Values aren’t always about heroes
Minutes before a powerful tornado ripped apart Plaza Towers Elementary school in the tiny town of Moore, Oklahoma, kindergarten teacher Anna Canaday took her students into the hallway and instructed them to kneel next to the wall and cover their heads.
She and fellow teacher Jessica Simmonds lay on top of the children in an attempt to shield them from the approaching storm. “We just held them and told them to keep their heads down,” Canaday told The Daily Beast in May of 2013. “I kept telling them they were going to be just fine and God was going to take care of us. I prayed as loud as I could. I just kept telling the kids under me, ‘It’s going to be OK…just take me instead because they’re the babies.’”
The children, Anna and Jessica somehow survived the tornado, even after a car crashed down on top of them.
Dashawn Thompson is a native of Turkey Creek, Mississippi — a tiny town on the Gulf Coast where no one died from Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005. It was brave men like Thompson who were largely responsible for saving so many lives on that terrible night. “We would swim up to a window or we would knock on a door. ‘Anybody in there? Ya’ll alright? Y’all want to leave?” Thompson told the Washington Post. “We had to go get them because the water pressure was pushing the doors. In some houses, we went through the window. We would guide them and get them in the boat and take them to the church,” that was on higher ground.
Canaday and Thompson never imagined themselves as heroes, but that is precisely what they are. And it wasn’t a particular set of values bestowed on them by their geographical location that made them react so bravely in the midst of the tragedy unfolding around them; the states of Oklahoma and Mississippi didn’t nurture in them the courage to act. It is rather an innate goodness found deep within that bubbled to the surface at the most fortunate time.
That goodness, too, is why so many in New York City reacted with such bravery and grace on that terrible Tuesday morning in September, 2001. The firefighters and police officers that climbed those stairs while so many were running away from the danger are genuine heroes. And there are so many otherwise normal citizens that found extraordinary courage on that day.
Those moments of bravery — along with countless others — make Donald Trump’s conflation of true acts of heroism with Ted Cruz’s statement regarding “New York Values,” all the more disgusting. Trump is brazenly attempting to turn any criticism of the political leanings in his hometown into an attack on the heroic response to 9/11. Doing so is intellectually lazy and wrong.
Because many of us understand exactly what Cruz meant when he used Trump’s own words against him in Iowa. New York’s most noteworthy Republican statesman of late, Rudy Giuliani, is progressively liberal on most social issues. He would fare better running as a Democrat in many of the reddest of states. His successor, Michael Bloomberg, was elected mayor in large part due to the goodwill Giuliani earned based on his response to the tragedy of 9/11. He rode Giuliani’s coattails to city hall, and moved leftward every year in which he served. New York is currently under the tutelage of Bill de Blasio, one of the more liberal mayors to ever be elected, in one of the most liberal cities in America. Their politics have nothing to do with their response to 9/11. But they are counter to the views held by the majority of the Republican party and much of rest of the country. Those are the “values,” that Cruz was referring to.
Donald Trump is a master of malleability. In fact, he brags about it constantly. He changes positions to survive, and does so almost daily on the campaign trail. It is a chameleon-like adaptability that has helped him thrive in the rough and tumble world of New York real estate, learned from decades of doing business in the city. But it has nothing to do with the heroes lost on that fateful day and those still walking the streets that Trump calls home. He should be ashamed for trying to make such a baseless correlation. Values aren’t always about heroes.
On September 17th, 2001, David Letterman sat behind his desk in the Ed Sullivan Theater for the first time since the attack of 9/11. In his monologue he talked about a tiny community in Montana that personified, for him, values. American values.
“I’ll tell you about a thing that happened last night. There’s a town in Montana by the name of Choteau. It’s about a hundred miles south of the Canadian border. And I know a little something about this town. It’s 1,600 people. 1,600 people. And it’s an ag-business community, which means farming and ranching. And Montana’s been in the middle of a drought for… I don’t know… three years? And if you’ve got no rain, you can’t grow anything. And if you can’t grow anything, you can’t farm, and if you can’t grow anything, you can’t ranch, because the cattle don’t have anything to eat, and that’s the way life is in a small town. 1,600 people.
Last night at the high school auditorium in Choteau, Montana, they had a rally (home of the Bulldogs, by the way) they had a rally for New York City. And not just a rally for New York City, but a rally to raise money… to raise money for New York City. And if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the… the spirit of the United States, then I can’t help you. I’m sorry.”
There are heroes among us in New York, New York and Moore, Oklahoma. There are heroes in Turkey, Creek Mississippi and Choteau, Montana and all across this land; normal people capable of extraordinary acts whose political values matter little in the grand scheme of things. And it’s inherently disrespectful for Donald Trump to single out the bravery on display on 9/11 to disparage Ted Cruz. New York City, heroes everywhere, and the rest of us, deserve better.