves anyone who takes a position that differs from his own. Then it is within bounds to undercut the individual or group with tweets that ridicule, with belittling nicknames, with threats of sending a horde of Trump social media users to bury the individual in political detritus.
Meanwhile, the president, who often plays victim in the political wars, shows himself by action to be the opposite of profiles in courage. His recent activities to take over the independent, national Fourth of July celebrations to turn it from a citizen event into a Trump campaign rally using patriotic themes absolutely reflects an egotistical boorishness that is anything but courageous.
Courageous these days is to stand for the public good. Trump stands for Trump First, Last and Only. That will be his lasting profile.