JOHN CARLIN 05/01/2020 Image: Pau Barrena
A good friend has been in the news lately, accused of sexual harassment or something similar. They have told his story in The New York Times, The Daily Mai l, NBC, Fox News, everywhere. Michael is a veteran producer on a current television show in the United States. He may lose his job and reputation after a long and illustrious career.
Here is a little parable for our times.
In September, Michael sent a photo to his sister from his mobile phone. In the photo, taken in Johannesburg in 1973 when Michael was 17 years old, he and his school friends were seen urinating on a pile of burned books. The books represented the teachings of apartheid. Michael and his friends, all South Africans and whites, were symbolizing their rejection of a system that discriminated against the black majority of their country. Not very fine, but in the long chronicle of teenage imbecilities worse things have been seen, I would say.
Well, it turns out that 46 years later he sent the photo not only to his sister, but, unintentionally, to a young journalist who works in the same company. The young journalist, named Cassandra, was shocked. She felt victim of a sexual offense. He denounced Michael before his bosses for “highly inappropriate, anti-professional and distressing” behavior.
Michael apologized for what he acknowledged to have been a big mistake, and the company exonerated him. Then, according to Cassandra, her classmates on the television show marginalized her. No surprise Michael is not only a gentleman, as a woman who works with him told me, but he is very loved and respected by everyone who knows him, on and off the job. Except for the young Cassandra, who has gone to court to report him and to claim financial compensation from his company for the damage suffered.
I tell the story – there are thousands of similar ones – as an example of the frivolous era that we live. And with the desire that in the next decade we reconsider a bit, both citizens and political leaders. May we have more generosity, more responsibility and more sense of proportion.
Here in Europe as in the United States, that is, in the rich and fortunate countries of the Earth, we have been able to look for problems where there are none. Both the absurd drama that my friend Michael lives in the personal field and larger issues such as Brexit, the Catalan mess or the presidency of Donald Trump respond in large part to what seems to be the need to inject drama into the thriving banality of everyday life. It is as if here, in 2020, we had entered the idiotic and decadent phase of the Roman Empire, with Trump playing the role of the Caligula or Nero emperors.
While the issues that encourage us are whether the president of the United States had sex with porn actress Stormy Daniels or if he is going to insist on his fantasy of building a wall on the border with Mexico or even if he is going to play diplomacy with Kim Jong Un, we can laugh to some extent at his absurd speeches or his childhood tutoring. The problem was always going to come when a real crisis arose.
The crisis has arrived. By authorizing the attack that ended the life of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, Trump has put the world on hold. He has thrown, as former Vice President Joseph Biden says, dynamite in a powder magazine. A war between Iran and the United States, with the participation of Saudi Arabia and Israel, is suddenly a possibility. I don’t say it, experts in the region say it. What I do know is that Soleimani has been a mythical figure in Iran – something similar to what Eisenhower went to the United States, or Churchill to England during World War II. What I also know is that the wave of terrorism that has ravaged the world since September 11, 2001 has its roots in money and in the Sunni extremism of Saudi Arabia, not in Shia Iran. And that, as repressive as the Iranian regime may be, I would rather live there a thousand times than in the arid lands ruled by the feudal Saudi dynasty, especially if I were a woman.
All this is not known by President Trump, who broke a nuclear pact with Iran in May 2018, a year after he was received with all the pomp imaginable on a visit to the Saudi king and his sinister son and successor, Mohamed bin Salman, Trump’s son-in-law friend Jared Kushner.
Trump gave the order to annihilate Soleimani with little more criteria than that of a child killing a bad guy in a video game. The difference is that in the real world there are consequences. Deprived of the advice of the adult generals that he dismissed or said goodbye to his chaotic Administration, he will have to depend on his non-existent judgment or the useless sucker of medias that surround him to see how he responds to the inevitable Iranian reprisals.
They say that when someone asked the British Prime Minister of the sixties Harold Macmillan what was the most difficult to govern, he replied: “The events, dear, the events.” Well, now something has happened, something that will test the fool in the White House like never before and that will unmask how frivolous we have become in the era of social networks, a phenomenon that has enhanced the notion that everyone’s opinions are worth the same, that experts disdain themselves, that disproportion is the norm and indignation is not measured.
Trump is not the cause, it is the symptom. Like Boris Johnson in England or the Casado, Arrimadas and Torra in Spain. But they are where they are not by magic or by bad luck, but because people have put them there, which betrays that they are not only them, but we are all those who have been playing, without awareness that imprudence is paid, whether of politicians who have in their hands the destinies of millions of people or individuals like my friend Michael, whose life could be ruined by the irresponsible evil of a young woman, who may have to be forgiven because she grew up in the times that run and she does not know how to distinguish between what is serious and what is not.
We started the decade badly. We reap the fruits of too many years acting foolishly. Hopefully there is no war and that everything ends in a scare. But in such a case, that fright scares us, that we learn to put things in their place and that we control a little the tendency towards childishness in which we have fallen. A good start, a good purpose for the new year, could be to burn our Twitter or Facebook accounts, without necessarily urinating on them later.