Adam Kinzinger

Renegade for Independence Day

The Fourth of July seemed like a fitting day to read Adam Kinzinger’s political memoir, Renegade: Defending Democracy and Liberty in our Divided Country.

If you don’t remember Kinzinger, he’s one of two Republicans in Congress who served on the January 6 Committee and one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump. I profiled him in my 2020 book Better Politics Please.

It’s an interesting book, perhaps not as polished and slick as some political memoirs (and he gives us the mercy of not rehashing his entire life in excruciating detail like most political memoirs), but a solid snapshot of politics from the Tea Party to the Insurrection.

Kinzinger is an interesting guy. At one time a rising star in his party, he’s now a pariah, driven out for standing up to Trump. He launched Country First, a political action committee dedicated to restoring sanity to politics. Among other things, they promote reforms like nonpartisan primaries and ranked choice voting that help minimize the impact of extremists and limit the power of the two major parties. I haven’t explored it in depth, but it’s an refreshing to see some practical engagement instead of the endless handwringing and doom scrolling.

Real Talk: What Are We Doing?

I’ll be honest, I’m deeply concerned about the 2024 election. Who isn’t? But forget the two old white guys and all the drama. It feels eerily like 2016. Even at this early stage, every one is burned out and doesn’t want to pay attention. The race should be a foregone conclusion (authoritarianism vs. democracy? c’mon!), but it’s not.

And we all know how 2016 turned out.

My point is the aftermath of 2016. So many groups organized and mobilized and got to work. Many of us (myself included), admitted we hadn’t been involved enough in the 2016 race and bore responsibility. We committed to doing the work and you saw tremendous effort poured into the 2018 election. There were Indivisible groups everywhere and strategies being talked about for everything, from the lowest office to the highest. People were doing the work.

I don’t see that today. Instead I see more complaining and disengaging.

That’s disheartening at a moment when we absolutely need to be engaged.

And I’ll be honest here, I feel guilty because I’m in a similar boat. I did get involved in 2017. I door knocked like crazy in 2018. I did the work and was part of some powerful change (my city is reaping the fruits of this change). But in 2019 I started West St. Paul Reader, a local news site, and it became clear that direct political involvement would be inappropriate. Now I can argue that I still do the work—our annual voter’s guides that help voters understand local races are indispensable and very popular. And I have a voice to argue for engagement and sanity, albeit from a nonpartisan lens. It’s a different kind of work, but it’s still important. Regardless, I feel guilty that I’m not directly speaking to the crisis we face. That’s my issue to wrestle with.

But it worries me that so many people seem resigned to handwringing and complaining. That’s not going to fix anything. You need to get involved and do something. I get door knocking isn’t for everyone (I did not like doing it). Maybe you don’t want to embrace a political candidate or even party—I get it. But do something.

It reminds me of the words of Devona Weatherhead, the first woman to serve on City Council in West St. Paul:

“I believe in put up or shut up.”

Devona Weatherhead

She decided to run for City Council on the last day of the filing period on her way home from the grocery store. She got involved. She did the work. And rather that pick political fights, she wanted to sit down and talk about disagreements over a cup of coffee.

Today, on Independence Day of all days, we need more of that democratic engagement.

"I believe in put up or shut up." -Devona Weatherhead

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