For a moment in 2019, Gordon Sondland seemed to be a hero. During the impeachment hearings, the ambassador to the European Union testified that he had firsthand knowledge of the president withholding aid in exchange for the Ukraine investigating his political rivals. His testimony brought it all together. On social media, a picture of Sondland smirking at the camera was quickly passed around.
But Sondland’s testimony doesn’t make him a hero. When you buy yourself an ambassadorship with a racist administration and then later you tell the truth about constitution-violating acts he knowingly aided, you don’t get to call yourself the hero. Truth telling and smarmy is still smarmy.
Rep. Adam Schiff could be a hero. But he’s not. Schiff’s steady solemn hand over the impeachment proceedings is a necessary level for the crazed conspiracy theories of walking Facebook comment section Rep. Devin Nunes. But Schiff voted for the Iraq War and voted to pass the Patriot Act. His liberal awakening has closely coincided with the polling numbers of his district.
Former National Security Council official Fiona Hill Fiona Hill would be a good hero. She’s a smart, qualified diplomat, who was pushed aside by the less qualified Sondland in order to further an agenda of bribery. She spoke in the impeachment hearings about the sexist double standard of her expertise being tossed aside for Sondland’s weak pandering. But she also walked down the middle of the road, noting that criticisms of Donald Trump during the 2016 election were “unfair.” Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch would be too, the career diplomat who was ousted by a Giuliani smear campaign for the crime of doing her job. But America is fond of making women into heroes only to destroy them.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi could be. Her speech before the impeachment vote was a powerful reminder about the duties of the constitution. But Pelosi too, is not a hero.
What about the Republicans who defect from their party? The Evangelicals now calling for the president’s removal? No. Not them either. They waited until an impeachment process organized by Democrats to do the right thing, ignoring credible accusations of sexual assault and children dying on the border. Not them either.
We look for the perfect Democratic nominee. Will they be our hero?
Locally, we look to our leaders to save us from Iowa’s poisoned waters and corporate interests that pollute our green spaces and our homes. No one is saving us here. The governor promises and promises, but nothing ever happens. The senators who promise to cut corruption end up being the ones dealing the most in corruption.
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It makes sense we’d look for a hero. Our culture is rife with stories of impossibly muscular beings who swoop in and save us. Our Democracy is run by the spasmodic rantings of a foolish dictator. We look up to see who will come to rescue us but no one is coming.
Looking for a savior is an impulse that absolves us of our guilt. And we do not deserve this absolution. Even those of us who didn’t vote for the parties in power still need to grapple with the fact that when we allow racism and sexism and cruelty to continue on our watch. We perpetuated this new American dysfunction.
This America didn’t happen in 2016. This America always has been here. It’s just that we now see it clearly. And we don’t like what we see.
And so we want a hero. But there are none to be found.
They aren’t heroes because it shouldn’t be heroic to do your job. It shouldn’t be heroic to stand up to a corrupt president who wants you to bribe allies for his own political gain. But here we are in 2019, where the lowest bar — telling the truth, is the heroic thing.
There are no heroes, because the hero has to be us. It has to be our votes. It has to be our action, our compassion, our understanding of our complicity.