At the end of Thursday’s hearing by the House Select Committee, Liz Cheney made a point of praising the women who testified before the committee. She named Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards and Georgia election workers Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman, as well as Sarah Matthews who had testified moments before. But Cheney singled out Cassidy Hutchinson for particular praise.
“She sat here alone, took the oath and testified before millions of Americans. She knew all along she would be attacked by President Trump, and by the 50, 60 and 70-year-old men who hide themselves behind executive privilege. But like our witnesses today, she has courage, and she did it anyway. Cassidy, Sarah and our other witnesses, including Officer Caroline Edwards, Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, are an inspiration to American women and to American girls.”
Yes. And no. And yes again. Yes, all of these women deserve praise for doing the right thing. But let’s look at the totality of their circumstances. The two Georgia election workers were just doing their job like tens of thousands of election workers in every precinct in the United States. It’s an important job, but not an especially demanding one; it took no courage for them to do the right thing. Their courage was tested afterwards, when they were vilified for having done their job properly. Partisan politics didn’t play a role in their jobs.
Officer Edwards was doing her job as well, but on January 6th her job put her in direct physical danger. She was one of a handful of officers who were the first line of defense at the Capitol building. They were quickly overwhelmed; she was knocked down, knocked unconscious, suffered a traumatic brain injury–then after she regained consciousness, she went back to work and for several hours fought in close combat with rioters. That clearly took courage and dedication. Partisan politics didn’t play a role in her job.
Partisan politics is why Sarah Matthews and Cassidy Hutchinson had their jobs. They each made a deliberate choice to work in the Trump administration. They supported the Trump administration. They knew who Donald Trump was–how he behaved and how he treated others. They knew his history. And they chose to work for him They directly witnessed how he ran the White House, how he reached policy decisions, how frequently his staff quit or were fired, how he demanded loyalty without returning it. They knew Donald Trump and they willingly supported and represented him.
That makes them complicit in Trump’s behavior. They worked for him diligently for four years, during which they were willing to disregard or condone his bad behavior. It wasn’t until he actively urged an angry mob to engage in a violent insurrection in order to illegally retain power that they decided he’d gone too far.
It’s to their credit that they were willing to draw the line at sedition and insurrection. And it’s to their credit that they were willing to testify against Trump. That took courage, because Liz Cheney is right–they both knew how Trump and his supporters would treat them. Because they’d see him do it to others. Because they were okay with him doing it to others. It took courage for them to step up; but it doesn’t make them heroes.
So yes, the courage of these women should, as Cheney said, be “an inspiration to American women and to American girls.” But no, there’s nothing inspirational about being willing to work for corrupt, cruel people until their corruption and cruelty becomes intolerable. And yes, it’s better to draw the line too late than not draw it at all.
They were all just doing their jobs. Cassidy Hutchinson and Sarah Matthews aided a corrupt White House until the corruption became too much for them to accept. Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman simply processed ballots according to the rules, and were unfairly vilified for it. Officer Caroline Edwards helped provide security for the Capitol Building and protect the people inside.
You want inspiration for redemption, look at Hutchinson and Matthews. You want inspiration for honesty and integrity, look at Moss and Freeman. But if you want a hero, look at Officer Edwards.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Just a reminder that patriarchy is a social structure kept in place by ordinary folks. Pay attention to how people in power treat people with lesser power. Call out assholes, even if they’re people you generally agree with. Support decency, even if it comes from people you disagree with. And every chance you get, add a match to the fire that will burn the patriarchy to the ground.