Ten Republicans and The Teaching of Civilization through Cowardness

“Most civilisation is based on cowardice. It’s so easy to civilize by teaching cowardice. You water down the standards which would lead to bravery. You restrain the will. You regulate the appetites. You fence in the horizons. You make a law for every movement. You deny the existence of chaos. You teach even the children to breathe slowly. You tame.”
― Frank Herbert, God Emporer of Dune

There’s considerable praise for the “bravery” of the ten Republicans who voted to impeach Trump (this second time). A simple Boolean search for “ten brave Republicans” as a literal phrase will reveal a number of hits, hits that don’t even count the number of other uses of “bravery” in various articles and by on-air political pundits.

But are those “ten brave republicans” truly worth of the moniker? That is where Frank Herbert enters. For what we now see in ascribing “bravery” to the acts of the ten Republicans is nothing short of the resulting “regulation of appetites” Herbert identified. So “watered down” are our expectations of Republicans (if not all American politicians, to be fair) that we have come to reach for words like “brave” to speak to something that we should expect of any Constitutionally oathed official, any honorable American, or just any decent human being.

No, we did not see these ten stand up to the president — and a contrary Tweet does not count — when he (intentionally and fully aware of the psychological damage) came for the children of immigrant families and threw them in cages. No, we did not see them stand up to the president when Putin came after our men in women in uniform, placing bounties on their heads. No, we did not see them stand up to the president when he came after Jewish people, ranting that “any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat” are committing an act of “great disloyalty” to our nation. No, we did not see them stand up to the president when he came after our votes, votes by mail, votes by access, votes by minorities. Those are but a pittance of examples of the times these ten republicans did not stand up to this president.

But now they did. And what these ten representatives did was stand up to Trump not when he came after others, but when his mob came after them. Their stand only came once they’d been forced to kneel, their backbone only after they’d been forced to cower.

And this is what we have come to call brave? The eleventh-hour-and-fifty-ninth minute vote of Republicans scared by an angry mob? No, Republicans have, to Herbert’s word, “tamed” this populace such that it now defines “bravery” as voting against being personally assaulted by a violent, insurrectionist mob. This is the “bravery” of a populace has been taught “cowardice” by the Republicans, who nearly without exception cowered from Trump politically before they cowered from his mob physically.

Of course, some might say that these ten were at least better than the rest. And that is true, and it is true without question. They did the right thing. But better than cravens does not bravery make.

And in their justification of their votes, many of the ten spoke to the fact that they could not vote with party. Not this time. This time, after they feared for themselves, they said they needed to make a “vote of conscience.”

“A vote of conscience,” they said.

All votes are supposed to be “votes of conscience” — conscience for the children in cages, conscience against the anti-semitism, conscience for Black Lives Matter, conscience against bounties on our troops, conscience against obstructing justice, conscience for the sanctity of voting, etc. And that’s why they were cowards before and why these lazy assertions of “bravery” prove nothing but the “watered down standards” of the “cowardice” the Republicans have “taught” us.

Please join me in denouncing any use of the word “brave” for these ten Republicans. Let’s reserve that term for those who vote their damned “conscience” when it isn’t about themselves.

Steve is the author of “America’s Critical Thinking Crisis.” He co-founded TheCriticalThinkingInitiative.org and co-hosts two thinking-centered podcasts.

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Steven J. Pearlman, Ph.D.

Steven J. Pearlman, Ph.D.

Steve is the author of “America’s Critical Thinking Crisis.” He co-founded TheCriticalThinkingInitiative.org and co-hosts two thinking-centered podcasts.

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