The United States Senate chose to acquit Donald Trump today. Everyone in that room knew that Trump was guilty. On top of that, they were the target of his crime. He tried to kill them. His followers still want to kill them. Many of them were afraid for their lives and their families if they voted to convict. We’ve heard nothing from Pence in all of this even though the traitors constructed a gallows from which to hang him. He’s hiding out, they say, because he’s afraid of more MAGA terrorists hurting him and his family.
Hmm, now where I have heard this before? Maybe I’m thinking of everyone from the janitor on up to head foot ball coach and local God, Joe Paterno, at Penn State that did nothing about serial child rapist Jerry Sandusky because they were afraid they’d lose their jobs. Or maybe the dozens upon dozens upon dozens of people who knew exactly what Jeffrey Epstein was doing and did nothing because they were afraid.
Feeling you might be killed is trauma. Being put in a situation where you can either choose to do the right thing and possibly die or do the wrong thing and live is the hardest thing you will ever have to decide. But it’s not difficult. There’s nothing complicated about stopping a child rapist or convicting an ex-President who committed treason and is clearly planning to try it again. There are no murky shades of gray.
To be placed in this position is a tremendous gift. That moment defines you. Everything before and everything after in your life accumulates to far less than the weight this moment carries in deciding if you are a good person or not. Other people have to go their whole lives plugging away at doing the right things day in and out, and always wondering in the back of their minds if they’re a good person. Those of us placed in the hard position outlined above get a beautifully dramatic and swift moment that cements our place in the moral universe.
I had such a moment and faced the very real fear of my beautiful babies, two and four at the time, and I being killed. I chose the right thing. We weren’t killed, but it almost destroyed me. I went through hell for years afterwards but I never doubted I was a good person and that I’d made the right choice. Even if it hadn’t worked out and he had killed me, I would have known I made the right choice. As the Spanish revolutionary Dolores Ibarruri said, it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.
But but but they’re afraid for their families too! Ahhh. Sounds noble to want to protect your family, after all. Even people who are giving and understanding and kind, committed to religion and democracy and equality and all the other good things, falter when you bring their family into it. They justify their choosing what they know is wrong by saying they were protecting their family. Who could argue with that? Me I guess. Clearly I didn’t choose this path. We come to the story of Abraham then.
God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham obeys but God spares Isaac at the last moment. And God is well pleased with Abraham. I have atheist friends who point to this story as proof the Judeo-Christian God is, well, bad. What kind of loving God would do such a thing? And why should we consider Abraham a good person if he was willing to kill his own son? In truth, there are people who think I’m a bad mother and a bad person to have put my own children’s lives at risk to stop a man from hurting other children. And, in truth, I know this to be true because some people in my life said this to me. It sounds like something you write a three page paper about in your first year philosophy class. The safety of your family versus the greater good for humanity. Or like that train. The one that will hit ten people if you do nothing and will only hit one person if you flip the switch. Do you flip the switch and actively kill someone, or do nothing and passively allow ten people to die? What is the moral thing to do (or not do)?
The moment I called to turn him in, I prayed. I sat in my green mini van on a hot June day. The air conditioner was broken and my vents were blowing warm air in my face as I sat there sweating in a long, black heavy skirt from Land’s End. I sat and I prayed and said, “God please don’t let my babies die and please don’t let me die because they need me. If we die, then I guess that was your will because I know I’m doing the right thing.” In other words, I pulled an Abraham.
Plenty of Atheists make this choice as well, for the record. It isn’t about trusting God specifically. It’s about loving your fellow human beings and everything else in the universe, in the collective oneness. It’s about putting that love above fear. It’s as simple as that. There is no fear in love. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.
What people who take the easy way out don’t understand is that it isn’t the easy choice at all. It’s easy for one moment and hard for the rest of your life. You spend the rest of your life trying to make it sound difficult but it was really very simple. If it was difficult, then there was more than one right choice. If it was difficult, you did the best anyone would have in the same situation. If it was difficult, you really had no other choice, realistically speaking. After all, you’re only human. It’s not fair for anyone to judge you.
Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and neuropsychiatrist-philosopher, wrote that “life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Forty-three senators chose to sell their souls today. It was a simple choice that cannot be bent and turned to look difficult. I would assume a lot of them are sociopaths without a conscience, but even sociopaths are human and have a knowing deep within them that they have done wrong. They’ve chosen the easy way and it will be with them always.