You Are Not The Hero


While this is an unoriginal thought even though the topic is only 24 hours old, I still need to say it:

Hey, you! Author of that anonymous NYTimes editorial about how Trump is so bad but the Trump administration is so good? Yeah, you. You are not the hero.

PZ has mentioned this and gets it right, but many here remember Ed Brayton, whose writing I greatly respect, and Ed Brayton gets it wildly wrong. He says exactly the opposite:

I suspect that this kind of thing might well topple a lot of other dominoes and set off a reaction where a significant chunk of Republican politicians, advisers and thinkers decide that this is the time to take down the elephant.

And frankly, they would be heroes, and history would treat them as such.

No. When you pull out a gun on a kid playing in a park and then you put the gun back in your holster, you are not a hero. You’re Frank Freuding Garmback. You don’t get to be the hero just because you’re not Timothy Loehmann. You’re probably not a bad person, but you’re not a hero.

But for a Constitution- and Rule of Law-fetishizing author of this Op-ed to be called a hero is worse than lionizing a Frank Garmback: the editorial writer makes no effort to encourage invocation of the 25th. The editorial writer is engaged in apologia for the administration if not the President, and the anonymity, far from being a necessary capitulation to the exigencies of working for Trump, is in fact a tool to absolve every administration official and White House employee of their complicity.

Here’s the truth: the constitution gives two ways to take a madman out of the White House: impeachment and the 25th. If you recognize that governmental legitimacy and authority in the US flows from its constitution, then while you are an employee or appointee of the executive branch, you are duty bound to follow the directives of the President. To respond to dangerous incompetence for the office by subverting the authority of the sitting president rather than openly calling for the impeachment and removal of the president by congress or the invocation of the 25th and removal of the President by the Vice-President and the cabinet, you are shredding the constitution.

This author rejects, quite fully and fundamentally, the authority of the US Constitution, and defends as heroes the people who arrogate to themselves power legitimately given only to someone actually elected to executive office. These are not the actions of a hero. Nor is the use of anonymity to give cover to anyone and everyone who might possibly have written the editorial.

Quit. Invoke the 25th if you have the standing to do so. Openly advocate for the invocation of the 25th and/or the impeachment described in Article II, Section 4 and authorized in Article 1, Sections 2 & 3 (and quite possibly get fired for doing so).

Those are the ethical and effective options of someone who has put themselves in this position by seeking and accepting a job in this administration. The author chooses none of these.

And what is worse, though we don’t know the author’s identity (and, like PZ, I’m not interested in knowing it), it is most likely that anyone in a position to write such an editorial actually worked to put Trump in office. In this case, we’re not looking merely at someone who finds themselves faced with the possibility of losing a job and decides that betraying the constitution is preferable. We’re talking about someone who actively participated in the creation the very catastrophe which they want credit for partially ameliorating.

When you set a fire that burns a house and kills two people, you aren’t a hero because after the fire consumed the staircase you got two people out of a bedroom on the main floor. Yours in the blame for the deaths, not the credit for the rescue.

You are not the hero.

 


ETA: As is so often the case, someone else has written a pithier version of what I perseverate upon. In this case, it’s chrislawson over at PZ’s thread on this topic. Nice work, Chris. Very well done.

Edited: Enlightenment Liberal made me realize that this comes across as saying that one cannot ethically stay and subvert an administration. Rereading the post, I realized that what I was thinking at the time was not as clear in my writing as I would like: If you want to be a hero, you must stand in vocal opposition. There can be many reasons to stay in your job, keep your paycheck, and do your best to limit the harms of a Trump. But these are not the actions of a hero. So I edited the 1st sentence of the paragraph immediately following the paragraph with the Frank Garmback reference.

Originally that sentence began like so:

<blockquote>And the situation with the anonymous editorial writer is worse</blockquote>

The new sentence begins like so:

<blockquote>But for a Constitution- and Rule of Law-fetishizing author of this Op-ed to be called a hero is worse than lionizing a Frank Garmback</blockquote>

The “situation” is now spelled out as lionizing someone who came to power through participation in a rule-of-law and Constitution fetishizing party for publicly seeking praise for their rule-of-law and Constitution-subverting acts.

Hopefully the new sentence will communicate the background facts (about fetishization) that weren’t in the original post at all as well as highlighting (again) that the issue is about <i>being a hero</i>. Continuing to collect your paycheck and doing your best to subvert bad things might be ethically justifiable, depending on what you do and how you do it it might even be ethically praiseworthy to some minimal extent, but it doesn’t make you a hero.

Comments

  1. blf says

    Pedantic (sort-of) point: There is a third legal way to “remove” the “president” — non-cooperation. Teh thugs did this to a degree during Obama’s last years, most notably, perhaps, by mostly refusing to consider any judicial nominations.

    A more sustained campaign would include not passing (or even voting on) any “president-desired” bills, passing only those the “president” objects to and vetoes (and then overriding), and doing what teh thugs did to Obama but with knobs on, not considering any appointments or treaties. None of that “removes” the “president” in the sense of depriving the depraved of office, and doesn’t fully curtail the depraved’s powers, but does seriously crimp the chimp’s poo-throwing. (It also can, of course, blow-back nastily, with the “blame” being put on Congress.)

    Another obvious problem with this “strategy” is it requires a (near-)veto-proof dummie (well, non-thug) majority, which is unlikely to happen — and the dummies to act in a coordinated fashion, which as per my name for them, is next-to-impossible (even for non-binding resolutions as simple as saying “some puppies are cute”).

  2. Jenora Feuer says

    Fred Clark over at Slacktivist put this quite nicely:

    All of which means that this op ed reads less like an indictment of the president than the feckless defense of some Vichy functionary desperately trying to save his neck by pretending after the fact that he’d been a subversive saboteur all along.

  3. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I feel weird. I see lots of people, including several respectable people, saying the same stuff as Crip Dyke in the OP. I don’t understand how they have that particular sentiment. Perhaps my understanding is incorrect, but I read it as saying “the OP-ED author should do the noble thing and resign and come forward publicly instead of “unethically” / “illegally” subverting Trump from within”. More specifically, I read it as saying “you should favor certain principles instead of doing ‘unethical’ things which achieve results”. Moreover, I definitely don’t get the incredibly strong sentiment.

    I think I understand and applaud people who choose to remain anonymous, and who perform “illegal” / “unethical” actions to thwart Trump, or anyone else, in their official capacity. It’s similar to “civil disobedience”.

    For an example, consider anyone inside the Nazi organization who stayed on in order to subvert as much of it as they could. (I was about to type “extreme example”, but then I realized that I’m comparing Nazis to Trump, which isn’t that extreme at all.) Are you saying that such a person should be bound by honor and principles, and come out and resign in useless protest? That makes no sense to me.

    Of course, I agree with #2. It seems like the OP-ED author who claims to be subverting the rule of Trump is not doing so for entirely laudable reasons, and arguably mostly deplorable reasons, and so I agree with that sentiment. However, I cannot yet agree with the more-abstract claims being made that anyone in their position should resign instead of subvert from within.

    Normally I’m quite amenable to “rule of law” issues like this in normal times, but we do not live in normal times.

  4. says

    I wonder if we’re seeing the same issue.

    I’m not saying that everyone must resign. I’m saying that disobeying the law does not on its own make you a hero. When Thoreau advocated that the proper place for an honest man in times when the government was locking people up for such “crimes” as assisting fleeing slaves on the way to Canada or even merely (as in a few actual cases) opposing slavery in print was in jail.

    Yet there are many reasons why one might not want to end up in jail. Imagine having sick or young or otherwise not self-sufficient loved ones who are dependent on your care or income. Yes, there are definitely reasons. But you don’t declare yourself an anti-slavery hero for choosing to stay out of prison and feed your family.

    The op-ed writer wants to sacrifice nothing. Anonymous wants to keep all the power of the position in which Anonymous works while taking **additional** power illegally in order to prevent the use of legitimate power for what they see as illegitimate ends. Now, I also see those same ends as illegitimate, but I’m not wanting credit for being the “Resistance” as Anonymous calls that group of people illegally disobeying presidential orders, a group described as including Anonymous.

    If you want to be a hero then the way to do that is to stand up publicly for the rule of law. When the civil rights leaders in Alabama protested the Edmund Pettus Bridge’s honoring of a white supremacist and marched over the bridge towards Selma, they didn’t have rifle-armed bodyguards shooting the police before the cops could beat them. Nope, they stood up, did the right thing, and they took what they knew the unjust system would dish out – just as Thoreau advocated. That made the heroes.

    Anonymous is clear that they’re sticking to their policy preferences. They aren’t abandoning the idea that Trump has any legitimate power. They’re embracing the idea that they get to pick and choose which Trump actions are legitimate. And they’re wanting credit for being the resistance.

    If you join the Nazis because you believe in Nazism, if you helped their rise to power, if Hitler offers you a plum post because of your loyalty, and THEN you discover Hitler is a scumbag, then sure. Stay in your post and subvert Nazi atrocities, if that’s what you feel you can do. But don’t send a letter to the NY Times announcing to the world that only Hitler is bad and all the rest of the Nazis are really good people just trying to make the best of a bad situation under an unstable leader.

    My opinion – and you’re right that it is vehement – is that nothing in the editorial or the choice to write it makes the writer worthy of praise. You have to do a lot more than support the policies you like and ignore orders to implement things you don’t like and praise yourself in the NY Times to make yourself into an actual hero.

    THAT, in times like these, requires crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge and standing up bravely to what you know is coming. Sneaking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the dark of night and writing a letter to the NY Times about how you would never have crossed at all except John Lewis was a jerk who kinda forced you into it won’t cut it with me.

    …so I hope that makes very clear that my problem isn’t with the people who choose to stay and subvert for the choice to stay and subvert. My problem is with the idea that they think they’re the heroes of this story. Thus, my position seems to be quite close to what you’re articulating here:

    Of course, I agree with #2. It seems like the OP-ED author who claims to be subverting the rule of Trump is not doing so for entirely laudable reasons, and arguably mostly deplorable reasons, and so I agree with that sentiment. However, I cannot yet agree with the more-abstract claims being made that anyone in their position should resign instead of subvert from within.

    My “more abstract claim” is about what it would take to be legitimately perceived as a hero, not what is ethically mandated for every person serving in government (or even just those in positions that require direct contact with Trump).

    As for your position, I’d be happy to hear more of what’s important to you in this discussion. You say,

    Normally I’m quite amenable to “rule of law” issues like this in normal times, but we do not live in normal times.

    I agree with you. But the President is not above the law. If POTUS orders something illegal, the law actually requires that a government employee not follow that order. This is expected and again not heroic. It’s not “lawless” or contrary to the rule of law to refuse to follow certain orders. However, the bit about stealing the letter from POTUS’ desk in order to deny POTUS the opportunity to withdraw from a bi-lateral trade agreement with South Korea (something POTUS does have the legal power to do/order) clearly indicates that they aren’t limiting themselves to this kind of refusal.

    Again, there may be something mildly praiseworthy – ethically speaking – about such an act, but context matters much to analyzing the praiseworthiness of an action. Speaking the words,
    “The Jew is in my house,” to the Gestapo can be greatly morally praiseworthy if the Gestapo is looking for one particular Jew and you and everyone else in town are being questioned at gunpoint and then you and everyone else in town voluntarily and in sequential unanimity announce “The Jew is in my house.” The praiseworthiness of the spoken words is very different if you are the only one who speaks up and the Jew hunted by the Gestapo really is in your house.

    So I’m not willing to praise anyone remaining and subverting, but I am withholding judgment and I’m willing to consider praising at a later date when more information is available.

    In that vein, what do you consider the most important factors in judging such actions? What would you want to know to decide whether the illegal subversion (not legally authorized refusal to follow an illegal order) was or was not praiseworthy? How much of what you want to know is about the context of these times (the seriousness of any threats issued by Trump, etc.) and how much is about the individual motives or the details of how someone went about their task of subversion?

  5. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I’ll try to answer specific questions later, but I think we’re in full agreement.

  6. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Thanks for the detailed response.

    In that vein, what do you consider the most important factors in judging such actions? What would you want to know to decide whether the illegal subversion (not legally authorized refusal to follow an illegal order) was or was not praiseworthy?

    I’m not sure. It has to be to counter something horrific IMHO to justify subverting rule of law. Also there must be a reasonable expectation that normal avenues of redress are unlikely to be effective.

    How much of what you want to know is about the context of these times (the seriousness of any threats issued by Trump, etc.) and how much is about the individual motives or the details of how someone went about their task of subversion?

    There’s definitely a large gap here. I was talking mostly about the abstract, and I misunderstood. For a similar concrete example, I would support any military coup that happened in response to Trump trying to do a full scale invasion of China, Russia, or the like, with no good reason, or if Trump tried to do a first strike with nuclear weapons. My bar for a military coup is pretty damn high. My bar for lesser subversions is still pretty high. The kind of subversion also matters – obviously: talking him out of something is different than using delaying tactics is different than taking and hiding a paper off his desk.

    Is there anything else that you would like me to respond to?

  7. says

    One the state has demonstrated it is illegitimate, no further obedience to it – or its laws – is required. In fact, if its laws are immoral, disobedience to those is arguably a moral duty.
    One is not morally obligated to disobey the Third Riech’s parking meters, though one could claim that by doing so they were offering token resistance. Well, token resistance would be if you jumped the subway turnstiles…

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