Dear President Obama:
Please be blunt about Roger Goodell. Just say something like, “If I were in the NFL, and I knew that man handled domestic violence incidents that way, I would feel disgusted near him and couldn’t stand the thought of him as my boss.”
I realize we are in a strange world when it comes to the bully pulpit. The rhetorical power of the Presidency has been abused for years. A fragmented, too-partisan America for which we are all to blame means that your speaking can make some problems worse.
I know you won’t make this problem worse, but my thought requires some extended commentary. The more complicated problems you face stem from an American public that doesn’t really understand prudence. I don’t say this to be snobby – this open letter attests that I am way too moralistic, rambling, and idealistic. I fully grant that I can’t appreciate my own critique, if I’m right.
It just seems to me that we don’t want to accept the mistakes and messy situations that result from trying to be prudent. This is perennial, to be sure. I’ve got a few friends who think the very first Gulf War was launched because George H.W. Bush was going to make bazillions off of oil. Oil is obviously a factor in why we get involved in such things, but worries about global stability after the Cold War seems a reasonable explanation, at the least.
We’d rather embrace the more reductive explanation, because we’re the true believers. If we act rightly, pray rightly, think rightly, we will be rewarded in this life. War is obviously a bad thing; the justice of one’s cause can never be pure. While we might not know a thing about policy or the trade-offs that everyday life requires, we know war is bad. We know we’re jeopardizing our future if we go to it willingly.
Again, all of us believe in this trifecta: right thinking, right action, right result. It animates the utopian anti-war Left and some of the worst lecturers about poverty on the Right, but they are only the most visible believers. The rest of America thinks this way, too, and the funny thing is that it has made us less moral. We’re not sensitive to the concerns of others; we don’t pay attention when others cry for help; we’re cynical about moral rhetoric generally; we pick our echo chambers and stay there. Our lack of unity is no accident. Since many of us are not in the best economic condition – that “right result” is lacking – right thinking and right action must be in short supply with everyone else. To be sure, we beat ourselves up a lot. It’s a lot harder to be confident when one doesn’t feel one can produce anything.
That’s the climate you’re working with. It indirectly leads, as it did today, to two people I know privately reinforcing each other’s idea that “this Ray Rice thing is none of our business. She’s still with him.” Right, a woman getting knocked unconscious in an elevator is none of our business. That makes perfect sense, in hell. We’re not allowed to talk about moral issues because no one has moral authority. People beating the hell out of each other is totally fine as long as we make money and take what we’re given. The “right result” (here: “right” with no sense of “justice”) dictates right action and thinking, as people actually getting what is good for them is in short supply, and people feeling they’re getting lectured at is in large supply.
This is a stupid, awful climate, but it can be confronted directly. There are some things which are beyond debate, like domestic violence. If confronted, those who feel lectured at have to actually defend the lowest form of life on Earth, and if you call them out, they have to do this on larger platforms than Facebook.
Shame is a powerful tool which we don’t use enough nowadays. The funny thing about shame is that it works best when one doesn’t really have to argue for it. Pretty much everyone knows Roger Goodell is a national disgrace. If you call him out on it, you’re fine and you’ll get the right result, one that is actually just. We can work our way back to the more complicated moral issues, the ones dividing us, from that starting point. But it is important we start somewhere.