Can Politics Handle Truth and Humanity?

Senator Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), September 20, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
Reflecting on the Brett Kavanaugh ordeal and the dignity of human life

Perhaps the most pernicious comment in recent weeks was the demand of Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii for men to “shut up” about the differing accounts of high-school memories involving Brett Kavanaugh.

The Brett Kavanaugh ordeal has been miserable in so many ways. A woman in pain may have been used for ideological purposes. A man and his family went from a moment of civic honor to one of hellish horror, with death threats and the death of innocence for all, never mind the presumption of guilt.

As Kavanaugh was about to come up for a vote, my friend Ed Mechmann, a former prosecutor who works for the Catholic Church in New York, was receiving the Great Defender of Life annual award from the Human Life Foundation. He was talking about the death of truth and our societal tendency to devalue, dehumanize, and dispose of people. He was talking about the culture of death that leads us to do exactly this to human beings, especially our weakest, who often cannot speak for themselves. His words could easily apply to those the conventional establishment has decided to rally against. And it’s no surprise this could apply to Brett Kavanaugh, because it’s hard to escape the suspicion that much of the hell unleashed during his nomination has everything to do with the ideological divide over abortion.

What makes this so repulsive, besides the fact that most abortions are unnecessary death (if we were all a little more generous and loving in our outreach and creativity, we could eliminate most of them), is that so many of us who have supported the nomination of Kavanaugh also had our hearts broken for Christine Blasey Ford. It seems clear that she has gone through some pain in her life. If we’ve learned anything from the #MeToo movement, it is that there’s a whole lot of pain and wrong in the world today. Which gets us back to telling the truth.

There’s a synod on youth taking place in Rome right now. An archbishop from Australia, Anthony Fisher, O.P., took to the floor in the opening days to apologize, as you would imagine, for sexual abuse and inappropriate or insufficient responses from some in the Church. He also said:

For the times Catholic families, parishes, and schools have failed to introduce you to the person of Jesus Christ, his saving word, and his plan for your life; and for the times we’ve seemed to you unwelcoming, distant, or harsh, or have not demonstrated the sheer joy of being Christians; and for the times when you were searching for your sexual, ethnic, or spiritual identity, and needed a moral compass but found Church people unsympathetic or ambiguous: I apologize.

We people do things that we are ashamed of, in our youth and throughout our lives. By God’s grace and the wisdom of experience and the process of maturity, we may move beyond some of the worst of it. But the shameful behavior continues today in our national life, in our politics. It’s bipartisan, as one side can feed the other.

But the desperation to hold on to power — and to hold on to that which doesn’t make sense to most Americans — promises that it will only get worse. Pro-choice people tend to want to know that a woman in a difficult situation has options; people who support assisted suicide tend to want to know that people won’t have to suffer cruelly and unnecessarily. Instead of destroying lives — ending them in moments of utter vulnerability or tearing them apart in a media frenzy — how about embracing and lifting up all those who live gratuitous love so that people can see that’s part of the reality of American life today, too?

We tend to see and breathe in to a stifling degree. But the night of Ed’s award, I ran into Cheryl Calire, who runs a Mother Teresa home for mothers in need in upstate New York. She’s one of the people whose existence in the world constantly reminds me that there is something better than what we tend to be stunned by on the incessantly reloading “news.” (Which is really a nation of commentators at this point, to quite an overwhelming extent.)

“The denial of truth is certainly not a new phenomenon,” Ed said.

But in the communication age, it is spreading like a virus and is having a corrosive effect on society on all levels — from our public institutions down to our own individual lives. Our challenge is the same it has always been, in every movement to eliminate injustice and oppression — from abolitionism to the civil-rights movement to our pro-life movement. Abraham Lincoln once said, “The real issue . . . is the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time and will ever continue to struggle.”

He also said: “We are all united in one human family — what hurts one hurts us all. Because either everybody’s life matters, or nobody’s life matters.”

That includes everyone we watch on TV, who steps up to the plate to serve or say his piece. Let’s drop the devaluing, dehumanizing, and disposing. Everything might just become a little more humane if we insist on it.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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