A friend sent me a quote yesterday morning and I experienced so fully and completely facets of myself, I was moved. Since I was a child (my first memory of this happening is at around six years old), when I saw what felt to me to be an injustice, another child being yelled at by the teacher for example, I would cry. It was not happening to me and yet, it might as well have been.
This ongoing aspect of my character frustrated me and felt like something to be guarded against as ‘I did not know why I was like this’. This morning, I think I got an answer thanks to this long but important quote, shared here in full:
“The condition of being good is that it should always be possible for you to be morally destroyed by something you couldn’t prevent. To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility.” — Martha Nussbaum
I am forty now. Still open to the world, still trusting of things I cannot control and, on occasions like last week, still morally destroyed. Had I fully developed my moral and ethical character as a six-year old? Maybe not. But was the acorn inside of my oak tree? Of course. The acorn is always in each of us.
Since that time my character has, naturally, developed and, yet, that six year old still resides inside. That six year old, now tempered by thirty four years of experience, is the one who allows me to feel empathy, heartbreak, sadness; fear and anger.
It is she who allows me to be destroyed by things that, on the surface, have nothing to do with me but, really, have everything to do with all of us. That six year old deserves love, not frustration, as she allows me to feel the feelings that ought to be felt when witnessing something like what happened at the Capitol and its aftermath.
This past week I have been functioning but I have also been heartbroken, distracted and, to some degree, depressed. I see now that I trusted the world and it left me morally destroyed. I felt unpleasant things that cannot be guarded against. They cannot be because, I am learning, all feelings in the human spectrum of emotions are for feeling. Even, and especially, the unpleasant ones.
So, the feelings that lead us to being destroyed are not to be guarded against but they are to be guarded. They are in order for us to keep our humanity, our goodness, our ethics and our morals intact. They are to be felt in order to allow the oak tree to continue to thrive. These emotions won’t kill us, but, the absence of them surely will. It has already started to do so and last week’s Capitol attack is the proof.
I, and those I know were shattered by extreme circumstances for which we are not to blame. While it was hard not to recognize facets of myself in that quote, it was impossible not to recognize facets of those that I love, including the friend who sent it to me. A friend who is the best of human beings and the embodiment of living an ethical life. A life in which they are, as another friend of outstanding character says, willing to “stress the plant”. It is people like these friends, who risk devastation because they know that true strength lies in fragility, who will, in the big picture, keep the world from collapsing on itself.
It has been a week today An since the insurrection at the United States Capitol and any hope that the Trump-induced fever was breaking has been met head on with disappointment, heartbreak and fury. It has been because those who have aided and abetted an unhinged President continue to aid and abet him and that unhinged President remains in office. They are not feeling what they ought to be feeling to prevent further bloodshed.
The cabal continues to aid and abet, utilizing what Caitlin Flanagan references in her piece, “Worst Revolution Ever”, the “oldest trick in the nationalist playbook” which is the promise that the insurrectionists “operated in service of some grand idea — to be explained at a later date — and that it was going to take some head-cracking and bloodletting to be born.”.
As she writes, the founding fathers’ worst fears, that “…a bunch of dumbasses”, would elect an amoral tyrant in whose name they are willing to pillage, plunder and spill blood, have been realized. It is infuriating to think of what would have happened had any of this been done in President’s Obama’s name, or, George Floyd’s. They would surely not have been welcomed inside, escorted downstairs or be allowed to leave in anything but handcuffs.
Any claims of a bloodless revolution were disproven by facts and, yet, the very night of the insurrection, six Senators, including Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley (who raised a fist a la white power) in support of the mob, objected to moving forward with the Electoral College vote count, giving further credence to the lie that was itself at the root of the insurrection.
Nearly a week later there are ongoing debates about whether this President should be impeached, the 25th amendment has not been (and will likely not be) invoked as Cabinet members who could, for once, do the right thing, are jumping ship before they can be called upon to do so.
Mike Pence, who insurgents wanted to hang and for whom a gallows was built, cannot seem to break from the one who brought him to the big dance. Even if he cannot care about what happened to Officer Sicknick or his colleagues, one would think he might have enough respect for himself or his family, to do what was right?
Well, if you are like me and thought that, you would be wrong. Not because it is the wrong thing to think, but, because the ghost has left the Mike Pence machine. It all got to be too much for the ghost who had been living in the empty skin suit named Mike Pence.
And there is more bankruptcy of moral character as the primary concern for most of the GOP seems to be how many Twitter followers they are losing or the book deals that are falling through. Lindsey Graham who tearfully broke up with Trump on the House Floor last week is now hitching rides with his BFF on Air Force One.
Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz are calling for unity with straight faces on state television and arguing that impeaching or removing an unhinged President would further divide the country, while not truthfully reflecting that it was their President’s mendacity, and their support of it, that did the dividing. Mitch McConnell is again obstructing and delaying votes. Who would not be destroyed by such amorality?
Well, at least on the surface, any of those listed and their boss are not destroyed. Trump is characteristically remorseless; gleeful only when an angry mob engaged in violence in his name. Violence he did not, and never will, call off even though further attacks are being planned.
He will not call any of it off because he cannot. He does not care because he is unable to care. His character is bankrupt. He is not willing to trust enough to be destroyed by something larger than himself. None of them are.
If Trump was capable of caring he would have cared about a pandemic that has killed nearly four hundred thousand of the people he was sworn to protect. He has not cared about an ocean why would he care about five measly drops? He wouldn’t, he doesn’t, he won’t. Ever. Other peoples lives mean nothing to him.
Trump has a malignant and deficient personality. A character devoid of any of the emotions in the human spectrum of emotions. He can read off of a teleprompter about an orderly transition and not even twenty four hours later reanimate violence. He cannot change. He does not change. He will not change. He cannot help himself. Ever. He is an ill embodiment of toxic masculinity and the men (and women) who support him are ill too.
Gregg Popovich wrote that Trump’s aiders and abetters, “are worse than Trump because they are not sick” and while I love Mr. Popovich, on this I disagree with him. These men may not hit the criteria for DSM diagnoses but they are ill. To lie with impunity, purely for their own power and their own gain, to the destruction of others, including their supporters, can only be characterized as a sickness.
These rioters are sick too but they are also clearly vulnerable people. Easily manipulated, cognitively and mentally fragile and, therefore, incredibly susceptible to the power of suggestion. Harvard lawyers like Ted Cruz know this about them. Other politicians who possess even a basic understanding of human psychology and the forces of the ego, know this about them and use it against them for their own gain.
Exhibit A: Adam Johnson pictured above. At left, is him being allowed to enter The Capitol and leave The Capitol with a piece of stolen property. At right he has returned home to Florida for a bit of sun followed by an arrest. Oh what a difference a mug shot makes. Gone is the look of glee mixed with bravado and righteousness. Mr. Johnson now appears sad, subdued and, perhaps, even a little stunned that his actions have been met with consequences. At 36 years old he’s learning one of life’s toughest lessons. A lesson many of us learned long ago.
Other rioters like Jacob Angeli (“angel with an i” as he spelled it out to a reporter; pictured below) has refused to eat since going to jail last Friday as he is not being served purely organic food. The self-described Q’Anon Shaman who had been dressed like a cross between Chewbacca and a waiting Price Is Right contestant, howling at an unseen moon can now not eat anything less than farm to table meals.
And, yet, in spite of everything, including feeling destroyed by all of it, I feel sorry for them. It is hard to admit feelings I hadn’t fully understood, but, in admitting them to a friend the other day, I got a glimpse; a view of that full spectrum of human emotions that need to be felt in order to keep our characters intact. I was telling my friend my feelings of pity toward these rioters, coupled with my rage toward the politicians who can only be called their masters, and, to my surprise, my friend confessed to feeling the same.
They remarked that upon seeing those insurrectionists storm The Capitol, one of their first thoughts was “look at all those hurt people” and this friend is right: they are hurt. Is the hurt justified? I don’t know. Is the hurt real to them? It is. People are either looking for love or they are crying out for it. These people’s cries had been incited by their President to go through a tunnel of rage and they emerged out of that tunnel howling.
They believed they were doing the right thing. They believed their President would march with them to The Capitol and mount a defense for them now. He didn’t and he won’t. They are wholly and entirely on their own and they didn’t know that they would be. It is all heart destroyingly sad and it should be.
It should be because the job of remaking the world as it should be is as devastating as it is ongoing. In my favourite version of Kanye West’s song “Streetcar”, Daniel Caesar sings, “Let me know/Do I still got time to grow?/Things ain’t always set in stone/So I hopped in the cab and I paid my fare/ See, I know my destination/I’m just not there”. People of good characters know their destinations as they can remember they have already arrived.
They remember by allowing themselves to be destroyed and then pieced back together over and over and over again. People with a moral centre have one so they may continually engage in the task of remaking. They have the sight to see that nothing is ever really set in stone. Not this moment. Not this time. Not the MAGA movement. Not those like us or diametrically opposed to us. None of it. Even when it seems it may be and even when the devastation appears unceasing.
In accepting an award on her late huband Chadwick Boseman’s behalf, Simone Ledward Boseman said her husband “made a practice of telling the truth. He actively searched for it, in himself, those around him and the moment. The truth can be a very easy thing for the self to avoid. But if one does not live in truth, then it’s impossible to live life. So it became how he lived his life, day in and day out. Imperfect but determined. He developed his understanding of what it meant to be the one, the none and the all. ‘A vessel to be poured into and out of.’”.
Anyone of good, moral character has to be such a vessel. They have to tell the truth about the world and themselves. They have to know they are imperfect while remaining determined. They have to be the one, the none and the all. They have to be willing to be destroyed. They have to because if people of such character give up, not only will those people be truly and irreparably destroyed but the world will surely be too. It all may be destroyed anyway, but, we have to trust and we have to try. We have to be willing to be destroyed and, in doing so, be remade as more than we were before.