Friday, May 5, 2017

Listen: It's rarely this easy to identify the bad guys. It's a moment of clarity.

Politics, like life, is usually pretty complicated.  It might not always seem that way, of course.  Especially if you're passionately devoted to a particular view of the world, people might seem to be clearly sorted out into good and evil.  But that's not really the case.  There are very few villains.  Most of the time the world is a mushy scrum of misinformed -- or self-interested -- folks... plus the many muddlers that get in the way.

Politics is the same.  Most of the time, politicians, staffers, and intellectuals are some uncertain combination of good intentions, ignorance, experience, principles, and selfishness.  Combine these sorts of traits in different proportions and you can get the recipe for just about anyone in politics.

Senator John McCain: a cup of good intentions and a cup of principles, topped with a heaping scoop of selfishness.  Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: equal parts selfishness, experience, and good intentions, stored in a cool, dark place.  Senator Ted Cruz: a cup of selfishness and a dusting of experience, garnished with a child's tears.

Politicians usually don't do things that they believe are foolish or evil.  They usually do them because they think that those things are a necessary sacrifice, or because everyone else just doesn't understand the real truth, or because they're trying to represent their voters above all.

You're a Montana legislator voting to require licenses and 2,000 hours of training just to braid hair?  Well, braiding hair is a lot like other trades like hair removal or massage, and it's not like it ever hurt anyone to have high requirements for the healthcare industry, right?

You're a Texas governor ignoring the appeal of a man on death row, even though there are some good arguments for why the condemned man is innocent?  Well, that man received a fair trial, and then other courts heard his appeals, and then there was a clemency board that also turned him down... who are you to over-rule them all?

You're a New Jersey senator who's interceding with some federal agencies to help out a friend -- a friend who's often generous with very friendly gifts?  Well, you would have done that for anyone, gifts or not -- and since when is it a crime to make a few calls to try to get a visa rushed?

Life is muddy, and so is politics.  It's rare to find anyone completely clean or completely vile.

And that is why this moment is so important, because the 2016 election and its aftermath have been a moment of clarity.

For the first time in a long time, there's nowhere to hide.

This is how history gets made.  Moments like these come along -- moments when the thunder has died down and the rain has stopped, the storm clearing away, and for one tense instant the world has become clear and bright.  Sharp-edged shadows, and no shade to be found.

The Trump administration tried to block all refugees from some of the most desperate places on Earth to fulfill an odious pledge to ban Muslim immigration.  If you are a politician or pundit or person who supports that decision, there's no ambiguity.  You are willing to harm the defenseless because it is politically expedient.  We see you.

The Trump administration has worked to push a healthcare bill that would causing suffering for millions and mean the death of thousands -- and they've done it not because they believe it's a good bill (no one honestly thinks that), but because they want some sort of "win."  If you are the sort of legislator who votes for that bill for that reason, there's no passable excuse to hide behind.  You are willing to cause pain and death to the vulnerable because you place your party ahead of your country.  We see you.

The Trump administration disdains the idea of objective reality or truth, preferring comforting lies about crowd sizes or ethical lapses or transparency or scandal, since they care more about perceptions than performance.  If you defend them from investigations, delete data, or lie to reporters to hide the truth, there's no cover story that will work.  You are willing to destroy traditions and norms that protect us all because your team has achieved a moment's ascendancy.  We see you.

It's a moment of clarity.  We see the bad guys.  And we see more:

A busy woman pulls into the parking lot before her next meeting.  She's listening to a story on the radio, and they're talking about the Medicaid cuts in the latest Republican healthcare bill.  She's tired and she has a dozen things to do today, but she still takes five minutes in that parking lot to call her representative -- to thank them or scold them.  We see her, too.

A young man hears about the Muslim ban and he's gone, he's off, getting into his car before he even really has time to think about it and driving to the airport, and when he gets there he's astonished to learn that others had the same idea -- hundreds of them, maybe a thousand -- and no one there knows what to do but they know that they can't let this happen silently.  We see him, too.

A teenage girl watches her president say something cruel.  She knows it isn't true.  She thinks someone should do something.  She thinks maybe it should be her.  She googles "local elections."  We see her, too.

A thousand thousand women and men, laughing and cheering, flood the streets of every city with pink hats and signs.  They fill the trains, they fill the alleys, they fill the city.  They cannot march because they are a merry ocean and the shores are already brimming with their joy.  We see them, too.

It's not a good thing that we're here.  There are people who might get hurt.  There are people who might die.  And every minute spent on the vaudeville villainy of this government's misdeeds is a minute that we're not spending on real solutions to our real problems.

But we're here, and it's sun-bright in America.  No honest politician can fool themselves into thinking they can hide in fog or shadow.  Good intentions, ignorance, experience, principles, selfishness... it doesn't matter how they're made, it matters how they act.

After this year, we'll know where every leader in the country stands.

Where do you stand?  What are you made of?

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