“You may be right, I may be crazy.
Oh, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.” — Billy Joel
I remember like it was yesterday. The late 1990s were difficult times for self-described Democrats and progressives. It was soul searching time for me in those days. The president of the United States became only the second president to ever be impeached.
There were numerous defenses for the president and his behavior. Yet, most of those defenses were permutations of the same defense. Essentially they said that what a man (or woman) does in their personal life does not impact them in their professional life. As long as Bill Clinton was a good president from nine to five then what does matter that he isn’t a good man after those hours?
French president Jacques Chirac famously had multiple affairs. The joke was that he kept replacing each significant owner with the same woman minus ten years. The French people accepted him as their leader then we should have accepted Clinton as our leader. As we know, that argument won out. Except, it really didn’t win out.
There were enough people in 2000 that felt the same way I did. It helped Bush win the election over Al Gore. I ended up voting for Gore because he was a different man and an infinitely better one than Clinton. However, there were millions that punished him for the mistakes of his former boss. Yet, that debate ending up lingering like a fart in an elevator.
We often have difficulty separating a message from the messenger. It’s one of the important things I point out when teaching Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. One of the steps he mentions before a direct action campaign is self-purification. It’s a challenging concept for students. Yet, it is absolutely crucial. Listening to someone like Newt Gingrich (at the time) prattle on about character is hilarious. However, it doesn’t mean the point is wrong.
If we have learned anything over the last seven or eight years it is that personal character is absolutely a big deal. We just endured a presidency of someone that has no character. We saw what happened. We saw how that spilled into everything. We saw the abject cruelty. We saw the inhumanity and indifference. We saw the lack of a fundamental understanding and empathy.
Whether this inhumanity is merely a reflection of the people that supported him or whether his inhumanity rubbed off on them is hard to parse. His grotesque existence brings forth any number of questions. However, the most important one is whether those that support him really reflect his inhumanity or do they support him simply because that inhumanity bothers us. Either is equally likely.
One might ask what the difference is and I suppose it is a minor detail, but it tells me that in one case there are millions of sociopaths/psychopaths out there. In the other case, they have human empathy, sympathy, and concern in most cases, but just enjoy the political nihilism. In a blunt world it can be rather difficult to decipher any difference between the two.
Humanity itself is a fragile thing. Everyone we encounter in our lives is flawed. Look at us in the perfect angle and we can be angels or demons. Both of things make us human. We are walking contradictions and so choosing any one to lead us can seem like an impossible task. The former guy may be human in the purest scientific sense, but lacks any redeeming human traits. Such a statement seems impossible and yet objectively true. There isn’t a positive human trait there. Some of us thought those things weren’t necessary to lead. They were absolutely wrong.