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Truth, compassion, and honor. Some say those words are obsolete in 2017 America. Our lives have become a game of bullying and self-obsession—living for the moment strictly for personal gain. Some of us love gobbling up the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable like some kind of video game monster. We think we deserve to feel powerful, even if we have to be mean to achieve the power—even if we have to cozy up to someone like Vladimir Putin. But not everyone has given up honor—not all of the people all of the time.
In an interview on the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, journalist Katie Tur reflected on the obscene insults she endured as she attempted to report on Republican campaign stops during the presidential election. She said the man at the podium seemed to give permission to the rowdy crowds to express their basest natures. A sense of freedom from honor, truth, and even simple good manners was heady wine, and the people acted like they were drunk on it. But Tur didn’t smear her detractors as they had her. She said she believed those people would never behave that way individually.
Mob mentality is not a myth.
I wonder how many of those same people were caught in the recent hurricanes and floods. How many risked their lives to rescue one another—to rescue some of the “lesser” people they had spent so much public energy hating? How many were saved by people they had treated as sub-human? Were they able to somehow shove their positive feelings aside to return to being loyal to the hate-fired pack once the waters receded? Were any of them changed?
Recently, I watched the film JACKIE about Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the moments, hours, and days after her husband was assassinated. She had collected donations and spent that money bringing historical items from previous presidencies into the White House to honor the service of those presidents. She believed in the dignity of the office. She held her husband’s head together after he was shot and then stood for swearing-in photographs for President Lyndon B. Johnson with her husband’s blood and brains on her suit and in her hair.
She insisted on patterning JFK’s funeral and burial after the ceremony given to President Abraham Lincoln. Against orders from security officials who feared those who hated her and her husband for being liberal, she insisted on walking with the casket. She included her small children so they would have a visual memory of the greatness of their father. At the time, she was publicly praised for her dignity, for giving the American people a means of mourning, for being a model for American courage. She rose above the death threats.
Americans rise to difficult challenges (which may be a good thing since we’re flirting with nuclear war again). Irma and Harvey will not be stand-alone hurricanes. Wildfires will spread over more and more of the West. Shooters and terrorists will continue to be commonplace. But underneath our sneers and cynicism and despair, I have to believe we are better than this. One day we will stop pretending people with experience, education, and ethics are automatically enemies, and we will find a way to be proud of ourselves as human beings and of the society we run. Our religious leaders will return to the basic commands on which the major religions were founded…or we will create new religions. I believe because I saw our people in the midst of disaster. The heart is still there.