Jewish World Review March 9, 2004 / 16 Adar, 5764
Most people I know would have put up money against anyone betting that Martha Stewart would go down on all four counts against her. They were, as insider cynics themselves, sure that a woman of her wealth and power could not be stripped of her force by a bunch of peasants. Besides, she had eight women on the jury, and you know how they are.
As usual, the smart money was wrong, and the thing that could not have happened did.
But it seems to me that we are in the middle of a moment in which every single thing we have valued is under siege. To me, this means that the test for us as Americans will be whether we become cynical and ultimately conclude that there is nothing left to believe in.
There are already those who think that, because they have been struck so repeatedly by horrible behavior on the part of those in high places who once seemed beyond reproach. These are rough times for true believers; we see how capable the species is of doing the unthinkable.
But what is unthinkable today? Not much. Some say that this became shockingly clear after information about the death camps emerged with the Nuremberg war trials that followed World War II. I would say that it became clear when President John F. Kennedy had his brains blown out in Dallas. From that point on, we were to see more and more things take place that had been unthinkable before.
Watergate brought about a loss of faith in government that was even greater than the one created by the slaughters of civil rights workers, the Pentagon Papers and the Vietnam War.
Now we seem to have arrived at a lower ground that will test our resolve. Corruption and perversion are no longer off-limits in most situations. We are repulsed, but not surprised.
We now know that a President can have sex with a narcissistic and chubby intern in the Oval Office. We also know that an ex-bishop of the Catholic Church can be brought up on charges of child molestation and that there have been troubles in that arena of the church going back 50 years. Many of those troubles have been made public and have led to convictions over the past few years.
We would be repulsed, but not surprised, if certain athletic records were pronounced null and void because the big stars of their sports were found to use steroids. Repulsion, but not shock, would be our response if two pop stars were charged with pedophilia, one for boys, one for girls.
I don't think that we need to throw in the towel and become cynics. Our social contract is built upon what I have often called "tragic optimism," the assumption that things are bad but that we can still move forward.
We can, we have before, and we will again, accepting human frailty and corruption but not submitting to them.
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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy
of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994, Always in Pursuit: Fresh American
Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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