As we celebrate the inauguration of Joseph Biden as the 46th president of the United States, a moment of gratitude is appropriate for our fellow Americans who made a transition of power possible. As a historian of presidential crises and chronicler of numerous coups and revolutions, I have compiled a top ten list of people who did their duty under some of the most trying circumstances imaginable. Since this is a purely personal selection, there is obviously plenty of room for debate.
First, a word of explanation about my choices. It may seem strange that there are more Republicans than Democrats on my list, even though Democrats have a much more consistent record of opposition to Trumpism. We must bear in mind, however, that it takes a lot more courage to go against your own party than to follow the party line. In resisting President Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election, Democrats were doing what was expected of them. Republicans who did the same thing were risking the anger of their base and even death threats.
My list includes people with a history of supporting, and even enabling, our outgoing president. To those who believe that this disqualifies them from appreciation, I quote the wisdom of the gospel: "There shall be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who have no need of repentance."
Defending the constitutional order is the responsibility of all Americans, not just a chosen few. That is why my list includes people from all walks of life, from high to low, from famous to obscure. They represent a wide gamut of American institutions--from the military to the media, from the judiciary to the world of sports. These institutions held because of individuals who showed up to work and did their job. Since we never know when we will be called upon to do our duty, it seems right to begin with one of these everyday heroes.
1. Capital Police officer Eugene Goodman. The sight of a lone black police officer facing down white rioters before diverting them away from the Senate chamber is likely to become one of the enduring images of the failed insurrection. He is a shining example of workplace courage.
2. U.S. District Court Judge Brett Ludwig. Tapped by Trump for the federal bench in early 2020, and approved unanimously by GOP senators, Ludwig upheld the results of the presidential election in Wisconsin. His ruling stated unambiguously that Trump was given "the chance to make his case and he has lost on the merits."
3. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The mild-mannered Republican withstood huge pressure to reverse the election, including a personal telephone call from the president urging him to produce 11,799 votes out of thin air. My favorite Raffensperger quote comes from his Jan. 2 phone call with Trump. "Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is that the data you have is wrong." A structural engineer, Raffensperger favored "the data" over political loyalty. That is the foundation of a free society.
4. Patriots Coach Bill Belichick. America's most celebrated football coach declined Trump's offer of the Presidential Medal of Freedom after the Capitol riots, citing the assault on "our nation's values, freedom, and democracy." By placing his civic duty above his friendship with Trump, he set an example that resonates far beyond professional sports.
5. Twitter boss Jack Dorsey. This is a tough one. The conflict-favoring algorithms of Twitter and other social media companies contributed greatly to the silo-ization of American politics, undermining our fact-based democracy. Dorsey tolerated the tweeter-in-chief for far too long before finally choosing to enforce his own rules against "incitement of violence." See Luke 15:7 above.
6. Fox News host Chris Wallace. A representative of the news media deserves inclusion on this list, but which one? By asking tough questions and speaking truth to power, while being fair to all sides, Wallace fulfilled his journalistic responsibilities honorably and honestly. The same could be said for many of his colleagues but Wallace stands out because he was working in the very belly of the Trumpist beast.
7. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis. The U.S. military is the ultimate guarantor of our freedom. When one of America's most respected generals reprimands the commander-in-chief for subverting the constitution, we need to pay attention. He deserves our gratitude for reminding everybody that our soldiers swear allegiance to the country, not to any individual.
8. Senator Mitt Romney. No GOP leader has been more consistent in standing up for democracy, and plain decency, than the failed 2012 presidential candidate. On the day of the insurrection at the Capitol, he urged his colleagues to tell voters "the truth": "President-elect Biden won this election, President Trump lost."
9. Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence. After four years of sycophancy and servility to Trump, the vice president performed his constitutional duty by certifying the results of 2020 election only hours after rioters had swarmed the Capitol chanting "Hang Mike Pence." He had no legal alternative but still merits our thanks for his call to Congress to "get back to work."
10. Incoming President Joe Biden. Through calm and steady leadership, the man that Trump called "Sleepy Joe" did more than anyone else to ensure a peaceful transition of power. By ignoring the temper tantrums and provocations of his predecessor, he charted a way to put the turmoil of the last four years behind us. He more than deserves his presidential honeymoon.
Michael Dobbs is the author of seven books, including the best-selling One Minute to Midnight. His latest book, King Richard, is about Nixon and Watergate.