By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire
To the person holding a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. I don’t have a hammer. As a lawyer, though, I look at what happened in Washington and I find failures of law. As a writer, I find failures of theme. As a parent, I find failures of guidance. And as a person of faith, I find failures of faith.
We have long relied on unwritten rules to police our political activities. Certain things aren’t done because we have never done them. Presidents don’t hide their taxes. Presidents don’t sell their own goods to the government. Presidents don’t pardon their business cronies. Presidents don’t put their own political interests ahead of the country’s security interests. Presidents don’t write with sharpies on maps given out by the weather service. Presidents don’t call their vice presidents “pussies” for refusing to sanction election fraud. Presidents don’t themselves promote election fraud.
Some of these things are amenable to legislation. We can write new laws to address them, as we have in the past with the abuses of Watergate. To the extent that we can, we must. A strong new ethics regime can no longer wait, taking into account the modern economy, modern communications, and the demonstrated willingness of dedicated grifters to skim as much fat as they can for themselves, in a way that has hitherto been considered unthinkable.
But we will find very quickly that the law can only take us so far. Quite frankly, I am not relying on the law when I walk down Elm Street in a [pre-Covid] crowd of people, and my wallet is in my pocket, and my thoughts are on “who is pitching today.” I am relying on the fact that most people, like me, want peace and quiet from those around them. And that simple social contract was just grossly violated in the streets, parks, and national monuments of Washington D.C.
New York’s Mario Cuomo observed that politicians campaign in poetry, but they govern in prose. Even prose needs to tell a story, though. And for too long our national story has been offensive and desultory.
Rather than celebrating sacrifice, and hard work, and perseverance, it has been celebrating wealth, and power, and easy virtue. Those who went without were lulled on the left by the stupor of identity politics and spoiled on the right by the vitriol of jingoism. The middle way rotted from within.
Fortunes were made by liberals and conservatives both, while many others suffered. Chinese goods have been coming cheap for a long time. Our country has choked on how easy it has become to lead a drab and hopeless life. We need to check our national goals, to be sure that they include leading lives that are worth living for all, not just for a chosen few.
Looking at the faces of those who chose to harm the rest of us, I was struck, however, not just by how poverty-stricken many seemed; how so many appeared to have never seen a marble statue before. I was also struck by how certain types of illness seemed to be in flower.
The flamboyance of these actions, the yearning for attention, the desperation etched into one face after another. There were hurting and sick people in that crowd. It is shocking to me that many of our so-called leaders choose to take advantage of this weakness in the body politic rather than try to heal it. And I mean heal in the medical sense; in the caregiving sense; in the moral and humane sense. One does not put a stumbling block in front of the blind. One does not tell warped and self-serving lies to the paranoid, to the hungry, to the empty within, to wind them up and make them do your bidding.
Empty within; in spite of the profusion of emblems of faith. It saddened me beyond measure to see so many totems of Christianity hoisted by these people. I actually wondered for a moment if there was something special about the Christian faith, allowing it to be used in that fashion; if Christianity’s antinomian strain could be both taken and mistaken on such a profound basis; if these people could literally question the necessity of law and order, on some Christian basis.
But then I remembered that all religions are dragged through the mud by their most avid practitioners. Judaism is reduced to a caricature of itself in many a West Bank synagogue; Islam is travestied endlessly by the self-appointed heroes of both the Taliban and the suburbs of Paris; Buddhism is made deadly in the jungles of Burma. If anything, it is perversely touching that certain Americans love their savior so much, that they take him along for the commission of their crimes. He is that personal to them. Mexican drug lords do the same thing.
Law, policy, guidance, and faith. Four hammers, a thousand nails to hit, and not much time to get started.
Michael Davidow is a lawyer in Nashua. He is the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project. His most recent one is The Book of Order. They are available on Amazon.
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