Judging the Complicit

I’ve been posting daily since March 11, mostly about COVID-19. But the past few days have found me focused on another crisis gripping our nation. I’ve already shared a few of those posts. And I thought perhaps that when I wrote last night I would today turn my thoughts back to the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, what issue is more existential, more threatening to our well-being — to our lives?

But, I can only say so much. Cases are rising globally, the numbers here remain plateaued — and daunting. And, it is hard to look beyond the fact that there is seemingly no national-level leadership, no focus, and no commitment. Tony Fauci says the President barely talks to him any more. Trump seems to have turned the page — at our peril.

Unsurprisingly, the issues of the day, revolving around George Floyd’s murder and the wide-ranging protest and debate this has sparked, continue to hold our immediate attention. Nonetheless, public health concerns could still be addressed, leadership could be shown, and preparations could be made for a second wave in the fall but it doesn’t seem to be happening. While some public health professionals are trying to maintain focus and awareness, without national leadership and vision it will be too little I fear. And even IF the president and others turn their attention to this in a meaningful way, I fear it will also be too late.

Meanwhile, the issues that we have all grappled with over the past few days continue to resonate powerfully across society. Some want to vilify George Floyd, attack the protestors, and chant a mantra of “law and order,” without recognizing that the anger and despair we see in our black fellow-citizens has incubated for years in the stew of unconscious bias, blatant racism, and social injustice. Others want to defund and/or disband the police. Hopefully, we’ll find a path that works for us all.

One theme though, that we hear again and again — because it is true — is that for decades we didn’t understand, we didn’t truly listen, and we didn’t want to face the uncomfortable truths. It’s time we do.

Sadly, however, there are still many among us who don’t want to hear. Who want to hide from the reality. Foremost among them are some of those those who profess to lead. I watched with disgust as a stream of Republican Senators ran and hid and refused to speak as the President and his administration attacked peaceful protestors, vilified them in his Tweets, and as he continues to tweet and retweet messages of division from within the fortress which he has made of the White House.

These senators dodged the questions… said that “they weren’t there” at the protests so they couldn’t answer. Said they were “late for lunch.” Others just ran… scurrying away… refusing to even look at the press or say a word. They hope it will go away — and meanwhile they continue to stall on issues such as anti-lynching laws or how to address qualified immunity for the police.

History will judge them (and us all). But it has been shocking to watch these so-called leaders disappear into themselves as they enable the President in his divisiveness, in his abandoning of the norms of leadership, and in his immorality.

Before the election in 2016 Lindsay Graham called the President a “jackass,” a “nut job,” and a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” Now Graham condones the President’s worst abuses with the passion of an acolyte genuflecting before the altar of power. He is complicit. He has sold his soul. And so have McConnell, Cornyn, Grassley, Kennedy, Johnson, and almost every one of the Senate Republicans. They have empowered the President in his abuses, in his abandonment of our allies, and in his attacks on our citizens, our values, and our rights. They have ignored his countless lies and, in accepting these falsehoods without question, they acknowledge the power the President has over them.

There’s a fascinating article in The Atlantic. “History will Judge the Complicit” that discussed much of this. The author, Anne Applebaum, suggests that the goal isn’t to convince us of the truth of the lie. It is to demonstrate that the liar has the power to compel us to accept what we know is untrue. When the President lied about the size of the crowds at his inauguration, despite photographic and video evidence that shows the claim to be blatantly false, it began to take us down the slippery slope that finds us where we are today. And today he is lying about the size of the protests yesterday in DC… claiming that these demonstrations — some of the largest ever — were “smaller than expected.”

The President demonstrated his power by compelling his press secretary to tell the known lie about inaugural crowd size, and compelling others in his administration to support that lie. And the Senate Republicans, in refusing to challenge him or recoil from his blatant and repeated lies on countless topics, opened the door for even more abuses while simultaneously acknowledging his power over them.

Their complicity, and the complicity of many others, is as much to blame as Donald Trump for why we are where we are today. They give him the power to diminish us, to demean our values, and to drive us deeper into crisis.

A week ago, Senator Booker said “If America hasn’t broken your heart, you don’t love her enough.” It’s worth repeating. We need to love our country more than ever. We need to love our country enough to put truth above politics. We need to love our country enough to not be complicit.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

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