Is Liz Cheney a modern day Laocoön?

January 9th, 2024 by Tom Lynch

The story of the Trojan Horse appears in Book Four of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. Written around 800-850 BCE, it was altered, adjusted and amended over the succeeding centuries, but the kernel of the story never changed.¹

As we all know, in the tenth year of the Trojan War, in order to trick the Trojans, the Greek Epeius builds a gigantic wooden horse, a “thing of guile,” in the belly of which the bravest Greek warriors conceal themselves under the command of Odysseus. The rest of the Greeks pretend to quit the fight. They burn their camp, board their ships, and pretend to sail away for home, only to hide in waiting behind a nearby island. The Trojans, streaming out of Troy, find the horse, but don’t know what to do with it. A Greek spy named Simon, a relative of Odysseus, convinces the Trojans that the horse is a gift to their brave warriors and urges them to bring it through the Gates and into the city of King Priam.

It is at this point that Laocoön, a Priest of Apollo, appears at the Gates with his two sons to tell the Trojans it’s all a trick. He comes rushing down from the citadel crying in alarm, “Are you mad? Do you think the foe has gone? Do not believe this horse, whatever it may be. I fear the Greeks, even when bearing gifts.”

Laocoön throws his spear with all his strength at the flank of the horse. It lands hard and pierces the shell, causing the Greek warriors inside to begin to whimper and the townspeople to begin to suspect a Greek trick.

But here, the gods intervene. Two serpents rise out of the sea, snake over land, wrap themselves around Laocoön and his sons, and choke the life out of them.

The Trojans take the death of Laocoön as a sign, drag the horse into the city, and that night, Troy falls.

According to the Roman writer Pliny, the sculptors Hagesandros, Athenodoros and Ploydoros, created this famous sculpture of Laocoön and his sons being attacked by the serpents in the later first century BCE. It has been housed in the Vatican Museum since its discovery in Rome in 1506.

The story of Laocoön and the Trojan Horse makes me think of Liz Cheney, a Republican leader from Wyoming, first elected to Congress in 2017 and exiled by the Party in 2021 for speaking truth in a House full of lies. Daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, she has always been steadfastly conservative. Following the insurrection of January 6th, she recognized  Donald Trump for the grifting, cunning, cancer-on-the- country he is, fully responsible for the death and mayhem that day brought. And she recognized the insurrection for what it was — a treasonous assault on the Republic.

As Chair of the House Republican Conference, Cheney was the third highest officer in Republican House leadership, a position now held by New York’s Elise Stefanik. More about her in a moment.

After agreeing to serve as Vice Chair on the House Committee investigating the events of January 6th, Cheney was stripped of her House leadership role by the Kevin McCarthy-led Republican House minority. This is the same Kevin McCarthy who, two days after the attempted insurrection said rioters “overtook” the Capitol. He said they broke a window in his office, could have kidnapped or even hung members of Congress, and called the mob attacking the Capitol “un-American.”

And whom did the former Speaker blame for the mayhem? Why, Donald Trump, of course. Here’s what he said on the House floor in the days following the attack.

This rational, reasonable, and, frankly, patriotic position is one McCarthy sped away from as soon as he realized the MAGA base and nearly all House Republicans disagreed with him. On 28 January, 17 days later, he was at Mar-a-Lago begging Trump’s forgiveness.

But Liz Cheney never wavered. Democrats may not agree with her conservative views — she voted with the Trump-led Republican Party positions 93% of the time² — but how can anyone question her patriotism? She sacrificed her entire political career and future for it. In her new book, Oath and Honor, published by Little, Brown & Company, she writes, “So strong is the lure of power that men and women who had once seemed reasonable and responsible were suddenly willing to violate their oath to the Constitution out of political expediency and loyalty to Donald Trump.”

Cheney’s Republican Party is gone, and so is she. How much has it changed? Well, consider her “replacement,” Elise Stefanik, now chair of the House Republican Conference since Cheney’s ouster in 2021.

On Sunday, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, she was asked about her views on the many hundreds of people convicted and imprisoned  for crimes relating to their actions on January 6th, (convicted by juries of their peers, by the way). In reply, she said, “I have concerns about the treatment of January 6 hostages.”

“Hostages” is the exact word Trump has been using lately to describe the people who stormed the Capitol looking to “hang Mike Pence” and find Nancy Pelosi — “Where’s Nancy,” they called as they stormed her office while her staff hid silently behind locked doors.

And “hostages” is a word we’ve heard and read many times in media coverage since the Hamas deadly attack on Israel on 7 October, an attack that still leaves more than a hundred people languishing, as “hostages” somewhere in Gaza, an attack that tears at the soul of Israeli families who don’t know if their loved ones are alive or dead. I find it disgusting that Trump and Stefanik (probably to be followed by other Trump sycophants in the days ahead) conflate the two diametrically different groups.

Six days from now, Iowans will begin the process of picking someone to challenge Joe Biden. Every pollster on God’s green earth predicts that someone will be Donald Trump. Liz Cheney and other patriotic Republicans, the ones who still yearn for the Party of Abraham Lincoln, will do all they can to stop that from happening. Will they succeed? I have no idea, but the odds are heavily not in their favor.

But this much I do know. Liz Cheney and Laocoön have much in common. Serpents destroyed them both.


¹ The full story of the Trojan Horse that accomplished the fall of Troy took shape in Virgil’s Aeneid, completed in 20 BCE.

² FiveThirtyEight, a politics-focused website developed by statistician Nate Silver, said Cheney voted with Trump 92.9% of the time he was in office from 2017 to 2021. Her votes clashed with Trump’s positions 13 times, according to the website’s tally. These were mostly in the area of defense funding and Trump’s reluctance to impose sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea.