I first read John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage over fifty years ago when I was in my mid-teens. Published in 1955, five years before he was elected the 35th president of the United States, Profiles celebrated the moral fortitude of selected United States senators who, at times of national crisis, placed principle above ideology, the common good above private interests, and democratic values above demagogic passions. And that courage often cost them dearly in the form of vicious personal attacks and defeat at the voting booth in the next election cycle.
I read the book again last week and wondered, Is it time for a new edition? Is it time for a 2017 version of Profiles in Courage, one that would focus not on the past but on the present and would highlight not only senators but contemporary men and women from all walks of life–government, business, religion, the arts, education, and elsewhere? Are we ready for a new edition that would specifically recognize those men and women who, in the face of our own contemporary political crises, are courageously challenging threats from the highest levels of government to our most fundamental American principles, the hallmarks of our democracy such as a free press, freedom of religious expression, equality of treatment for all, the welcoming of immigrants, civil and respectful discourse, and the absolute centrality of truth in the face of a culture of “alternative facts”?
Who will write this new version of Profiles in Courage? And whose stories will grace its chapters? Who will our descendants read about, fifty years hence, and who will they take inspiration from to deal with whatever crises America will be facing then?
Who will future Americans come to know and honor as today’s profiles in courage?