i’m hooked again.
Five years ago, my productivity plummeted as i sat glued to my computer screen, reading the shocking daily developments regarding the mayoralty – or rather amayoralty – of a crack-smoking populist windbag named Rob Ford. i couldn’t tear myself away from each new and mind-boggling revelation. Can you say “pussy” in a press junket? Can you hand out 20 dollar bills to voters at Christmas? Can anything be done to stop this guy?
The answers (yes, yes, and no) were determined long before history repeated itself and Donald Trump took the world stage, predictably, as the US President. i say “predictably” because every Torontonian who saw it happen with Ford could absolutely believe it would happen again. And sure enough, it did: an overblown bloviating blowhard took a major office and started throwing around the word “pussy.”
There Oughta Be a Law
What surprised me most about the Rob Ford Hobbit saga, and now the Donald Trump Lord of the Rings main event sequel, is not that the guy got in. It’s that while Ford was in office, and there was all this hand-wringing about what could be done, and everyone realized to their horror that, technically, nothing could be done, that once the man was out of office, no measures were then enacted to prevent a repeat performance. What happens when your mayor pulls half days? When he’s photographed reading city documents while driving? When he football-tackles his colleagues in city council chambers? When he’s caught on tape smoking crack?
There never used to be laws governing these behaviours because they were never needed. In the past, if someone screwed up badly enough to embarrass himself, a certain feeling kicked in: shame. Shame, the great leveler, would overcome the perpetrator, and he would resign from his position in disgrace. We saw it most recently with Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown, who was accused by two women of sexual misconduct. That’s shameful behaviour, especially for a politician, because (so the reasoning goes) our politicians should represent the best of us. So good old trusty shame crept over Patrick Brown, and he resigned his position (leaving a vacuum that has been filled by none other than Rob Ford’s brother. Ain’t that some shit?).
In Brown’s case, shame worked as it was supposed to. But what would have happened if it hadn’t? What if Brown was more of a Ford or Trump type? What if the allegations had come out, and a reporter thrust a microphone at him while he was grabbing food at KFC, and he responded through a mouthful of macaroni salad “Oh THOSE bitches? Yeah – i got em both real drunk and tried to screw ’em, but they were frigid and i didn’t get anywhere. What about it?”
What if shame hadn’t played its pivotal part? Well, then… maybe there’d be pressure from the PC party for Brown to step down? But then… what if he didn’t? i don’t know how the PC party rules work, but what if the conservatives didn’t have any legal recourse to compel Brown to resign, and he just… kept on being their leader? And what if, despite the controversy, he had a really great shot at beating the liberal incumbent in the upcoming election? What then?
For the past few decades, i’ve seen people downplaying shame as if it’s passé. If it feels good, do it. And shame doesn’t feel good, so don’t do it. Why indulge a negative feeling like that? Bleh! Get rid of it, Stacy!
So the opposite of shame is pride. You should feel pride in absolutely everything you do, even – and perhaps especially – the things you do that, traditionally, you might feel ashamed for doing. If you make a bad judgment call and you screw something up tremendously, don’t feel ashamed for it. Who needs that? Instead, you should own it. Admit to doing the once-shameful thing, and spin it into a bold and idiosyncratic element of your personality. You go, girl.
i’ve viewed the death of shame with passing interest through the lens of a Christian worldview. What’s interesting to me is that, from a Christian perspective, pride is the bad guy. It’s listed as one of the so-called seven deadly sins. It cometh before a fall. Christianity is full of reversals and seeming contradictions like that. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. It’s harder for the rich than the poor to get into heaven. Blessed are the meek. Any Christian can tell you that pride is where the danger is, and that, conversely, shame offers us an opportunity to evaluate, and correct, error.
Shame is the emotional equivalent of burning your hand on a hot stove, and learning not to do it again. Sure, no one likes to burn themselves… but is the logical response that pain should be done away with? Just a planet full of crippled beings with red hot stoves and seared flesh hanging in ribbons from their bodies, high-fiving the skin and tissue off each other and saying “you go, girl.”
Burning pain, although unpleasant, is instructive and useful. So too, shame. To a Christian, shame comes from the realization that you’ve done something God doesn’t want you to do. You feel bad about it – burned about it – and so, hopefully, you correct that behaviour to avoid feeling that way in the future (and to avoid the pain and disappointment you’ve caused God in the process).
Of course, in our secular society, nobody believes in that God nonsense anyway. So shame was the pain of doing something that displeased society. Your fellow human beings would disapprove of your actions, and you’d feel shame, and correct your behaviour so that you’d feel okay, and you’d make other people feel okay about you.
Bring Out Your Bullshit
But i’ve noticed something in the rare cases when i’ve bothered to call people out for doing something socially unacceptable.
“Please don’t do that,” i’d say.
“Why?” Some Douchebag would reply. “There’s no law against it.”
There’s no law against it. Shame was not working. Me, being a representative of society, and my disapproval of Some Douchebag’s actions, were not enough to evoke that crucial shame response. The only factor compelling acceptable behaviour was the law.
“Please don’t do that,” i’d say. In these cases, whatever Some Douchebag was doing actually was against the law.
“Why?” Some Douchebag would reply. “Are you a cop or something?”
Shame was not working. And now, even the law was not working.
These days, i sit glued to Reddit’s /r/politics page, watching the shocking news come rolling in on a daily basis. Fridays are the best. That’s when the big bombshells are dropped, and then the cable news networks and the public have all weekend to stew about it.
i watch as Trump, with his mind-boggling backing from the Christian community, breaks God’s laws left and right — banging pornstars, possibly paying playmates to abort his babies — but of course, shame is not working. i watch as society reacts with disgust at all of his pussy-grabbing, his mocking the disabled and war vets and dead vets’ families and immigrants and congress members, spinning lie upon lie upon lie on Twitter. And still, shame is not working.
“Why?” Trump asks. “There’s no law against it.”
He carries on.
i read the news about how special counsel Robert Mueller is tightening his dragnet. Regarding Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia and his apparent obstruction of justice, there actually is a law against it, and Robert Mueller, in point of fact, actually is a cop or something. But Trump, like Rob Ford before him (and likely Rob Ford’s brother after him), caring for neither God nor man, feels no shame. Absolutely nothing can stop him.
And when Trump is eventually out of office in two years or six, or after he abolishes term limits and stays on until he’s assassinated or dies of natural causes, we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief and settle back into business as usual, enacting no laws and installing no safeguards against the next time it happens, in an increasingly godless world where this kind of thing will just keep happening.