A few years back, I was a huge fan of the show 24. The exploits of Jack Bauer made for excellent television, and Bauer’s catch phrase — “We’re running out of time!” — delivered in shades ranging from the desperate to the quietly enraged, along with the ticking clock before each commercial break, created tremendous urgency. They also let the viewer know that Bauer’s brutal choices were necessary.
This week, we’ve learned that a solid number of Republicans are willing to look the other way regarding highly credible allegations of sexual molestation against Alabama Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey explained, “I have no reason to disbelieve” those accusing Moore of abusing them when they were underage girls, but she would vote for Moore because “we need to have a Republican in the United States Senate” to vote for a Supreme Court vacancy. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) has said something similar. Rev. Franklin Graham tweeted thusly:
Of course, the same logic was in evidence with regard to sexual harassment and assault allegations about President Trump in 2016.
This isn’t exclusive to the Right. On the Left, we’ve heard major political figures and groups rally to support Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who allegedly sexually assaulted a sleeping woman. In the pages of The Washington Post, supposed uber-feminist Kate Harding wrote, “if the short-term ‘right thing’ leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the right thing.” And, of course, Democrats cheered for alleged sexual abuser Bill Clinton; they considered him a hero until he lost his usefulness. Making sure Democrats wins trumps the necessity for tossing sexual abusers out on their ear.
It’s difficult to understand such thinking in normal times. Okay, so worst case scenario, you lose a seat. Then you run next time with a non-garbage human being and win the seat back. If everybody understands that taking a temporary loss on behalf of electing people of character is the rule, then we’ll end up with higher quality people on both sides of the aisle in elected office.
But we don’t live in normal times — at least that’s not how people perceive politics these days. We’re all Jack Bauer, running around shouting, “We’re running out of time!” at the top of our lungs. Every election is the last election. And if it’s the last election, you make the hard choice to support the alleged child molester to get the right vote on abortion. Crisis logic leads us to abandon normal moral standards. It allows us to treat each election as an individual episode with no larger impact on the moral environment of the country.
But what if this isn’t the last election? What if there will be more elections? What if the American people are alienated from their institutions and their neighbors by the constant use of tu quoque logic? What if we’re destroying our own social fabric with the constant invocation of the apocalypse? What if we’re actually accelerating the decline of our politics, ensuring that we edge closer to the fabled Last Election — because once we don’t trust each other to this extent, we may as well club each other to death politically? What if we distrust each other so much that we’re in a constant Vizzini-esque battle of wits in which no one is immune to iocaine powder?
Our social fabric relies on all of us recognizing that we’re going to have to live together beyond the next election cycle. We can always blame the other side for bringing us to the brink, and forcing us to support bad people. But unless someone steps back from that cliff, we’re all going to go over it together.