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There’s More to Heroism Than Just Telling the Truth

America has plenty of genuine heroes, people who have put everything on the line for our freedom and safety. Those who did no more than stand up to a defeated president’s lies don’t qualify.

Atlanta firefighter Matt Moseley rescues Ivers Simms.
True heroism: Atlanta firefighter Matt Moseley, dangling from a helicopter, rescues Ivers Simms from atop a 250-foot crane on April 12, 1999. (Source: WXIA-TV/11Alive)
Former Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp are not heroes just because they refused to go along with former President Donald Trump’s lies about winning the 2020 presidential election. Neither are Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger or Bill Gates, the chairman of the Maricopa County, Ariz., Board of Supervisors, two other Republicans who stood firm in the face of Trump’s pressure to “find” the votes to overturn legitimate election results. And, as hard as it is for this father of two daughters to say, the composed, unflappable 26-year-old Cassidy Hutchinson, whose recent testimony before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol rocked the nation, is not a hero either.

The mainstream media, like a giddy teenager having a first date, have gotten into the habit of proclaiming any Republican public official who rejects Trump’s “big lie” a hero. CNN went so far in a recent special report, entitled “Trumping Democracy: An American Coup,” to devote an entire hour to Republican leaders who refused to break the law and violate their oaths of office to aid Trump in his attempt to steal the election.

Acts of heroism involve going beyond what is expected, sometimes putting your life on the line, and doing what the average person would not think of doing. Martin Luther King Jr. and other participants in the civil rights movement — facing angry mobs armed with billy clubs, hanging nooses, vicious dogs and guns — were heroic. Andrew Young, the former U.N. ambassador, congressman and Atlanta mayor who had been a top aide to King, said that each time they marched or protested for justice they knew they might not return home alive. This is what heroism looks like.

It’s not hard to find genuine heroes. Malala Yousafzai, the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, was shot in the head when she was 15 years old. This unsuccessful attempt on her life by a Taliban assassin was an act of terror aimed at sending a message to others that they shouldn’t protest for the rights of women and children of Pakistan and elsewhere to be educated. Yousafzai, now 25, continues her activism from England. Her fearless advocacy is the stuff of authentic heroism.

And heroes are not only found in national or international movements for human rights. When I served as the chief of communications for the city of Atlanta in the late 1990s, a major fire leveled the five-story Cotton Mill Lofts in the Cabbagetown neighborhood. As this violent fire was consuming the building, a young white firefighter, Matt Moseley, hitched himself to a cable from a helicopter to rescue Ivers Simms, an older African American worker who was trapped on a crane above the fire. Moseley made it to Simms in time to save his life, but had the cable snapped both would have fallen into the blazing pit below. Moseley described his actions as being rooted in his belief in God: “The Lord just said there you go and spun me around and I ran right into it. Grabbed the crane and climbed up on it.”

Firefighters like Moseley and other first responders frequently place themselves in harm’s way to preserve the lives of residents they don’t know. Their acts of heroism often go unheralded, and many of them are inadequately paid. Yet while true heroism like theirs often gets overlooked, some are quick to give outsized credit to public officials for merely telling the truth — for speaking out against a defeated president who, by all evidence presented thus far, was attempting a coup d’état to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.

At a minimum we should expect all public officials to be honest, supportive of the U.S. Constitution and committed to keeping the guardrails of democracy in place. When they place the greater good of our country over the interests of their political parties — when their work and policy positions are in the public’s best interest — we thank them by voting them back into office. They don’t deserve to have a halo of heroism placed atop their heads.

Nevertheless, for months now pundits and the news media have continued to feature, praise and venerate conservative Republicans who resisted Trump’s pressure to participate in altering the outcome of the 2020 elections. Many of them are in tightly contested partisan elections this November against worthy Democratic opponents with long records of supporting justice and democracy. These Democrats were among the first to denounce Trump’s lies and conspiracy theories. Are they, because of their political party, less deserving of praise? They find themselves in the position today of not only having to counteract their opponents’ campaign smears and attacks but also their opponents’ free national media coverage depicting them as heroes. This is patently unfair and undermines the spirit, if not the rarely enforced language, of the federal rule of equal time.

As I reflect on this past Fourth of July, I think about a long list of true heroes and patriots who over the centuries offered their lives to obtain, preserve and protect democracy. I think about a self-educated former slave who championed freedom by the name of Frederick Douglass. I think of women’s rights activists like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Fannie Lou Hamer, Alice Paul, Harriet Tubman and Ida B. Wells. I think of fallen firefighters and other first responders, soldiers who died on the battlefield, and the thousands of medical professionals who died or became extremely ill trying to save the lives of patients afflicted with COVID-19. These are just some of our true heroes — people who put their lives on the line for our freedom, health and safety.

Governing's opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing's editors or management.
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