Modern Heroes

Times are strange. My home office has a bunch of Funko Pop bobbleheads of superheroes. Thor, Eleven from Stranger Things, the Hulk, Spider-Man (both Peter Parker and Miles Morales), and more – because I’m a geek at heart. I’ve also got a bunch of books on creativity and learning which have made a massive difference in my career. And I’m starting to get a couple in a different category from people like Preet Bharara and Neal Katyal which are more justice-oriented. It’s a strange year indeed when the two moments you applauded the most in public are when Captain America caught Mjolnir and kicked Thanos’ ass and when Preet and Sally Yates hugged onstage this week.

For those of you who don’t know who these people are, let me explain. Preet is a former US Attorney who ran the Southern District of New York. That’s a massive job in the US Department of Justice which fights everything from drug trade to mobsters to illegal financial activities on Wall Street. Sally Yates rose through the ranks of the DoJ to become Attorney General for all of 10 days (randomly I just found out she went to my high school too). They’re accomplished professionals who seem grounded but when you hear some of their stories… whew.

I made a quick mind map of what I found impressive about them. I will note that Donald Trump fired them both within a couple months of each other in 2017. Preet, who served in Trump’s hometown of New York, didn’t take a phone call from him when he thought he’d be asked to take a Comeyesque oath of loyalty. Yates was AG and heard about the initial Muslim travel ban after it was announced in the press. She and other top DoJ brass decided it couldn’t be enforced legally and they hadn’t even been asked about how it might be compliant. She was fired for “Refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” Of course, it wasn’t legal and it was struck down in the courts multiple times.

Both of them sacrificed their job-of-a-lifetime over their principles. Furthermore, they took stands for what they believed to be right and legal and made themselves be fired rather than resign. Bharara wrote his book afterwards and started a podcast which is justice-oriented and delves into many aspects of modern society. Those stories and perspectives were on display during his conversation with Sally Yates. It was evident that they both had amazing respect for each other’s accomplishments, but more-so for who they are as people and what they stand for.

As my wife and I drove home, our conversation was almost eerie. We almost didn’t have much to say each other. It’s not like we’d just seen Thor kill a demon. What we’d seen were two pretty normal people who were capable of lifting Mjolnir – who were worthy. It was so stunning in its simplicity that there wasn’t much to talk about. They didn’t save anyone from an alien invasion, they’re just good folks who were also relatable.

We were appreciative for all they’d given our country and their service. At the same time, we were a bit sad. They’re private citizens now, for the time being anyways. The evening was terrific, but they’re not prosecuting criminals and they’re clearly more limited in what they can pursue to improve the justice system. The more we see ill-intended executive actions fail in court like the one Sally Yates got fired over, the more we slip. I feel that the country has to be a bit worse off as a result of not having them doing what they’re best at. After all, there’s not an endless supply of worthy and motivated people.

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