History and literature are replete with examples of men and women who bravely risked their lives and their reputations for a cause that they considered to be greater than their own well-being. These individuals are often regarded as both hero and villain. For example, each and every one of this nation’s revolutionaries was a hero to their cause and a traitor by their country.
One such individual was John Hancock, the wealthy and politically powerful President of the Continental Congress. As the man responsible for approving all revisions to the Declaration of Independence, he was the only signatory whose name actually appeared on the document for the first six months or so. So he and he alone boldly stood as a traitor to the crown on July 4, 1776.
Then there was young Nathan Hale. He graduated with honors from Yale in 1773 at the age of 18. Two years later, he enlisted in the Connecticut militia. One year later, Washington asked him to go behind enemy lines and report on British troop movements. He was captured and hanged as a traitor. A British officer witnessed the event and recorded the following: “He behaved with great composure and resolution, saying he thought it the duty of every good Officer, to obey any orders given him by his Commander-in-Chief; and desired the Spectators to be at all times prepared to meet death in whatever shape it might appear.”
We have been thinking a great deal about the idea of heroism and its potentially dualistic nature over the last few days and weeks, largely because the nation is bitterly divided over the actions of countless agents, analysts, and administrators in the nation’s law enforcement and security apparatuses who have been desperately trying to undermine the Trump presidency since before it began. Among the most prominent of these individuals are Andrew McCabe and James Comey, the former Deputy Director and Director of the FBI, respectively, who had dedicated their entire lives to the nation’s top law enforcement agency, but then used their positions of power to launch an illegal plot against a duly elected President of the country that they had sworn to serve. Indeed, the entire special prosecutor business that was integral to their scheme was a product of clandestine, government (and thus taxpayer-funded) effort to find dirt on Trump and his team BEFORE they were even sworn into office.
Now, most conservatives view their actions as shocking, frightening, and, above all else, deeply disloyal. At the same time, they and their co-conspirators are regarded as heroes by individuals who share their hatred for Trump. Our question – the one we’ve been pondering for days – is which side is right. Are they heroes? Or are they self-serving, faithless bureaucrats who substituted their own will for that of the people?
If we were betting men, we’d put our money on the latter of the two. You see, another way to judge the heroism of those involved in a cause is to gauge whether they take ownership of that cause and responsibility for their actions. Consider, for example, the case of John Brown, the radical abolitionist. Brown was a hero to those who hated slavery and wished to see it abolished, but he was a seditionist traitor to those who didn’t. Indeed, he was tried and hanged for sedition and treason for his attack on the armory at Harper’s Ferry. Even, history regards Brown as a hero, for one very important reason: not only did he stand up for the cause in which he believed, he readily accepted the consequences for his actions. In his final speech before the court he put it this way:
This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to "remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them." I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!
Brown didn’t complain or whine or insist that he’d been treated unfairly. In fact, he did precisely the opposite. “I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial,” he said, “Considering all the circumstances, it has been more generous than I expected.” He didn’t insist that he was innocent and that the KNOWN consequences of his actions should not be applied. He took it like a man, to coin a politically incorrect phrase.
Now, contrast Brown’s behavior with that of Andrew McCabe. McCabe knows what he did was wrong. He knew when he undertook it that there would likely be repercussions if he were caught. He undertook those actions anyway. And now he’s whining about it, acknowledging that he might take a short-term position with a (Democratic) Congressional office in order to secure his full pension. And think of this last bit as well. Whereas John Hancock was willing to give up his life for his cause, and Nathan Hale and John Brown DID give up their lives, McCabe is worried mostly about his retirement benefits…and, we suppose, his “reputation.”
Consider as well that most of the individuals who have used their bureaucratic positions to undermine President Trump – in the CIA, in the NSA, in the EPA, and so on – are unknown. They’re brave and dedicated to their cause, but only from behind a screen of anonymity.
Obviously, we have no idea if President Trump will go down in history as a great, two-term leader or if he will be impeached tomorrow. At the same time, when it comes to the actions of those working inside the government to thwart him, Trump’s eventual disposition is irrelevant. They will not grace the history books as men and women of character and determination. And their cause will not be remembered as noble. If it were noble, they’d embrace it, along with the consequences of that embrace. But they don’t. They hide and, when caught out, they snivel.
Many on the Right think that McCabe, Comey, and their ilk are traitors. That’s hyperbolic. Still, they are a far cry from being heroes.