Friday, December 9, 2016

The Last American Hero?

John Glenn died yesterday. He was 95 years old, a war hero who flew 149 combat missions, became an astronaut -- one of the Mercury seven founding astronauts who took great risks going into space, and after that served 4 terms in the Senate, and made one last space voyage in 1998. His obituaries -- like this one, "John Glenn: The Last American Hero?" in the New York Times make his heroism clear.

Glenn may indeed be one of the last conventional heroes. He was a battle hero, fighting in popular wars that were widely supported for very good reasons. He was a conventional American man, from the heartland, showing conventional virtues of heroic valor. According to the article, he risked being fired from his job to support John F. Kennedy in 1960, though I don't know that he was ever called on to express a large measure of political courage during his career in the Senate.

He inspires vast praise:
"After he safely splashed down, the nation erupted with applause and gratitude not seen since Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic." (Washington Post Opinion article)
I have no problem viewing John Glenn as a hero, or even comparing him to others (even as bad as Lindbergh became) as this writer does. However, I think we are about to need men and also women with a different kind of courage to lead us soon. In this blog, I believe I've taken a broader view of what heroic courage requires. Standing up to corrupt and exploitative government appointees and electees is starting to take courage in our society. Next year they'll be in power, seeking their own gain and worse. What will a hero need to do?

A current example, though maybe small, shows what's coming and the new type of heroic response that we might need in our new world. Earlier this week, Chuck Jones, a union leader in Indianapolis pointed out the lies in Trump's announcement about better jobs at the Carrier Plant whose members he leads. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, he described his actions:
"I’m a union leader in Indianapolis. I represent the Carrier workers whose jobs Donald Trump has pledged to save. And I’m tired of being lied to. ... 
"When I met with Carrier officials last Thursday, I realized that that wouldn’t be the case. Though Trump said he’d saved 1,100 jobs, he hadn’t. Carrier told us that 550 people would get laid off. 
"Trump didn’t tell people that, though. When he spoke at our plant, he acted like no one was going to lose their job. People went crazy for him. They thought, because of Trump, I’m going to be able to provide for my family.

"All the while, I’m sitting there, thinking that’s not what the damn numbers say. Trump let people believe that they were going to have a livelihood in that facility. He let people breathe easy. When I told our members the next day, they were devastated. 
"I was angry, too. So I told a reporter the truth — that Trump’s 1,100 number was wrong. When Trump read my comments, he got angry."
Trump's response of course was to attack Chuck Jones and blame the victim, as usual in a tweet: "Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!"

A New York Times article, "Trump as Cyberbully in Chief? Twitter Attack on Union Boss Draws Fire" points out that a Republican strategist calls this "cyberbullying." From the article:
"With the full power of the presidency just weeks away, Mr. Trump’s decision to single out Mr. Jones for ridicule has drawn condemnation from historians and White House veterans."
We'll be needing heroes of a new kind. Maybe the kind of heroes that I've been writing about in this blog, in some cases, though I desperately hope we won't need to go as far as resistance fighters in France and Warsaw ghetto fighters during World War II. The new situation has brought me back to considering what heroes really are, and I'll be looking for them and following them more as events unfold.

1 comment:

  1. I wrestle with the hero thing pretty often. It almost seems like an overused word and I was thinking about this very instance this morning.

    To me the hero is the guy who runs into a burning building to rescue someone or throws himself over another to save them from being shot, often with risk to their own life. I think too often we confuse heroism with being brave and strong and I wish there was a word that was better describe the person who takes bold chances, who survives terrible things but not quite the same as hero.

    And Glenn? Well, he took bold chances and yes, put his life in danger. But he's still not quite my definition of hero. Very great man, yes. Inspirational? No doubt.

    It's a thought that could use an awful lot of muddling but I couldn't agree more when you say we need a new kind of hero in this brave new world.