I had a provocative email exchange recently with my longest-standing friend in the world, Mike, whom I’ve known since age 13.
Mike stated that he liked Anthony Scaramucci, President Trump’s former ally and (for 12 days) White House communications director, who now goes around the talk show circuit arguing forcefully that Trump is unfit for office. “Don’t always agree with him. But I like him,” Mike wrote.
I responded that “the Mooch” was a cynical con artist, “all the way over on the dark side.”
Mike’s response: “’The dark side’? LOL. Ok.” And in a subsequent email, he added, “I think too many people spend too much time thinking that people are evil because they have a different view.”
Which prompted me to explain what I meant by “the dark side.” I meant that it seemed to me Scaramucci was always acting, always conning, that he has no real moral center. I pointed out that before the election, during the days when everyone assumed Trump’s candidacy could only be a joke, Scaramucci was on TV denouncing Trump as a “hack politician” who should only be president of the “Queens County Bullies Association.”
But then, after Trump was elected, somehow Scaramucci manuevered himself into Trump’s good graces, and during that time he made statements such as “I love the president and I’m very very loyal to the president and I love the mission the president has,” and “He’s genuinely a wonderful human being.”
So my point to Mike was, how much credibility do we give a guy like this, who can move between such extremes with apparently no friction (he even wrote a book praising Trump), sounding utterly earnest every step of the way?
Yet, oddly, since that email exchange, I have moved much closer to Mike’s point of view. I’m grateful Scaramucci is out there making the statements he is making now. And, despite myself – or, I should say, despite the suspicions of my reasoning mind – I feel Scaramucci is now sincere (for the most part).
But this all got me thinking about this “dark side” business. Who, in public life, do I really see as having gone over to the dark side? Whom do I judge as having relinquished all moral standards, guided by no sense of integrity or value other than the meanest egotistical gain?
There’s more than one actually. I don’t want to get in trouble by naming them, other than to say that certain public figures take my breath away with their smooth toxic lies and apparently untroubled consciences. (And no, I’m not talking about Trump. He’s too obviously crazy and his lies are too brazen and unsubtle; I put him in some other category.)
Consider David Koch, who died recently. On the occasion of his passing, the NY Times editorial board profiled him as “the ultimate climate change denier.” Here are some brief excerpts which explain the case:
Koch Industries realized early on that it would be a financial disaster for the firm if the American government regulated carbon emissions or made companies pay a price for releasing carbon into the atmosphere. … If a limit on greenhouse gas emissions were imposed, it could dampen demand for oil and diminish the value of those assets and their future sales …
In the face of this political problem, David Koch and his brother Charles built a political influence machine that is arguably unrivaled by any in corporate America … This machine has been employed to great effect to ensure that no government action is taken to control greenhouse gas emissions.
… [I]n 1991, the Cato Institute, a Koch-funded think tank, held a seminar in Washington called “Global Environmental Crises: Science or Politics?” This was part of a decades-long effort to cast doubt about the reality of climate change. …
David Koch worked tirelessly, over decades, to jettison from office any moderate Republicans who proposed to regulate greenhouse gases.
It’s a staggering story. Over the course of a few decades, the Koch brothers may have literally doomed human civilization, all for the sake of ensuring that they – already very wealthy – could be even more rich (richer than most of us can even imagine).
Maybe they also did it for their shareholders. Perhaps their circle of allegiance extended beyond themselves at least in that sense. And quite possibly, it worked out exactly as intended; maybe most of those shareholders are already dead now too, or almost. (So for the final twenty, thirty years of their lives, they got to play.)
Where does such cynicism come from? How can such people live with themselves? Have they become different creatures entirely, such that they can lie and deceive with such apparent ease, causing such a vast scale of harm to their fellow humans? What do they tell themselves? What are their dreams like?
And in what ways am I like them? By definition, I cannot even see my own dark side.