I have spent a lifetime looking for the other side of evil, the human side, the one I could understand. I may have finally come to the conclusion that evil does, in fact, exist. It is a sad day.
Perhaps my earliest memory of trying to understand whether evil is really evil came from Sleeping Beauty. I was mesmerized by Maleficent from the start, regal, composed, darkly beautiful. I knew I was supposed to hate her, but something about her kept me trying to understand. Why would she do the things she does, I wondered over and over again in my child’s mind. It was during the christening scene that it dawned on me one viewing. They hadn’t invited her to the party. How did she feel about that? What other snubs and rejections had they foisted upon her? Should we really believe that the people who are painted as the heroes of that tale are really as blameless as we are being led to be believe?
I have long rooted for the underdog. Too often, the people society tells us are “evil” just fail to conform to the ruling class’ standards. Criminals who are vilified without too rigorous an attempt to understand what led them to their crimes (or whether their deeds are crimes at all). Undocumented immigrants driven here by forces no one works to understand. Promiscuous women, iconoclasts, artists, the people who speak truth to power. It’s easy for power to label people as “the other” and turn public opinion against them in an attempt to discredit and marginalize them.
So I’ve long rejected the term “evil.” It’s too simplistic and biblical, I’ve always thought. There are harmful actions, but, in their hearts, people are fundamentally good. I continue to believe that, for the most part. I think that even people who cause harm do so believing they do good in the long run, that sometimes a little bit of discomfort is required to get to a greater benefit.
But here’s what has made me reach the conclusion that pure, unadulterated evil may exist after all: the current administration.
Oh, I know, I know, not everyone who voted for or supports this administration is evil. Not even everyone working within it has evil intentions. Some are trying to make the best of a dodgy situation, to shape it with their own kinder vision, to work within the system rather than oppose it. But when I look at how the people at the top can so unrelentingly come down on the sinister, awful side of just about every issue, I understand that we’re in another realm, beyond mere political disagreement. Not to overstate it, but it’s beginning to feel like a battle between good and evil.
- Climate change, the issue that has the power to dwarf all others by making our planet uninhabitable for humans? They cynically cloud the issue to be able to keep profiting from the fossil fuel industry in their lifetimes, not worrying about how subsequent generations and people far away will survive.
- Human rights? The news that prompted this post was that the Trump Administration is considering quitting the UN Human Rights Council, disregarding the appalling message that would send to the rest of the world.
- Immigrants rights? The administration has said and done blatantly discriminatory and bigoted things knowing full well that they’re not keeping anyone safer but instead creating a commodity from which they can benefit: fear.
- Truth, that necessary water to grow all discussions, is gleefully and intentionally twisted and denied in the era of “alternative facts,” designed to destabilize and confuse.
- The institutions that have kept this improbable and heroic democratic experiment alive for longer than any other such attempt at self governance disrespected and maligned in the pursuit of personal power: the courts, the media, anything is fair game.
Almost anywhere you look, common human decency is being turned on its ear. Opponents are called vicious names with no regard to the poisonous effect on our union. Education? On its way to being dismantled by someone with no qualifications. Environmental protections? Sacrificed at the altar of profit. LGBTQ protections rolled back, funding cut from overseas organizations that even mention abortion. When an administration can’t even stand in opposition to letting coal-mining runoff pollute rivers, one has to wonder where its moral center is, and whether anything is a bridge too far.
Evil? I hesitate to use the simplistic term I’ve eschewed all my life. But I still search for glimmers of conciliatory talk, for a spark of common human decency, I get closer to thinking we may be in for a fight for the soul of our country. And I, for one, want to fight on the side of the better angels of our nature.