Some acts of courage don't get the recognition they deserve

  • Javeed Akhter

    Javeed Akhter

By Javeed Akhter
Guest columnist
Posted2/28/2021 1:00 AM

History tells us that major crises inspire some to high acts of courage. The recent event of the mob attack on Capitol Hill was one such historical event where a handful of representatives showed remarkable courage. But it turns out there are two types of courage.

The mob attack resulted in one security officer's death and injury to scores of others. One wonders what would have happened to Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi if they had not been whisked away just in time from the bloodthirsty crowd. There is general consensus that the mob had been whipped into frenzy by then-President Trump.


In the impeachment trial that followed, seven Republican senators broke rank with their fellow party members and voted to convict Trump. For some it was a safer decision than others. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania are retiring in 2022 and did not have much to lose. Similarly, Susan Collins and Ben Sasse are not up for reelection till five years from now. Mitt Romney has been a steady critic of Trump and voted to convict him after the first impeachment but still got elected and his seat is secure.

The two senators who put their political careers on the line were Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Among the ten Republican Congressional representatives many risked their political career, but Adam Kinzinger of Illinois' 16th district stood out. Kinzinger has been bold and unequivocal in his criticism of Trump's incitement and has confronted Trump's supporters head on.

One would hope that Republicans would have joined in large numbers to convict Trump. Or at least recognize the courage that the handful of their colleagues displayed. I was hoping to hear statements like "I disagree with their decision but appreciate the stand they took." It is a sad commentary on the human condition that this did not happen. Understanding goes only so far.

There are two types of courage. Both are admirable, but they are different. One is the spur-of-the-moment type like jumping on a train track to save someone who may fallen on it accidentally. Such heroes do not have the time to think of the consequences of their action. It is their built-in instincts, the morality embedded in their DNA, that makes them act. If they survive, almost without exception, they later say they do not consider themselves heroes and do not regret what they did.

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The other act of courage is more considered. People displaying it know the risk they are taking and yet feel that they would not be able to live with themselves if they did not act the way they think is right.

Cassidy, Murkowski and Kinzinger are at a real risk of losing their seats and witness their political career go up in flames. But they acted according to their conscience. For their stand of "doing the right thing" they were castigated and censured by their party, and in Kinzinger's case practically disowned by some members of his family.

Washington County Republican Chair Dave Ball's comment on Sen. Toomey's justification of his impeachment vote encapsulates the attitude of many in the Republican Party. He said, "We did not send him (Toomey) there to do the right thing or whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us, and we feel very strongly that he did not represent us."

Next time around, Dave Ball and his party should send robots without consciences to represent them.

The 1956 book "Profiles in Courage," ghost written by Ted Sorensen for John F Kennedy, lists eight senators who took what they considered to be the right stand defying their party. The most relevant is Republican Edmund G. Ross of Kansas who voted for Democrat Andrew Johnson's acquittal in his impeachment trial and lost his bid for reelection two years later. He and public figures like him earned the ire of their constituents and were ostracized by their party; the more things change the more they stay the same.


The spur-of-the-moment acts of courage are often recognized as heroic and eulogized, as they should be. But acts of cool and considered courage rarely if ever get that kind of recognition.

I lean Democratic in my politics, but these Republican representatives would be on my personal Mount Rushmore. They give hope to our nation. It is not the size of our economy or the armed forces that make the world look up to us.

With all of our faults, it is the freedom of expression and religion, sense of fair play and justice, inclusive society and democratic governance that make us stand out. If we have more politicians who have the courage to vote their conscience, we would be able to solve the equity, diversity and inclusion deficit in our society.

• Javeed Akhter is a physician and freelance writer from Oak Brook.

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