Imagine being a leader exiled to an island with only one other person. Now imagine that instead of shrinking under the wound of political isolation, you become stronger. Courage somehow thrives in this seclusion. Truth, honor and integrity build the foundation of a lighthouse that becomes a beacon of leadership. The love of country is the shining light inviting others to this island.

This is the kind of leadership that is good, true, and very sorely needed. This kind of leadership can begin a relationship based on trust.

The political exile I am referencing is none other than the sole U.S. representative from Wyoming, Rep. Liz Cheney. She is an example to me of everything that is right in government. When all that people can see in Washington is gloom, Cheney’s leadership is a lighthouse. Cheney is one of a handful of elected officials who has chosen her country — our country — over her party. She has been willing to risk her own life, the life of her family, and her political career to uphold the oath to the Constitution that she proudly affirms.

Cheney was one of only 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump in January following the Capitol insurrection attempt. In May, Cheney was voted out of House leadership by her fellow House Republican members for criticizing the former president. Cheney gave a defiant speech on the House floor later that night.

“This is not about policy, this is not about partisanship, this is about our duty as Americans,” Cheney said. “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

In September, Cheney was named vice chair of the select committee investigating the insurrection. Cheney serves with Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. In November, the Wyoming GOP voted to no longer recognize Cheney as a Republican. Cheney is joined on her principled island with Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

Last month, Cheney addressed the New Hampshire Free Speech Event. While discussing the domestic threats surrounding Jan. 6, Cheney said: “This task now falls to us. And the question for every one of us, not just elected officials, is this: Will we do what we must? Will we defend our Constitution? Will we stand for truth? Will we put duty to our oath above partisan politics? Or will we look away from the danger, ignore the threat, embrace the lies, and enable the liar?”

Her words are a call to all Americans to do what we need to do to save our republic. Cheney is leading by example, not only with her words but also by her actions.

The increase in toxic partisanship, tribalism and self-interest is wreaking havoc on America’s faith and trust in our democracy. Gallup has been tracking American’s trust in the government for decades. According to polling data published in September, Americans’ trust and confidence in various aspects of the government remain low or have dropped lower when compared with the historical average for each.

According to Gallup, trust is low, “particularly among Republicans, who register some record lows with their party out of power in Washington. Independents’ trust is also notably weak, and any increases in Democrats’ trust appear to be tied to their party’s control of the White House and Congress.”

Only 37% of Americans trust the legislative branch. As a group, Republicans’ trust in the legislative branch dropped 11 points to 22%. This lack of trust, especially with the legislative branch — designed by the Founders to be the most powerful branch of the government — constitutes a crisis. One that we should not continue to ignore.

One way to increase trust in government is to highlight those elected officials who work to earn that trust and reward them with our votes. That trust can be earned by telling Americans the truth and rejecting the lies. It is Cheney’s dedication to the rule of law and her oath to uphold the Constitution that propels her work on the Jan. 6 select committee. She has shown remarkable courage in standing up to her political party, whose members all but exiled her to a political island. Cheney is almost single-handedly attempting to save our democracy.

Lynn Schmidt is a columnist and Editorial Board member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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