Twenty years from now, today could be historically significant. As I ping pong between gyms, the TVs flash images of Trump and Pelosi, and the word impeachment glares at the bottom of every screen. They’re the liberal channels—no one can play Fox in a public space in New York City without repulsing customers—so I try not to think anything about it. It could be fake hope, which is far worse than fake news. But the whistleblower report is enticing…as is the BREAKING NEWS that he’s scheduled to meet with NONE OTHER than the Ukrainian President at the UN General Assembly.
Twenty years from now, today could be historically significant. “How dare you?” Greta Thunberg asked the leaders of the world during her speech at the UN General Assembly. Climate change is here, and it’s no longer a question of if, but how much and will we survive. And yet, the assembly met her words with robust applause, as if she were critiquing the leaders of some other silly planet.
Twenty years from now, today will certainly be another day in the Me Too movement, as, in a dramatic last minute flourish, Plácido Domingo stepped down from the Met Opera stage, sacrificing his role of MacBeth to the alter of accusations. My client tells me his behavior was an open secret. She seems almost surprised I didn’t hear about him, pausing her squats to give me the details. But I’m not as involved in that world—the world that includes things like opera.
Will this whistleblower be the end of Trump? Will the UN General Assembly grasp any of Greta Thunberg’s message? Will we spend the next decade transforming open secrets into closed cases?
In 2019, we’ve talked a lot about the chickens coming home to roost. The changing times force bad people into new contexts by which we judge their behavior unacceptable. But it isn’t the rapists or assaulters or profiteers or thugs who have changed. It’s the people around them.
Sitting on this park bench, I just saw (right now) a man across the street stop in his tracks, turn one hundred and eighty degrees, and yell something inaudible at the woman who passed him. I don’t think Me Too will change this man, but if that sidewalk were crowded instead of empty, it might make him less comfortable calling after her. His fellow pedestrians wouldn’t tolerate it.
Businesses want to make money. Spending money to help the environment isn’t in their interest. But when consumers and employees and governments demand it of them, they feel compelled to change their behavior. Trump, who extorts porn stars and foreign governments alike, isn’t going to see the error of his ways by going on Queer Eye and getting in touch with the people behind the liberal progressive movement. And predators (Plácido Domingo and James Levine, to name the Met Opera’s most popular) will find new ways to prey. But the people who stand next to these powers are the ones who movements transform. With these movements, it is no longer okay to let these things happen. No more bystanders.
I have no interest in getting into an argument over gay rights with someone who believes HIV is a weapon of god to punish gays. But I am interested in talking to the co-worker who allows such comments to slide without reporting it.
Denial is a powerful human survival instinct—we need it otherwise we’d be incapacitated not only by the horrors of the world, but of the unknown that lies beyond. We cannot function if our minds our full of our future death. Sometimes, late at night when S. and I are in bed, our eight pillows (we kept all our pillows when we moved in together) piled high under our shoulders, my mind fast forwards to our old age, and I’m flooded with the desire to slow life down. I don’t want to lose a second. I don’t want to lose S.
But even while it lets us function, denial is what keeps us quiet when fear raises its sleepless head. We are powerless, the climate deniers, the powerful rapists, and the corrupt politicians remind us. Who are we to believe we matter? And if we are powerless, we should turn away or risk confronting non-existence. Non-existence in our career of choice, in our planet of choice, or simply in our life.
But if these movements teach anything, it’s that whistleblowers only have power en masse. When we all become whistleblowers, predators can’t force themselves on women then walk free with the protective promise of an “open secret.” Industries polluting the earth and cleverly blaming the consumer for not carrying a reusable straw can’t get away with propagating more of the same damaging products and practices. And corruption cannot be the filter through which the people elect their governments. It’s not the villains that need to change—it’s us.