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Arha: Liz Cheney's 'High Noon'

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Kaush Arha

Dr. Kaush Arha founded the Wyoming Private Lands Public Wildlife Program. He subsequently served as the Associate Solicitor General and Deputy Asst. Secy at Dept of Interior and later as a Senior Foreign Service Officer in Afghanistan. He recently served as a Senior Executive at the United States International Agency of Development in the Trump Administration.

Watching Liz Cheney’s honorable and proficient discharge of her oath and duty on the Jan. 6 Select Congressional Committee I was reminded of Gary Cooper’s Marshal Kane in “High Noon.” I am partial to watching the man from Helena, Montana on the silver screen.

“High Noon,” a 1952 western film and a favorite of Presidents Reagan and Eisenhower, tells the story of a retiring and newlywed town marshal who is informed that a notorious outlaw he once sent to jail to hang has been pardoned and is returning to exact revenge on the town. The marshal’s young bride, his deputy, the mayor, and the townsfolk all urge him to take the easy road and leave town. Its no good. He can’t do it. His conscience, duty, and honor won’t let him. No man is at hand to stand by him to protect the town.

Cooper’s Marshal Kane, conflicted and not entirely self-assured but with an unshakeable moral compass, stands alone on the deserted main street to face the four outlaws. He dispatches them with some last-minute unexpected help and rides out leaving behind townsfolk in reluctant gratitude confronted with their own moral deficiency.

On Jan. 6, 2021, an angry and armed mob attacked the U.S. Capitol with seditious intent. Liz Cheney believes it is her duty to bring to account those responsible for an “unamerican and unpatriotic act that defaced the Capitol for a lie.” To solemnly investigate and follow the facts wherever they may lead. To ensure this never happens again. Several of her Republican Congressional colleagues and constituents want her to stay quiet and let the sleeping dogs lie. As in “High Noon,” they want her not to stand and fight for the country but leave town and argue that the country would be better for it.

One of the most endearing characteristics of humanity is imperfect individuals standing firm and alone in what they believe to be right against all odds. Human history would be very different if that were not true.

Liz Cheney, like Marshal Kane, has all to lose and little to gain from going against the grain. She was the meteoric star of the Republican Congressional Caucus, part of its leadership and touted as the future Speaker. Her constituency was safe with no challenge on the horizon. Her political future was set. All she had to do was to look herself in the mirror and live with the dereliction of what she believed to be her duty. She could not do it. Her constituents are mad at her for her arrogance to put her duty above their sentiment. Most arrogant politicians do their all to stay in power and not risk losing it for principle. Several of her colleagues choose power over principle. Who is more arrogant?

In “High Noon,” the mayor and townsfolk lobby Marshal Kane to leave, arguing that his very presence would lead to a conflict with the outlaws and do more harm to the town. A similar sentiment grips the Trumpian Republicans. Any inquiry into the Commander-in-Chief’s violation of his oath and dereliction of duty under the U.S. Constitution will do more harm to the party and the nation than convenient ignorance and silence of his actions leading up to and during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

We Republicans love to quote Edmund Burke’s turn of phrase “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” Burke also warned of liberty devoid of virtue and wisdom leading to evil. Congressional Republicans have often taken up this principled cudgel to haul to account executive improprieties, including the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the U.S. secretary of state’s use of private email, the U.S. president’s dalliance with an intern in the Oval Office, etc. A bit peculiar then to ague that good Republican men and women will serve the nation and party best by doing nothing to investigate and prevent armed rioters breaking into the U.S. Capitol shouting to hang the vice president of the United States. Liz Cheney, confronted with this evil, believes her conscience, duty, and oath prevents her from doing nothing and keeping silent. Same as what Senator Barry Goldwater and Congressional Republicans felt when presented with President Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate affair.

No accolades await Cooper’s Marshal Kane when he has finished discharging his duty. He chucks his badge and rides out of town on a horse buggy with his bride by his side. He chose self-respect over accolades. There appear scant accolades in store for Liz Cheney in the Trumpian Republican Party. She has chosen her ability to look herself in the eye over applause for being a good team player.

Liz Cheney believes that “our nation is preserved by those who abide by their oaths to our Constitution and those who know the fundamental difference between right and wrong.” Hard knowing right from wrong in our indulgent world of relativism. I have always found to be an extremely lonely and personal decision. You know it when you can hold your gaze in the mirror. No amount of applause can make a wrong right. Our nation would be poorer if we outgrew this habit.

Marshal Kane was not worse for wear for leaving the town. The town was. It lost its conscience and esteem. Liz Cheney will hold her head high whether she represents Wyoming in the U.S. Congress next year or not. We all would be poorer for not having a Representative that put duty and principle before power and plaudits. Her competence and credentials as a true conservative are beyond reproach. Her mastery of government institutions, policies and procedure ensures there are none better to advance Wyoming interests. She has chosen to put the U.S. Constitution before any individual. History will remember her principled position. How will history remember her constituents in this hour of need? Like the townsfolk in “High Noon”? I think not. My faith in my fellow Wyoming compatriot’s ability to tell right from wrong is firm and steady. Else it would not be the cowboy way.

Dr. Kaush Arha is a senior fellow at the Center for Tech Diplomacy and the Atlantic Council.

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