In the past month, two extraordinarily different yet related events played out in the American landscape. One was a headline whereas the other was a footnote.
The first event, the confirmation process for Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh exploded in fury in the American media and in public discourse.
The second event was the announcement of the awarding of the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major John Canley for his heroism in Vietnam decades earlier. I was honored to receive an invitation to the Sergeant Major’s award ceremony from my Sergeant Major Eddie Neas.
The Medal of Honor is bestowed on those individuals “who conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his [or her] life above and beyond the call of duty” serve with selfless sacrifice and without regard to their own life.
Virtually every American respects the Medal of Honor and the significant selfless sacrifice that the award conveys.
It is this concept of selfless sacrifice, while revered, is missing so noticeably from our society today. I am certain that our selfish preoccupation with instantaneous gratification have caused many of the problems we, as a society, face.
Sergeant Major Canley fought valiantly on the battlefield in Vietnam and is finally being recognized for his selfless sacrifice and devotion to duty. His personal bravery serves as an example of what leadership is all about and “reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, the United States Marine Corps and the Naval Services”.
On the other hand, the confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh was the epitome of some of the most disgraceful conduct ever exhibited by United States Senators in the history of our nation.
While Associate Justice Kavanaugh did not face bullets or imminent death, he was most certainly assaulted in the most offensive ways possible by those who are supposed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Those very Senators knew all too well that the Judge was not protected against defamation because of the case New York Times vs Sullivan. In other words, politicians and public figures have very little recourse to slanderous conduct unless “actual malice” is proven. It is an almost impossible standard to prove which means that the Judge, by accepting the nomination to the court, had to be willing to subject himself and his family to horrific conduct by those opposed to his views.
If a Nation is ever going to attempt to rebuild itself, the very character of the Nation must emphasize selflessness, a moral code of decency, and personal responsibility.
Our national character, as represented by great heroes like Sergeant Major Canley, is under assault. This battle is more than just a battle for a Supreme Court nomination. It is about the very struggle for survival of the freedoms that we espouse in the Bill of Rights and for which Sergeant Major Canley and millions of others fought.
All of us in the military and in government take the same oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. The conduct of the Senators attacking Kavanaugh on hearsay and innuendo for political gain was disgraceful. These Senators victimized Justice Kavanaugh, Dr. Ford, and us all for political gain.
In a different type of battle, equally as important to win, Justice Kavanaugh fought to protect the very fabric of the Constitution he has sworn to defend. By not backing down he convinced me of his moral courage in the face of unwavering criticism.
One of the primary underpinnings in any civilized society is the presumption of innocence. This nonsense that the presumption of innocence did not apply because it was a job interview is a travesty. It is a travesty inflicted by the opposing side upon the very character of a person and of a nation. It was a sad day for our entire nation and those of us who fought to defend this nation and our Constitution, your Bill of Rights and common law.
The sheer duplicity of their arguments fell on deaf ears of those of us who had to defend while in the military, the character of our nation and our people.
Elected leaders, of which I am now one, have a responsibility to be statesmen first and politicians second. The travesty of the conduct of those opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court cast shame and dishonor on the institution to which they were elected to serve. Fortunately, others in the Senate stood firm and upheld the societal framework of the presumption of innocence. Those brave Senators withstood tremendous pressure to conform the very precepts of the Constitution that they have sworn to uphold.
When a nation sends its citizens into combat and into the military, it has a moral responsibility to support and defend the same Constitution. The military supports it in harm’s way whereas elected leaders are obligated to support the Constitution in the halls of Congress. Both arenas are critical if our nation is to survive.
Only through our emphasis on selfless sacrifice, moral courage, and personal accountability will our Nation survive. Our Founding Fathers left us a wonderful legacy. What we do with that legacy is our decision and ours alone.
Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel, a CPA and specializes in corporate restructuring. He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at [email protected].