At 8:37 a.m. on September 11, 2001, the FAA notified NORAD that Flight 11 had been hijacked by terrorists and was heading toward 1 World Trade. Eighteen years later—down to the minute—Republicans in the North Carolina House commemorated the occasion by calling a surprise vote to override Governor Cooper’s veto of the state budget as fifty of their colleagues were absent. The reason for all those absences? The same House leadership that called the surprise vote had also informed the public, including at least one reporter, that there would be no votes that morning.
The media coverage was swift, but inaccurate in one minor respect: Several reports incorrectly claimed that the missing House Democrats were at a 9/11 memorial. That mistake triggered the traditional screeching we’ve all come to expect in our politics, with Representative David Lewis—the same General Assembly-critter who sent text messages stating there wouldn’t be any votes—whining on Twitter about “a false narrative” from the “Fake News Media.” Representative Jon Hardister, meanwhile, crowed about a fact-check and claimed that “[r]eports that Democrats were at a Sept. 11 ceremony … are completely false.”
Hardister conveniently sidestepped the fact that non-voting sessions of the General Assembly are routine and that his buddy Lewis had lied about what was planned. Whether that lie was told to the Democratic leadership or “just” to the reporter (and the public at large) is a distinction without a difference. It’s the sort of scumbag dissembling fit for a Clinton, coming from politicians in a party that touts its affection for “family values.”
But not to be outdone, the broader Republican apparatus kicked in to also remind everyone that Democrats used similar scumbag tactics to enact the state lottery back in 2005.
Any kid justifying being a scumbag today because someone else was a scumbag fourteen (!) years ago—when George W. Bush was only halfway through his tenure, and I still had a full head of hair—would merit one of those “if all your friends jumped off a bridge” admonitions from even the most-inept parent.
And yet, somehow, that really is how our politics works now. Take federal judges as just one of many examples: Democrats complain that Mitch McConnell used the nuclear option to confirm Justice Gorsuch; Republicans respond that Harry Reid “went nuclear” first with Obama’s judicial nominees; Democrats retort that Harry Reid had to go nuclear because Republicans blocked Obama’s appointments; Republicans reply they blocked Obama’s appointments because Democrats blocked Bush’s nomination of Miguel Estrada first. And on, and on.
Then there’s the Scumbag in Chief himself, whose entire administration can be summed up as unbridled corruption and emotive grunting wrapped in a frequent “Democrats did it first.”
Just last week Trump’s Department of Education threatened to pull funding from a joint Middle East Studies program run by UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke if changes were not made within twenty-four days because—and this is a direct quote from the Federal Register—“there is a considerable emphasis placed on understanding the positive aspects of Islam.”
I didn’t know it was possible to All Lives Matter a university curriculum, but here we are.
Conservatives have long complained that politics is downstream from culture. That, since we now have a society that (supposedly) places no value on integrity and finds no use for shame, we can’t be surprised when our elected officials end up being shameless scumbags who lack integrity.
Given the state of our politicians, that seems like pseudo-intellectual excuse-making. I’m more partial to a different maritime metaphor: The fish rots from the head. Bad leaders damage an organization, and bad politicians damage the body politic.
At some point, these people need to realize they are, allegedly, adults. They are entrusted with tax money and power to lord over the rest of us, that they themselves sought out, and that carries an obligation to not be a scumbag regardless of what someone else somewhere else once upon a time might have done.
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T. GREG DOUCETTE is a local criminal defense attorney, justice reform advocate, and host of the podcast #Fsck ’Em All. Follow him on Twitter @greg_doucette.
NEXT WEEK: ALEXIS PAULINE GUMBS, is the author of M Archive: After the End of the World, Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity, and co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines.
INDY Voices—a rotating column featuring some of the Triangle’s most compelling writers—is made possible by contributions to the INDY Press Club. Visit KeepItINDY.com for more information.