By Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos
Among the low points of the last year, perhaps the lowest, was when the president called the soldiers who had died in battle, indeed who had died for freedom’s sake, “losers” and “suckers.” This, after what was firmly fixed in the country’s collective memory, namely his belittling of those who had been prisoners of war.
Thankfully, Americans rejected this cheap and mean-spirited attempt at denigrating heroism. And indeed, throughout this challenging year – in faithfulness, whether through self-sacrifice for the sake of others, facing down fear to bear one another’s burdens, standing on moral principle to defend the marginalized, maintaining order in the face of chaos, or being a neighbor to all – we’ve seen the number of American heroes expand exponentially.
As Covid-19 spread across the country, and across the globe, our pantheon of heroes came to include the countless doctors, nurses, and other front-line health-care workers who sacrificed their own well-being working tirelessly to heal the sick, and to ease the passing, of those caught up by this terrible disease. What was their thanks? Presidential accusations that medical personnel and institutions only characterized the increasing numbers of cases and deaths as Covid-related as schemes by the medical community to get rich, rather than praise for facing the pandemic head-on.
Due to the pandemic, the US economy fell through the floor. Millions of people lost their jobs, shuttered their businesses, and stared at the possibility of losing their homes. Through it all, they bore these fearful consequences with courage. Understanding the cause, and relying on two rounds of government assistance, they showed their mettle through months of personal financial uncertainty, and they struggled to keep their businesses afloat so that one and all could survive. Still, in the face of the need for another round of stimulus assistance, what did they get? An abdication of presidential leadership to make this additional assistance a reality. So, as heroes all, they continue to bear one another’s burdens and soldier on.
In the midst of the pandemic, the US also experienced the rising up of our collective conscience in the aftermath of numerous killings of Black Americans by aggressive and oppressive police tactics. Protesters rose to their feet to demonstrate for equality, justice, and peace in our communities. What did they get in response? Presidential derision, name-calling (“looters,” “anarchists”), false rhetoric about “law and order,” and the use of force to beat back crowds in order to pose for silly photo-ops. Exercising our First-Amendment rights, and guided by moral principle, these protesters marched into the annals of heroism.
As the pandemic continued to spread, and it was clear the election was going to be largely decided by mail-in voting, there were attempts to weaken the US postal service so that it could not meet the increasing demands placed upon it. These presidential attempts backfired, and this time the ranks of heroes swelled again with hundreds of thousands of postal workers who ensured that ballots would be received by local election offices on time, and, like so many other heroic front-line, essential workers in other industries, thereby avoided chaos by maintaining order.
And in terms of the election itself, other everyday Americans became heroes. Election workers – volunteers in polling places, vote counters in polling centers, and state election officials – worked tirelessly to systematically collect and tabulate the votes without interruption. Having faced presidential charges of cheating and, as a consequence, threats against their very lives, now these neighbors, and their families, are among the heroes whose efforts are recorded in history.
Finally, our heroes now include the millions of Americans who braved these presidential attacks and indignities in order to make their voices heard through voting, and democracy has survived. And through it all, the power of faithfulness showed forth, and for this we have millions and millions of new – and old – heroes to thank.
Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos is the Associate General Secretary, Faith and Order and Interfaith Relations for the National Council of Churches.
About this blog: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the original author and were prepared in the author’s personal capacity. These views and opinions do not represent those of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, its member communions, or any other contributors to this site.