Dotted across the map of our country are pedestals upon which are the sculpted likenesses of those whom we chose to immortalize for their impact on our country and humanity. Lincoln sits upon the throne of wisdom, gazing down with thoughtful compassion in Washington D.C. Sybil Ludington, a Revolutionary War hero, rides high on a horse ready to fight for her country in Gleneida, New York. We place them on high to look up to them as our heroes and to commemorate their actions in life as the bar set to reach to become one.
It used to be that people we called ‘hero’ would minimally be those that cherished the truth, sought justice and sacrifice the need of the one for the needs of the many. All in the name of the American Way. Apparently, the American Way has lost it true north compass point for we are failing to recognize what is and who are heroic. The bar has dropped precipitously.
The degree of descent grew more pitched at this year’s State of the (dis)Union address tele-prompted at us by the President. The specific moment to which I refer is when the First Lady wrapped a Medal of Freedom around the neck of the emotionally overwhelmed Rush Limbaugh. The only thing missing from this reality TV show ruse was the breakaway, mid-action interview with Limbaugh tearily giving us his inside thoughts about how he’d been dreaming of winning it ever since he was a child.
The Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor, was first established by President Truman in 1945 to recognize civilian contribution to World War II. It was reestablished by President Kennedy in 1963 and expanded to include achievements in culture and the arts and science. Its purpose was to recognize, “…an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” So, what was the reason Limbaugh was awarded this prestigious (and now tarnished) acknowledgment?
Was it to recognize his struggle for civil rights which earned it for Rosa Parks? No.
Was it to recognize his exceptional writing talent equal to other recipient people of letters such as E.B. White, John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou, Tennessee Williams or Eudora Welty? No.
Was it to recognize his artistic or musical talent as it was for Itzhak Perlman, Ella Fitzgerald and Yo-Yo Ma? No, it certainly was not.
Was it to herald his journalistic work in the same vein as Edward R. Murrow? Not even close.
Perhaps it was the tireless effort he made to protect Americans endangered by the scourge of HIV/AIDS as was done by another medal alumnus, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Again, negative.
No, all that was needed was a much more sublime reason to bestow the award upon Limbaugh: to recognize his diagnosis of cancer and reward true blue Trump sycophancy.
Now, cancer is a horrible disease none of whom are victimized by it are deserving of anything less than righteous sympathy. However, cancer does not automatically make a scoundrel a saint and neither can, nor should, the award of a high honor make them a hero. For Rush Limbaugh is best known for his denigration of people, places and things to a degree so low that it is enough to make cancer itself blush. As noted in post award reporting of some of Limbaugh’s legacy of fetid commentary, here are a few of his award-winning gems:
“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos – what’s to complain about?”
“Feminism was established so that unattractive ugly broads could have easy access to the mainstream.”
“The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor license and practice robberies.”
“You’re a foreigner. You shut your mouth, or you get out.”
“If you feed them, if you feed the children, three square meals a day during the school year, how can you expect them to feed themselves in the summer? Wanton little waifs and serfs dependent on the State. Pure and simple.”
Clearly, America’s new ‘greatness’ now includes the prospect of being amply rewarded for such selfless acts as scoffing at genocide, marginalizing and objectifying women, racist taunting, spewing xenophobic vitriol and declaring school children to be beggars.
Meanwhile, in another part of a swamp whose muck only gets higher as it gets drained, an actual uniformed hero got sent to the gallows of betrayal by his own commander-in-chief to be hung at high noon for the egregious crime of telling the truth to power. Lt. Colonel, US Army, Alexander Vindman, now the former Director of European Affairs for the United States National Security Council and frontline witness to the Trump Ukrainian debacle, was the first to be axed in retribution for doing the same thing his boss ostensibly did: swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Perhaps if Lt. Colonel Vindman spent less time in the service of our country, earning Purple Hearts and more time, perhaps, let’s say, disliking children, people of color or foreign origin and independent women, he also would have a Medal of Freedom hung around his neck instead of a noose of indignation. Is being great again meaning we don’t have to be so narrow in who we raise to the pedestal standard of hero?
There is a way to raise again to its rightful, lofty perch the tenets of heroism. And, in turn, to pull a once esteemed medal up and out from the hole within which it has now been buried. That is, to pull our collective psyche out of the morass of social media and news-as-entertainment dreck and look around at the flesh and blood humans who actually deserve to be canonized as the heroes of our nation.
The true heroes among us are not hard to find, despite having obscured them with big budget CGI super-hero movies and Kim Kardashian photo shoots in the Oval Office. We can bring them out of the shadows. All we need to do is recognize those who exude true courage as was once defined by Franklin Roosevelt as being, “…not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”
Among us right now is an unsung army of people who are marching beyond fear. They are the medical and healthcare workers from coast to coast who have not slept, have barely ate and have expended every ounce of their energy – whether they had any or not – to care for those being ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr. Fauci himself should probably get a second medal for being one of the few voices of truth attempting to speak about the current Covid-19 outbreak louder than the Greek chorus of denial and delusion attempting to shout him down.
We should begin to start on the casts for the bronze statues that should rightly be erected to honor the mothers and fathers who are struggling to earn livings while ensuring their children’s education continues and their fears are calmed. Chisels should begin hammering now on blocks of marble to form the figures of every person still who can’t just ‘work-from-home’ and are stocking grocery store shelves, delivering food, packages and supplies to all locked behind doors. Upon great stones should engraved the names of our elders who have been the first victims in this viral war and yet, despite being separated from us, still encourage us to have faith we’ll get past this thing, like they’ve gotten past so many others in their long lives.
Because in their chests beat the hearts of those who have chosen to focus on something more important than their own fears. They have chosen to focus on the ‘we’ and not the ‘me’.
That choice is at the core of real heroism. If we all make the same choice, in this moment, we can all be heroes.