America's crisis of courage

Which is why, when Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee openly defy party, president, and constituents, they deserve cheers, choosing as they have to walk away from the most exclusive club in the world, and careers that they craved. Which is why, too, Professor Allison Stanger of Middlebury College deserves celebration for courting a wrung neck to stand up for conservative scholar Charles Murray’s right to be heard there. The dark political farce in Washington and controversies over academic freedom in our universities are linked, because truckling to a capricious president or to aggrieved post-adolescents is cowardice in the face of those who themselves are cowards. The prevalence of both should make Americans worry.

Purists—writers safely ensconced in progressive newspapers, or intellectuals in conservative think tanks—may belittle the resolution these actions required. They may dismiss the Republican politicians like Senator Ben Sasse who oppose the administration in less vehement ways, or shrug off as unimportant the University of Chicago’s ringing defense of academic freedom. But they should not. The mark of civic courage is taking a stand against your own kind, particularly when the payoff for so doing consists of cracking friendships, torrents of abuse, physical threats and careers broken or abandoned. Until one has experienced those things, one should not deprecate the guts of those who have.