Elijah Cummings, Modern Patriot


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), an 11-term congressman who chaired the House Oversight and Reform Committee and Congressional Black Caucus, died on October 17th, 2019 at the age of 68.

As a ranking democrat in congress, Cummings helped to lead the liberal and moderate resistance to an authoritarian Trump presidency. Shortly after Michael Cohen’s testimony before congress, Cummings was quoted as saying: “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?” This quote highlights Cummings’ lifelong commitment to patriotism, a value which has recently been misconstrued to fit a hateful conservative agenda.

Elijah Cummings rarely missed an opportunity to defend justice, even in the face of violence: at age 11, he desegregated his community swimming pool while white patrons hurled projectiles toward him; in 2015, following the police murder of Freddie Gray, Cummings lifted the story to a national stage in order to call attention to increasingly common police brutality; in recent months, he has done everything in his capability to counter the actions of the Trump administration; on his deathbed, he signed subpoenas to ensure that current executive officials would be held accountable for their violations of the U.S. Constitution.

In all of these actions, Cummings displayed the same commitment to attacking treason displayed by revolutionary soldiers, mid-19th century slaves, and World War II soldiers. Cummings understood that the importance of his safety paled in comparison to the importance of protecting justice in the United States. In all of his actions, Cummings displayed a level of patriotism that has defined our country since its inception.

This term, patriotism, has been used to describe a bevy of actions in the last decade—most often, it is used to justify the thinly veiled racism of alt-right conservatives. Too often, “patriotism” is used to support our overfunded imperial military, or to defend the openly hateful behavior of President Trump. Instead, let us use this term to characterize those who lead for those who have no platform, stand for those who cannot stand, and speak for those who cannot speak. When we are, as Cummings said, “dancing with the angels,” this attitude of patriotism is what we will be remembered for.