Renegade: Defending Democracy and Liberty in Our Divided Country

Image of Renegade: Defending Democracy and Liberty in Our Divided Country
Release Date: 
October 17, 2023
The Open Field
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“Although democracy may not inherently be fragile, when its caretakers abandon their duties, fissures can appear. Sometimes it takes a renegade to stand in the gap.”

It is perhaps fitting that Adam Kinzinger’s political memoir is being released on Halloween, because it culminates with a tale of a truly frightening time in American history: a violent effort to overturn a presidential election. In Renegade: Defending Democracy and Liberty in Our Divided Country, Kinzinger, with the aid of Donald Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio, provides an inside look at his transformation from Republican Party golden boy to . . . yep, a renegade.

A renegade is someone who is viewed as abandoning or betraying an organization or a set of principles. While many of Kinzinger’s critics, including some in his Illinois home district and even a few in his extended family, believe he abandoned his party, it was, ironically, adherence to his principles that resulted in estrangement from that party.

There is an old joke about an elderly wife complaining to her husband that they no longer sit close together while he drives their truck. He replies, “I ain’t moved.” Well, Kinzinger tells us in Renegade, he ain’t moved. Instead, it was his party, and even his faith, that moved. But not of their own accord. Instead, he writes, “my party and my faith have been hijacked by extremists who represent a real danger to our democracy.”

As H. L. Mencken wrote when the circus surrounding the Scopes Monkey Trial ultimately descended on the courthouse, “Now the clowns turn out to be armed, and have begun to shoot.” When the clowns in Washington start to shoot, sometimes democracy ends up in the crosshairs.

The hijackers of his party, Kinzinger says, are part of a movement, “Trumpism,” which he deems “un-American in the extreme” and which “seeks to undermine our elections, place controls on the press, sharply restrict immigration, politicize the judiciary, and polarize the people.”

The hijacking of his faith, though, might be even more frightening. Kinzinger was raised as a religious fundamentalist, a member of the Independent Fundamental Baptist church. To hear him tell it, though, the cult of personality surrounding Donald Trump made the IFB seem like a collection of screaming liberals.

Witness the letter addressed to his wife from someone “expressing the outrage of ‘God Fearing Christians.’” The letter writer promised that her husband “will be executed. But don’t worry You and Christian [Kinzinger’s infant son] will be joining Adam in Hell too!” This particular “God fearer” must have been mired in Old Testament retribution, ignorant of the New Testament’s admonitions to speak in love.

In its essence, Renegade depicts the story of an idealistic young man, a military veteran, and bona fide hero who protected a woman from a knife-wielding attacker on the streets of Milwaukee, who met the devil at a crossroads but refused to sell his soul. As it turned out, though, principle has its cost.

For Kinzinger, it was the loss of his job in Congress and some friends. There was even the estrangement of a few family members. One extended family member called Kinzinger a “’disappointment‘ to the family ‘and to God,’” and accused him of going “’against your Christian principles and join[ing] the devil’s army.’” It makes one wonder if that family member was in letter-writing concert with the “God Fearing Christian” mentioned above.

But while principle sometimes demands a cost, lack of principle also has a cost. Sometimes, it may even be a corrupted soul. Apparently there was a lot of traffic at the aforementioned crossroads, and the devil did more than his share of soul-buying business there.

Despite the threats and attacks against him and his family, Kinzinger says, “It wasn’t my job to screw over half the country to satisfy some sort of political fundamentalism.” Furthermore, “I was a truer Republican and conservative than those who had fallen victim to a man who lied to their faces—election fraud!—to the point where he incited the Capitol riot.”

Kinzinger deemed that silence was not an option, and that it was more important to take a stand than to take a seat in Congress. That made him an endangered species: a politician with a conscience and a backbone. You don’t have to agree with his position on the issues to admire his integrity and strength of character.

Though no longer in Congress, Kinzinger has formed Country First PAC. In his new role, he says he is seeking to prop up democratic ideals, not dismantle them. It’s the same battle, but simply a different front.

Renegade can be read as both a cautionary tale and a morality tale. In the former, the tale is told to warn listeners (or, in this case, readers) of danger, while the latter depicts a struggle marked by angels and demons trying to persuade a protagonist toward either good or evil. Either way, as Kinzinger spells it out, danger lurks.

Although democracy may not inherently be fragile, when its caretakers abandon their duties, fissures can appear. Sometimes it takes a renegade to stand in the gap.