Lately it seems that one American role model after another has been knocked down. The icons of our youth, the people in whom we believed, the guardians of our safety, have displayed not only feet of clay but contempt, ineptitude, and outright criminality. Consider these four cases:
- The police: Those men and women whose job it is “to protect and serve” have morphed into paramilitary troops that shoot first and ask questions later. This is probably no surprise to members of the African-American community who must give their children “the talk” about how not to antagonize the police. But people who grew up in safe, mostly white suburbs and small towns are shocked by these blatant acts of violence.
As a child, I was taught to find a police officer if I was lost, hurt or in trouble.
Now we see our local police dressed and helmeted as anonymous storm troopers, enforcers of authority who drive vehicles designed for hostile territory and wield big, powerful weapons. What little kid would approach one of these officers for help? We read seemingly every day about policemen who have shot unarmed black people and that makes the police, whom we pay with our tax dollars to protect our homes and our lives, appear even more dangerous than the criminals.
- The Secret Service: To most Americans, the Secret Service was filled with men and women dedicated to protecting the President of the United States, his family, and certain members of Congress. They were highly trained, highly competent, and willing to take a bullet if that was the only way to keep POTUS safe. Now they seem to be not just incompetent but slackers, more concerned with having prostitutes in their rooms while traveling than in keeping an intruder from running across the lawn and actually getting into the White House. How safe can the President be if five Secret Service agents can’t keep a potential attacker from entering the back door?
- Colleges and Universities: The Rolling Stone article on frat-house rape at the University of Virginia may have been bad journalism on a number of fronts but that doesn’t mean the problem is falsified. Young women are raped on campuses all the time and the school administrations hush it up because they don’t want bad publicity. After all, becoming known as the school where women are Most Likely to Be Raped does not support raising their tuition charges to ever more outrageous levels. Institutions of higher education serve in loco parentis for their students. Encouraging rape by ignoring it and allowing the perpetrators to escape punishment is not how parents protect their children.
Bill Cosby: We used to think of him as America’s Dad, the actor and comedian so beloved of the public that he won several Emmy awards and Kraft Foods hired him to sell pudding. Now he’s revealed as a serial rapist of young women who put their trust in him only to have it betrayed in the worse possible way. No, he has not been formally charged and he’s protected by the statute of limitations. But the sheer number of women — now over 20 — who have accused him carries a weight of its own.
This may be the season of comfort and joy, the time of year when we gather as families, the magical time when everything seems possible. But the morning news shows seem to be beating us over the head with one betrayal after another. The bad news is not about a world crisis—those are always with us—but about ourselves.
Trust No One
Who do we trust when no one seems trustworthy? Where does safety lie when the biggest threat comes from officers of the law? How can we send our daughters off to college when their classmates may violate them without fear of retribution? Are we willing to let an entertainer skate past the law because we like him but we don’t know his victim?
This is not the kind of food for thought that we want to be digesting in the Christmas season. Yet here we are. And what lessons do we learn from recent events? The inevitable conclusion would be: Trust No One. Like Fox Mulder, we must teach our children that they don’t live in Norman Rockwell’s America. No one is worthy of their trust and they should be on their guard at all times. This may be true for everyone but it is most important for girls.
Was America always like this but we just didn’t know it? Was Norman Rockwell’s America a fiction? That may be the case. Smart phones have replaced allegations of misconduct with photographs and videos. It’s harder to deny police brutality when the beating is right there on tape. Rape kits and DNA provide solid evidence to replace the old “he said / she said,” with what she said often being disregarded. Social media provides an open forum in which victims can speak on their own without being silenced by a news media in denial or a school administration in full defensive mode.
Where do we go from here? I hope it’s up—to better behavior, more accountability, changes in procedures and policies, a greater maturity and a willingness to own up to misdeeds. Should we become better people living in a better country because of these revelations, well, that would be a real Christmas miracle.