I don’t know Special Agent Kerry O’Grady, the Secret Service agent who said she’d rather face “jail time” than take “a bullet” for President Trump, but her father and my father were close friends from the time they were in high school. My dad’s tenure as a Secret Service agent and her dad’s as a DEA agent ran contemporaneously and spanned several decades and several presidents.

Over many years, many adventures, and many glasses of Johnnie Walker, they both said many things about the leaders under whom they served that would have been unfit for broadcast on the 6 o’clock news. But reading the reports of O’Grady’s Facebook post about Trump, it’s clear that, even if my father and hers might have agreed with her underlying sentiment, they both would have been disappointed and dismayed by its public and indelible expression.

O’Grady’s Facebook message was indistinguishable from millions of other posts critical of candidate Trump (and was tamer than most of them) but for one thing: as head of the Secret Service’s Denver field office, O’Grady’s words took on an expanded meaning and did harm to the agency she represents and the nation she is sworn to protect.

When a partisan message is delivered by an agent whose duty is to protect without regard to political or personal opinion, it erodes the nation’s trust in one of its most hallowed institutions. Like former President Barack Obama’s use of the IRS to attack political enemies, a Secret Service agent suggesting she would rather go to jail than take a bullet for a protectee makes us question things that should never be questioned in a healthy and functioning United States.

Presidential campaigns are grueling on Secret Service agents. Charged with the unimaginably difficult task of ensuring the absolute security of protectees in a constantly-changing landscape, agents spend weeks or months away from home and family in a state of perpetual alert knowing that perfection is their only option. Exhausted, frustrated, angry, and perhaps relieved at the likelihood of never having to deal with him again, O’Grady’s lapse of judgment is imminently understandable. But for a person in O’Grady’s position, understandable is not the same as excusable.

Social media is a scourge to the thoughtful but occasionally impulsive. Comments that, a generation ago, would have been vented in the corner of a barroom or across a kitchen table and then quickly forgotten are today registered worldwide to be permanently cataloged and linked to their author in an ever-expanding database of fleeting thought.

As we navigate this new frontier, we are in need of leaders to show us how to conduct ourselves. Our president does us no favors in that regard, indulging his own petulant narcissism in tweet after obnoxious tweet. But the fact that the president is incapable of holding his tongue makes that skill more precious and admirable among others in public life. It makes outbursts like O’Grady’s that much more disheartening.

The truth is, we need people like O’Grady: strong, accomplished, intelligent, brave women who serve as role models and show us all that there are still government agents and agencies worthy of our respect. Her lapse in judgment diminished that respect a bit, but we shouldn’t let it fully drain an ample reservoir built up during a lifetime of dedicated service.

Our nation’s history is pockmarked with presidents, vice presidents and presidential family members who are the moral inferiors of those charged with their protection, which makes Secret Service agents’ dedication all the more impressive. But it also highlights the absolute necessity for those agents to ignore the president’s personal or political failings in the exercise of their duties.

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I believe O’Grady when she says that she’s devoted to mission and country. She is, after all, made of the precious mettle that her lineage affords. But on that Sunday in October, her judgment failed her.

Kerry’s father and mine were cut from the same cloth. Because they were, I’m confident that if either of them was alive today they would take her aside, buy her a drink, give her a hug, and tell her: “You screwed up, but it’s going to be okay. Trump is neither the first nor the last president to inspire fits of uncontainable rage. But next time the urge strikes you, maybe try to pick a medium that’s a little less permanent. Like, you know, talking.”

Bill Sheahan is a writer who grew up in Denver and now lives in St. Paul, Minn. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Colorado School of Law.

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