Early this summer, with a new high-speed connection just installed, my wife and I began to sample streaming TV shows. We had read articles about the show Breaking Bad and decided to see what it was about. Keep in mind that Breaking Bad was a sensation when it arrived, rather quickly became popular and was critically acclaimed.
We watched several episodes and then decided that unblinking video of grotesque violence breached an invisible line which persists in our lives.
But Breaking Bad, a show about a chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal cancer who turns to making and selling methamphetamine for his family’s economic future, is often a mirror on our nation. Which government financial scheme do you like? Incalculable debt? Gambling and marijuana tax revenues?
In 2016 Donald Trump, the most unconventional candidate by far, was elected. Most of those who inquire, write and videotape were aghast. So aghast that few sought to find out why this “vulgar man” beat Hillary Clinton. It turned out that millions decided that their lives were so disrupted by politics as usual, that they were prepared to take a flyer—much the motivation of our Breaking Bad chemistry teacher.
Now we are a month away from the mid-term election and many (me included) have to admit that some good things have happened in the last twenty months, although time only will allow a reasoned summing up. Many (me included) are nonetheless no less bothered by Trump’s need to win at the expense of shaming the loser, among other things.
Politics is highly cyclical: introduce social distemper and the fall out will be incalculable on both sides of our two Party equation. And if it is not already difficult to get good people to seek office, it will become even more so.
Turning to the latest horror show, the reason for Statues of Limitation in criminal law is the difficulty of attaining justice when a number of years have passed since the alleged crime. Circumstances, memories and imaginations work together in all of our lives to cloud and distort and potential witness’s circumstances change and any likely forensic evidence disappears.
And, regardless of the forum, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is being charged with a crime even though prosecutor after prosecutor, across the full political spectrum, have said they would not prosecute, now thirty-six years later.
It is also fair to ask what he has done in his adult life. Few of us would pass a test of propriety during the immaturity of our teenage years. While the principal allegation against him is sexual assault, his boisterous youth is said to corroborate the allegation.
In 1986 Judge Douglas Ginsburg was rejected when nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, for smoking marijuana. Most said, had this occurred while he was in college it would have been overlooked, but as it turned out he was smoking weed while a professor at Harvard’s law school.
I must assume that Kavanaugh’s adult life has been well-lived; if it hasn’t, do any of us doubt we would know? Presumably his most ardent opponents would prefer to use more recent objectionable conduct.
I can, of course, continue down what I have chosen to call the Breaking Bad path but I want to believe we will break back. I believe the #MeToo movement is helping us do so.
Almost six years ago Ted Cruz was elected to serve in the US Senate. Some months later I decided that there was no way I would support his political ambitions. Cruz attacked everybody. Nobody was good enough by his standards (whatever they were). Cruz, of course, using harsh disdain, became a credible candidate for the Republican nomination to be president. Now we have Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, both US Senators, rejecting any sense of fairness as they accuse Judge Kavanaugh of being “evil.” Maybe harshness will work for them as well.
Will the fever break? Will America’s leaders break back? Will civility return as a necessary element in a healthy democracy? Will we get serious about our financial profligacy? It’s hard to say, but what we do know is that the script will be written by us.
It is also certain that if Supreme Court jurists read the Constitution as they would prefer it have been written, not as it reads, that future nominees will continue to be vilified by the Left or Right. In the course of trials by tabloid ethics, we will degrade the one institution that must help us protect our constitutional foundation. Remember, in a healthy democracy, laws are to be made by the people voters elect, and the Courts are there to make sure that happens.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.