A Profile in Courage
I listened the other day to the New York Times “Daily,” a podcast. This particular episode, from Friday, January 15, 2021 featured a brand new member of Congress from Michigan, Peter Meijer.
Meijer, a Republican, holds the seat once held by Gerald Ford. He is veteran, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He wants to end our “never-ending wars.” He wants, among other things, to take action addressing climate change.
And he is one of ten members of Congress who voted to impeach Donald Trump. In this podcast he recounts his first day in Congress on January 3, the unfolding of events on January 6, and his decision to vote for Trump’s second impeachment.
His vote took real courage, something far too many members of Congress couldn’t muster. Listening to Meijer describe the tensions, the pressures and his own decision-making process is moving and reassuring. Reassuring because his integrity is evident. That said, nothing in his remarks is self-serving.
It was Trump’s 4:17 p.m. video on January 6 (“We love you, you’re very special people”) that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Meijer. Still in lockdown with colleagues at that point, he described that video from the President as a “kick in the gut,” one that showed the President to be “rankly unfit” for the office he held.
Meijer already had a target on this back for having affirmed Biden’s win when the electoral votes were tallied in December, then for voting to accept the results of the election on January 6. By becoming one of the ten to vote for impeachment, he made the target a bulls-eye. He understood that these actions might mean his defeat in 2022 and a quick end to his congressional career. I hope, for all our sakes, that isn’t the case.
Profiles in Courage was the title of little book written by John F. Kennedy prior to his election. One of my Sunday School teachers at Rock Spring Congregational Church in Arlington, Virginia gave me a copy with a nice inscription. She expressed her confidence that I would, in time, demonstrate leadership and courage myself.
On January 20, 1961, at age 12, I was an usher at Kennedy’s inauguration. It was a bitterly cold, January day, as tomorrow also promises to be. But there weren’t thousands of soldiers on alert, deployed at the Capitol and other federal buildings in D.C. There weren’t perimeter fences and barriers. Nor were there check-points all over the District.
It’s a sad thing that this is now the situation. Still, we hope and pray for an inauguration that is safe and glorious. We know that America is bedeviled by a legion of people so out of touch with reality that they have accepted Trump’s lies about a stolen election, some willing to resort to violence. We also know that for every Peter Meijer there are ten Republican leaders who are profiles in cowardice or cynicism.
But for now we look to those, like Meijer, who have demonstrated great courage. I also count Joe Biden as himself an exemplar, a profile in courage. Much is made of his age — 78. But surely he too must have wondered if he could or should run again given his age. Doing so was not an act of ambition, but of courage.
The word “inauguration” contains within itself the word “augur.” It means to consider the signs or omens of the future to take place on that day. So tomorrow we shall watch for the signs and the omens and pray that they portend good. We need it.