Compare and contrast: “She did what she could” and “Because he could”

Dear President Trump,

It feels like folly to start a letter this morning on anything other than the first day of open hearings in your (very own) impeachment inquiry, but I’m betting there will be plenty of opportunity later in the week, or even today, to send you missives on that topic. What I want to write to you about right now isn’t too far removed from you and your poor behavior (do I get extra points for being studiously, if self-consciously understated?), though not much has been these last 1,025 days.

I thought maybe I’d already told you about seeing the movie JoJo Rabbit on the day it came out here in Seattle, but I did a quick search on the word “rabbit” and it appears I didn’t tell you about it. I’ve not been able to let go of one of the lines that were spoken by Scarlett Johansson playing the protagonist’s mother. The movie is set in Germany during the last year of WWII and Johansson’s 10-year old movie-son is a Nazi-youth wannabe. The two of them are walking through their mostly deserted town when they come upon a gallows with four anonymous people hanging, murdered for unknown “crimes.” The little boy looks up at the sole woman’s body and asks what she did and his mother says: “what she could, she did what she could.” There is a crumpled piece of paper pinned to the woman’s shoe – I don’t read German anymore so I’m not sure what it says but it later becomes clear that the leaflets are part of how those in the resistance communicate with one another. She did what she could and she was killed for it.

I’ve wanted to tell you about that part of the movie for a couple of weeks now, but in addition to other things pressing in and supplanting it, I wasn’t sure how to talk about it.

I’m still not, but last night at the end of chapter 21 in Maddow’s book, Blowout, she’s talking with Mike Cantrell, one of Oklahoma’s oil and gas tycoons. He’s looking back on the oil and gas industry’s push to hold state taxes on their product extremely low (like 2%) in perpetuity and he recalls what President Clinton said about why he had the affair with Monica Lewinsky, which was “I did it for the worse possible reason. I did it because I could.” Cantrell is talking about how he and the other oil and gas men (they were all men) bankrupted their state using their power to get pretty much whatever deal they wanted, because they could.

Clinton’s public admission (and frankly Cantrell’s) that he did what he did because he had the position and the power to take advantage of someone (or of an entire state) seems pretty unusual, but it’s rare indeed that someone would confess that using their power in this way is the worst possible use of power. We’ve seen you, your mouthpieces, and props revel in your abuses of power, telling us to get over it, to get used to it, that there’s more coming. We’ve seen absolutely no contrition or anything that might be construed as hints of doubt about the merits of such actions – you all have staunchly maintained an incredibly primitive “winner takes all” attitude as though it’s perfectly reasonable to run a party, a government, a country in such a manner.

I think it would be fitting if your tombstone were engraved with something like:

“He did it because he could and he never understood (or cared) how wrong that was.”

May we be safe from those who would abuse their power.
May we be willing to do what we can to oppose tyranny.
May we know that sometimes our health and well-being will be at risk.
May we not make peace with leaders who don’t care about the common good.

Tracy Simpson

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