The year 2017 is not quite half over but it’s already shaping up to be an annus horribilus, to borrow from Queen Elizabeth II. If the trend continues, we may look back on this past week as one of the most miserable of a miserable year.
The London fire, the Congressional shooting, the Michelle Carter case, the latest developments in Russiagate all point to a ruinous selfishness.
Let’s begin with Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts woman convicted of involuntary manslaughter for inciting her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to commit suicide when they were teenagers and then standing by on the phone as he did it. Civil libertarians see a curtailing of free speech in the judge’s guilty verdict – the defense chose not to have a jury trial – but the verdict underscored, particularly in the age of the internet, that under American criminal law words speak as loudly as actions. (Or, as I tell young people who seek out my advice as a writer: If you can’t own what you say or write, don’t say or write it.)
Suicide, of course, remains something of a mystery. There was little mystery, however, about James Hodgkinson, the man who shot up a Republican Congressional baseball practice, critically injuring Majority Whip Steve Scalise. He had nothing left to lose. I’m not going to defend attempted murder. Guns and violence are never solutions. But I find it completely hypercritical and self-centered that the Repubs could get all choked up and teary-eyed after the hate they have spewed or accepted from Trump. He has terrified immigrants, demonized Muslims and fetishized Hillary Clinton to the point of misogyny. He has disregarded the welfare of his most vulnerable citizens with his mishandling of Obamacare and shown disrespect for the rule of law with his firing of former FBI director James Comey – all while the Republicans have stood by and done nothing.
Yet when violence comes home to roost and Trump and the Republican Congress call for unity, we’re supposed to fall in line and forget the hatred that has bilged forth like so much bile.
Well, we’re not going to do that. And the proof of why we shouldn’t lies in Trump’s tweets, which continue in a contemptuous vein. (Maybe he should get together with Michelle Carter.)
Anyone can have compassion for himself or his own kind. It’s much harder to have compassion for strangers or enemies. Who speaks for the scores of the dead in the London building fire, caused by the use of cheaper, less flame-resistant material?
Prime Minister Theresa May got in trouble for trying to politicize the tragedy. Queen Elizabeth II and her grandson the Duke of Cambridge, visited the anguished families of victims. The duke, Prince William – who broke protocol to take one sobbing women in his arms – promised they’d be back.
Let’s hope he will. Like his mother, Princess Diana, dead 20 years ago this year, he seems to understand the essence of compassion.