Moral Courage in U.S. Politics

Oh, so you think it doesn’t exist? Given the state of U.S. politics in 2023, you have plenty of reasons to think so. I would mostly agree but then, rare as it might be, we have seen it in plain sight these past two years.

Consider several individuals who appeared before the January 6th House Select Committee to investigate the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Does the name of 25-year-old Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide to Trump’s Chief of staff Mark Meadows, sound familiar? Ms. Hutchinson bravely and courageously appeared before the January 6th House Select Committee and testified that her boss informed President Trump that the crowd gathered at the ellipse on January 6th was armed and ready to march to the capitol. According to Ms. Hutchinson, Mr. Meadows remarked that the President didn’t want to call off the mob even as violence threatened. Her testimony as an aide close to many in the White House and many happenings was jarring and described as explosive. She knew that her testimony would put her on the Trump enemies list and could ruin her career as a Republican staffer. As she puts it in Enough (2023: 355), “I still consider myself a Republican. But I denounce the tribalism that produced the outlandish conspiracy theories and violence that some party leaders not only failed to condemn but even excused in their pursuit of power.” She put herself in harm’s way, a key factor in defining moral courage.

Another American who demonstrated moral courage in front of the House Select Committee was Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukrainian born expert serving on the National Security Council. On July 25, 2019, Lt. Col. Vindman and other NSC staff members listened in on the call President Trump made to Ukraine President Zelinsky to congratulate him on his party’s parliamentary majority. During the call President Trump encouraged President Zelinsky to investigate the alleged linkage between the Bidens and Burisma Holdings Limited, a group of energy and production companies based in Kyiv, Ukraine. Lt. Col. Vindman thought this behavior was improper and would undermine U.S. National Security. He reported his concern to the NSC lead counsel. His testimony, however, was regarded as disloyal to the Commander in Chief and resulted in his forced retirement from the U.S. Army, ending his 21-yer career. Lt. Col. Vindman demonstrated moral courage, did he not?

Another individual who demonstrated moral courage during the Jan 6th controversy was Speaker of the Arizona House Rusty Bowers who testified that he was asked by Trump operative Rudy Giuliani to convene the Arizona house to invalidate the 2020 election results. He asked Mr. Giuliani for evidence of election fraud, but he was unable to do so. Consequently, Bowers refused, claiming that his oath to support the U.S. Constitution took priority. Mr. Bowers decision resulted in the Arizona Republican Party calling for his ouster and contributed to his loss for a state senate seat by a Trump endorsed candidate in 2022. Did Speaker Bowers exhibit moral courage? You betcha.

Perhaps the most vivid act of moral courage was demonstrated by Wyoming Republican Representative Liz Cheney’s service on the Jan 6th House Select Committee. Ms. Cheney was the co-chair and repeatedly brought attention to the corrupt and anti-democratic behavior of former President Trump. Her revelations and accusations resulted in her being kicked out of the Wyoming Republican Party and eventually losing her congressional seat in the 2022 primary election. Her public repudiation of Mr. Trump, according to the Washington Post (8/23/22), demonstrated her commitment to the “Constitution and the American freedom and democracy it embodies, rather than to any individual person. She is a true patriot.” Her moral courage is exemplary and beyond reproach.

Moral courage is the intentional act to put oneself in harm’s way to do the right thing. It is not a thought or attitude but a behavior. Moral courage may be a rare commodity in American politics but, as the examples illustrated here show, it does exist and should be applauded. Don’t you agree, dear reader?


Advancing the topic of Moral Courage, the 2024 Brenda Tipps Reading Series features a guest lecture by playwright, Mark Leib, which is available to OLLI Members via Zoom on Thursday, February 15th. Joyce Carpenter contributed the following short article on Mark’s latest play, When the Righteous Triumph, as well as an invitation to OLLI members to hear Mark’s presentation and to access a copy of the play.—Editors

You can’t be a righteous person if you live in an unrighteous society,” says Cody Fowler, the white Tampa lawyer, as he defends the rights of the group of approximately 40 African American students from Middleton and Howard A. Blake High Schools, who, in February 1960, begin their series of sit-ins at Tampa’s Franklin Street Woolworth’s white’s only lunch counter.

Mark Leib’s latest play, When the Righteous Triumph, incorporates into his playwriting, the actual speeches of both the racist and anti-segregation Tampa factions, to tell the tense story of the sometimes violent encounters between the white and black communities in Tampa.  His play also addresses the disputes within the Black community itself concerning the tactics employed by Black activists. The play dramatizes the emotional toll, the fear, and the hard-won victory of desegregation experienced by those who are involved in the fight for their civil rights.

Several of the historical characters in the play will be familiar to you from their association with Tampa places– Fowler Avenue, Lowry Park Zoo (now Tampa Zoo), and the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

Mark Leib is a Tampa native, an award-winning theatre critic, and playwright, a poet, a novelist, an essayist and a professor, who currently teaches creative writing and play writing at the University of South Florida.  He is a believer in social justice and is committed to writing about the issues affecting the world in which we live. He says of his writing: “ I’m dedicated to only putting pen to paper when I have a view to impart -anything less is a fraud perpetrated on the reader /spectator.”

For me, seeing When the Righteous Triumph at Tampa’s Stageworks Theatre was both a moving and frustrating experience. Moving because of the emotions it evoked in me and frustrating because our society is still today having to address the issues of racism and intolerance so vividly depicted in Leib’s important play.

Having seen the play, I decided to ask Mark if he would agree to be a guest speaker for the Brenda Tipps reading Series. He graciously agreed to do so. I hope that you will join us as we talk to him about his play, *When the Righteous Triumph.

(Mark’s play will be performed at the Straz Centre for the  Performing Arts  in 2024.)

Brenda Tipps would have loved it!

The Brenda Tipps Reading Series 2024: A Conversation with Mark Leib
When the Righteous Triumph
Thursday, February 15, 2024
10:00-11:30 via ZOOM

*A PDF of the play will be provided


Donald C. Menzel, Ph.D. is a past president of the American Society for Public Administration, author and international speaker on ethics reform. Don organized OLLI-USF’s China Special Interest Group. He also served as an OLLI-USF faculty member for over 10 years. Together with his wife, Kay, Don divides his time between Florida and Colorado, and contributes commentary on current issues in both locations.

Joyce Carpenter studied drama at college in England and has degrees in special education and social work. She joined OLLI-USF in 2010, has taken OLLI courses in literature poetry, history, improv, and reader’s theater and has co-taught drama courses for OLLI. She is a member of the Great Books and the poetry groups. 


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5 Replies to “Moral Courage in U.S. Politics”

  1. Theresa and Al,

    Thanks for advancing the cause of moral courage. The time, and the topic have met their moment anew.

    Each of us needs to be fed with these inspirational readings and experiences so that we can also do our part to save our democracy!

    Thanks for keeping your fingers on the pulse of this urgency.

    Beryl

  2. Three bright lights in world that seems to be getting darker.
    Thanks for giving them the credit they deserve

  3. It’s all well and good to acknowledge these all too rare actors in US politics, yet the larger issue calls to us: why are they so rare? It is crucial to understand the underpinnings of political and economic institutions. The roles of donors, lobbyists, special interest groups, etc. …these issues swirl all around us; for example, the connections between big big money benefactors and their various Supreme Court beneficiaries.
    Let us applaud these actors while we take on the overriding task of examining the contexts of the American system.

  4. Giving us a big picture and a thoughtful direction for the new year is so helpful.
    I’m interested to hear from others about the small, daily acts of moral courage that give us pause in our lives now. What do they look like?

  5. Thanks to all for the thoughtful comments. Yes, moral courage in U.S. politics is a rare commodity in the age of pursuing power with an ideological mask as an end, not a means. Just look at the weaving and dodging of Republican presidential candidates DeSantis and Haley–shameful! Ordinary citizens must exercise moral courage to ensure that our democracy survives.

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