Cheney & Pence. Heroes?
I was 6 years old when we all ran outside our subdivision in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, because the house across the street was on fire. Like, really on fire, with gusts of flame coming out the windows. Someone yelled that the baby was still inside, and without hesitation, my father ran into the burning house to save the baby. I’m pretty sure he was the only one who did. For weeks, there was adulation in the local paper and our neighborhood about the hero, my dad. I said something at dinner about him being a hero, and he told me that he wasn’t a hero and to never mention it again.
Years later, I asked him about why he had responded so angrily to my awe way back then. He said something like, “I was not a hero. A hero weighs the possible outcomes, determines that a course of action is not necessarily good for him, and does what is right anyway. I didn’t think. I just ran inside the house. I’m not sure I would do it again. I’m no hero.”
I thought a lot about that over the years, because I love a good hero. Who doesn’t? And I even thought I could be one. If the Holocaust came to my country, I would surely hide my Jewish friends in my basement. I used to think about where I’d wall it off. If given the opportunity, I would be a hero — or, at least, I hoped I would — but always in the back of my mind were my father’s words.
One of the definitions of a hero refers to courage as a trait surrounding a hero. According to Brené Brown, with whom no one I know will argue, after more than 14,000 interviews with people who had a courageous experience, there is no act of courage without vulnerability. Interesting.
Back to heroes in our midst. The last few months have seen the press heralding a lot of “heroes” in the political arena, especially around the events of January 6. Liz Cheney is a hero? She might lose her seat in Congress, but she drew her line in the sand with Trump and what she wasn’t willing to do to hold on to her power. Now, we have Pence, who is a “hero” for refusing to leave the Capitol until he’d completed the job of the vice president of counting the electoral votes. Then there are those who were pressured by Trump and his MAGA Shirts (my term for those such as Eastman, Giuliani, and the like, derived from the Brownshirts of the 1930s in Germany), who stood firm. Rusty Bowers, a Trump supporter, who risked his and his family’s safety to stand tall and say no to the illegal requests of the MAGA Shirts, comes to mind. He was vulnerable, but he decided to do the right thing. Is he a hero? Maybe he comes the closest to that definition, but I’m not sure he knew the risk he was taking when he said no.
I have trouble with the Pence heroism rebranding. He is refusing to speak to the U.S. House Select Committee, but he welcomes those around him to speak. He talked to a plethora of people, trying to continue his four-year unwavering commitment to Trump’s destructive bidding when asked to change the electoral count. He wanted to do what Trump wanted, but it wasn’t until a few smart guys told him he could go to jail for doing so that he finally refused. And I have a funny but confident feeling that “Mother” had something to say about it too. He is no hero in my book. He doesn’t get elevated status for doing the right thing once in four years. Should we talk about the days and days of his standing behind Trump, denying the devastation of the pandemic when he was in charge of it?
Cheney will live to run again, maybe even for president. She is doing the right thing, and I applaud that. Pence is less concerned with the future of the democracy and more concerned with his unobstructed view of a possible future as president, in my opinion. Heroes? Not in my book.
And why do we need to make them thus? Why can’t we just compliment them for doing the right thing, even if it’s not in their personal best interest? It’s like the act of giving every kid a blue ribbon when they do OK but certainly don’t deserve the trophy. I have always said I will not be defined by the worst thing I have done or the best thing. I will be defined by those in between that don’t shine in the public eye and don’t get front-row-center billing. That sentiment has never been truer for a Cheney or a Pence.
You want a hero? How about a firefighter who trudged up the stairs of the World Trade Center in the hope that maybe he could save a few people even if he wouldn’t be one of them. Perspective, people.