Trump and Our Complicity

The presidential campaign is an affliction.

Donald Trump’s boasts about sexual assault were staggering enough. His later claim that he never committed those crimes only proved that he had lied — one way or the other. But the lying of the political establishment in its spin about the Trump scandal goes even further. It tempts us to be complicit.

Pro-Trump partisans say his behavior, while offensive, is typical locker-room machismo. This claim is a willful distortion. It’s not normal for a man to brag about sexual assault. Further, Trump was not recorded in a locker-room, but in a television studio, a public place. His partisans want to condemn his behavior and excuse it at the same time.

Anti-Trump partisans show the same hypocrisy. Many who condemn Trump have also argued that pornography somehow empowers women. A generation repelled by Trump nevertheless finds “Game of Thrones” entertaining. Trump’s body language is creepy, but last year sexual violence on movie screens was merely a shade of grey: “mature” people can enjoy it in fiction. Such arguments lure us to condemn sexual violence publicly but excuse ourselves for watching it privately.

All of these partisans want us to imitate their hypocrisy. They are trying to haze us into their fraternity of narcissism.

It may be that we’ve lost our voice in voting. The system may be denying us serious alternatives. On the other hand, maybe this year just really stinks. New coalitions might arise out of this mess. But voting is not the only way we govern our nation — nor even the most important.

The real power of our system is that we can talk with each other honestly and solve problems on our own. Conversely, the real threat to our system is anything that poisons the trust we share face-to-face. That trust is still within our control. We can build it or lose it, but the choice is ours.

Let’s reject complicity in convenient distortions and calculated spin. If we straighten what is twisted in our ambitions, we can restore trust with each other. This means doing spiritual work on our own souls, but I think those who are boldest in repentance today will set the course for our nation tomorrow.