Politically Reactive is one of my favorite podcasts. The hosts, Hari Kondabolu and not-my-spirit-animal-because-that-would-be-culturally insensitive W. Kamau Bell, are funny and insightful and they have incredible guests on every week. I started listening as the election was winding up. Their episode after the election… a sheer “what the fuck just happened” moment… was incredibly cathartic. I was thrilled when I learned that they would be doing a second season and I have been grateful for their voices that echo both my terror and my desire to amplify important voices and to do my part in keeping the world from going to shit.
On a recent episode, they interviewed Naomi Klein, author of the new book “No is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need”. It was a compelling interview, as all of theirs tend to be, but there was a phrase that came out during the interview that has been been bouncing around my head and heart now for a days. Klein admits that Trump is indeed skilled at branding and she goes on to say that “Trump’s brand is impunity through wealth”. That hit me like a ton of bricks. Think about the now infamous Access Hollywood tape. I hate to even reprint those words here, but for the sake of making my point, I will. This was a piece of the conversation that Trump and Billy Bush had with italics added for emphasis:
Trump: …I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Bush: Whatever you want.
Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
Not convinced? How about the January 2016 campaign speech in which Trump joked “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t not lose voters”. This is the Trump doctrine, in a nutshell. This is what he is selling to the American people, the idea that there is a certain level of wealth, power, celebrity, and/or influence that lifts you above the laws of the land or the laws of common decency. It’s what he believes of himself and his wealthy, elite friends. It’s also what he wants to believe for the country, that we’re powerful enough to not have to play by international rules. It suddenly occurs to me, as we watch person after person within the administration be connected to Russian intelligence or other ethically questionable actors, that what Trump is trying to prove is that he has reached a point where is finally and completely beyond repercussions for his actions. A person who thinks and acts this way would be a natural partner for politicians who are only beholden to monied interests and not to the constituencies they swore to serve. It’s terrifying to think that their of people of faith who have bought into this way of thinking.
It wasn’t long after listening to Klein’s episode of the podcast that I heard the news about Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case ending in a mistrial. While I know that the legal system is far from done with Mr. Cosby, there is still a part of me that has to question whether or not Cosby’s fame and influence is keeping him out of prison at least for now. Cosby and his family as stood on his reputation as an educator, an entertainer, a philanthropist, a civil rights icon, and groundbreaking social icon to claim that he is not capable of the things of which he is accused. The fact that history continues to bear out is that having access to that level of power actually makes one more likely to commit certain atrocities without being under the level of scrutiny that someone without power might experience. It’s hard for many of us who grew up watching him on television to separate the image of the father I always wanted in Cliff Huxtable from the seeming predator that is Bill Cosby. We don’t want it to be true, and so we make excuses. We blame the victims. We buy into conspiracy theories. We bury our heads in the sand instead of allowing ourselves to contemplate the very likely scenario that several dozen women are telling the truth. This is how power works.
We’re in love with power. We’re enamored by it. And for some reason, we have cultivated the idea that the pinnacle of power is being able to escape accountability. If the people and structures that we believe in can be scrutinized just like anyone else, then what real power do they have? And more importantly, how solid are the things in which we believe?
I carried these thoughts with me until I heard that the police officer who killed Philando Castile was not being convicted on his murder. I watched that video when it was released. I tried not to, but I couldn’t let myself off the hook. Add Castile’s name to the list of people killed by police officers who received no convictions. It’s a travesty of justice, but as a nation, we believe that police officers should operate with impunity. We tell our kids that “cops are your friends” and we buy the lie that they exist to serve and to protect. We’ll refer to one bad apple, forgetting that they spoil the bunch. For decades, police forces have operated in black neighborhoods without accountability. Video evidence has changed nothing. Hashtags have changed nothing. Calls for independent reviews of policing have changed nothing. The police system is in place to protect the status quo for the elites who already find themselves above the law. Let’s not forget that Brock Turner only spent three months in jail because of his “promising future”.
I am angry and I feel a bit hopeless right now. I want my kids to know that there is justice in the world. I believe in that so much that I stood up twice to take my denomination’s discipline for the same action. It was badly mishandled and only now seems to be in the process of being corrected. We can’t in good faith tell our kids that the systems they are supposed to trust are working properly. I’ll never have enough power or influence to protect my kids from consequences nor would I want to if I did. I believe in accountability. I believe in justice. I believe in things being made right as best that they can, but what I see when I look at the world are circumstances that would make Micah, Amos, and Isaiah scream from every corner. “Woe to you who pervert justice!”
I’m angry and I feel a bit hopeless… I don’t want to live in a world where the wicked act with impunity…