Take a look—at the photograph. The Kremlin is doing its best to erase even the memory. The last thing in the world Vladimir Putin wants is for Alexei Navalny’s afterlife to be more powerful than his dissident one.
At his peak, Navalny, the Russian dissident who just died in a Russian prison, was just a dissident. Now maybe he is rapidly becoming a martyr. Putin wants to be Peter the Great. Putin’s view, death is for losers. He will do everything he can to turn his thuggery into an enduring crown.
The problem: Navalny chose honor over self. He represented leadership by principle.
He didn’t do showy rallies—they weren’t allowed. He didn’t hold office—he was banned. He chose a principled death over a submissive life.
I write on President’s Day weekend. Its title suggests we should honor our long list of Presidents. Its predecessor holiday was Washington’s Birthday. We recalled history if ever so briefly. Now President’s Day is known for selling things. Home of the Brave or Home of the Sale?
Thankfully, minutes before the Super Bowl kickoff, Reba McEntire, best known for her country music renditions, performed the National Anthem as a dedication, not a stylistic look-at-me performance. If Ms. McEntire had been singing the last stanza as Francis Scott Key wrote it, she would have sung these lyrics:
O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’re the land of the free and the home of the brave.
These words draw the line. We know which side of the line Navalny occupied. He stood with George Washington. And Abraham Lincoln.
Americans have flirted with Soviet and then Russian versions of a different side of the line: communism. Radical Leftists saw Marxian utopia. Now radical Rightists admire the suppressive use of power, which exemplifies Putin’s Russia. Power over Ukraine. Power over Navalny.
While we should always pursue a better America, we should never lose sight of what free men and women have built. Nor the role America has played in encouraging and supporting a freer world.
America might stray from Key’s aspirational lyrics and McEntire’s tone-perfect rendition, but the underlying principles that birthed and have sustained America are worthy of “The Brave”—courageous persons who will stand on the right side of history.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.