By: Larry J. Schweiger
Pittsburgh Current Climate Columnist
Throughout American history, we have operated under a flawed perception of leadership, equating courageous leaders to white males. The theory goes that women, the fairer sex, are not strong enough to lead during turbulent times. Recent events and actions have debunked this misogynistic notion of bravery by at least three female leaders. While numerous others in and out of government, have stood up, these plucky women were undeterred by real dangers to their lives, loss of position, or the pain of corrosive rhetoric. Each, in their way, acted courageously in the face of extreme threats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
America is fortunate to have Nancy Pelosi as speaker during the most turbulent time in 150 years. For Pelosi, a devoted grandmother, it is all about the children. She has extraordinary toughness to withstand hostile and dangerous opponents in our fragile democracy. Few have been demonized as much by Fox, Trump, and so many right-wing extremists as has Pelosi. The subject of scores of nasty memes, she keeps going forward despite the threats from within Congress, even with members who try to bring guns to the floor.
When Trump foolishly tweeted the above photo of Speaker Pelosi chastising him over his Putin-inspired retreat from Syria, Trump called it “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown.” Most saw something else. We saw a strong woman standing up for America’s interests to a roomful of men. Soon, #PelosiOwnsTrump was trending on Twitter.
I worked on climate legislation with Pelosi in 2009. Despite cutting several deals to move a climate bill, the House ended up eighteen votes short in the remaining hours of consideration when Pelosi went on the floor to whip remaining votes. Pelosi was tough. Two Democratic lawmakers were overheard complaining that they had to vote for the bill if they ever hoped for a leadership position. With Pelosi’s unwavering leadership, the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed the House on June 26th in a tight vote of 219-212. As chair of the Green Group, I called Speaker Pelosi the next morning. She thanked me for calling, adding, “I am already being attacked for my heavy hand, but I don’t care, I did that for my grandchildren.”
Pelosi’s consistent and robust leadership intimidates Trump and GOP lawmakers. Fearing the loss of dominance to a strong woman, Republicans continue to create anti-Pelosi memes. Fox News was a big part of the Republican chorus demonizing Pelosi. They tried to tie Democrats like Connor Lamb in swing districts to the “radical, liberal, and socialist” Pelosi. To overcome their efforts, Connor promised that he would not vote for Speaker Pelosi.
Trump’s attacks on Pelosi have had more profound and dangerous consequences. Trump-inspired insurrectionists overrunning Capitol police went through the capitol calling Pelosi’s name. Wearing full military gear, one was carrying zip ties for her capture. Richard Barnett, a 60-year-old white nationalist from Arkansas, armed with a high-voltage stun stick, posed for photos with his feet on Pelosi’s desk. In a recent hearing, Chief Federal Judge Beryl Howell called Barnett’s behavior “brazen, entitled, and dangerous,” and labeled him as “one of the stars of this assault.” Another terrorist was threatening to kill Pelosi. Cleveland Meredith Jr., is facing felony charges of making interstate threats and two misdemeanor gun possession charges. Arrested on January 7th, Meredith brought multiple guns and a “shit ton” of ammunition to Washington. At a rally, QAnon-aligned Marjorie Greene suggested that Speaker Pelosi committed treason, and the penalty for treason is death. Newly uncovered Facebook posts, freshly elected Congresswoman Greene expressed support for the murder of Pelosi. Greene tried to carry a gun to the floor. Despite these alarming threats on her life, Speaker Pelosi continues undaunted to confront the many unprecedented challenges we face in America. Nancy Pelosi deserves our praise as a profile in courage.
Trump’s pandemic strategy shifted the hard work to the governors. Instead of urging mask-wearing, social distancing, and supporting the closing-down of high-risk venues during peak outbreaks, he criticized many governors who followed CDC’s guidelines. Several Governors folded under Trump’s criticism and reopened. Governor Gretchen Witmer was not one of them. Early on, when Michigan had 3,788 deaths and more than 41,000 infections mostly in the Detroit metro area, Whitmer responded by extending her stay-at-home mandate. She hung tough, following the best advice from our nation’s top health scientists.
Trump knew that Michigan was in play and fired up gun-toting protesters to target Governor Whitmer’s lockdown. The so-called “American Patriot Rally” was organized by the Michigan United for Liberty. Trumpsters rallied in the Lansing capitol building, some heavily armed, and all urged Michigan’s liberation. Few demonstrators were wearing masks or socially distancing. Michigan had a terrible open-carry law that extends to public buildings, so some gun-toters were allowed into the capitol overlooking lawmakers on the floor.
This event did not yield the results they wanted, so several protestors hatched a plan to kidnap the Governor and perhaps kill her. Fortunately, the FBI was monitoring their activities and foiled a bold plan and kidnapping attempt. After six men were arrested on federal charges and another seven on state charges, Trump repeated his dangerous tweets that instigated the attempted kidnapping. “Governor Whitmer — open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!” Trump also claimed in a tweet. Whitmer “has done a terrible job.”
Whitmer did not hold back and sharply criticized Trump’s ‘appalling’ response to the threat on her life. Recently, one of six men federally charged with a plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer pleaded guilty. Ty Garbin, 25, signed a plea agreement in federal court to the sole charge against him — kidnapping conspiracy. He has agreed to cooperate. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer put Michigan’s people’s health first and deserves credit for being unflappable in the face of personal danger.
Ignoring Trump’s role in the January 6th insurrection, one hundred and ninety-seven republican house members, mostly male, voted against impeachment. Most voted out of fear of a Trump backlash. Only ten out of 211 republicans in the House dared to vote for truth. All but five republican senators, again mostly male, challenged the longstanding legality of a former officeholder’s impeachment. They fear Trumpsters.
Wyoming is the reddest of the red states. In the 2020 elections, Trump carried Wyoming by 40 points, having garnered more than seventy percent of the vote. Liz Cheney’svote to impeach was very courageous. Risking her leadership and re-election, Cheney stated, “On January 6th, 2021 a violent mob attacked the United States Capitol to obstruct the process of our democracy and stop the counting of presidential electoral votes. This insurrection caused injury, death, and destruction in the most sacred space in our Republic. Much more will become clear in coming days and weeks, but what we know now is enough. The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution. I will vote to impeach the President.”
Cheney’s courage stands in contrast to the Trumpification of the Republican Party that ignores lawmakers who incited the deadly coup but call for Cheney to step down. Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida violated the Reagan rule about criticizing fellow Republicans when he traveled to Wyoming calling for Liz Cheney to resign. Another Trumpster, Wyoming state senator Anthony Bouchard will primary Cheney. A recall petition has picked up twenty-five thousand signatures in the first few days. Cheney responded, “I’m not going anywhere. This is a vote of conscience. It’s one where there are different views in our conference. But our nation is facing an unprecedented — since the Civil War — constitutional crisis…” A well-known conservative daughter of former Vice President and the third-highest ranking GOP leader in the House, Liz Cheney is a profile in courage. Cheney’s courageous stand is a reminder that integrity and commitment to our democracy come in various political persuasions.
In a democracy that has been badly damaged by cowards, these three women stand out as great leaders.
Larry Schweiger is an award-winning author who served as President of National Wildlife Federation, PennFuture and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Purchase his compelling and timely second book with free shipping by clicking on the link on the book