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Fourth of July: Part Three: Corruptio Optimi Pessima
I think if you read my column, you all know I’m a West Wing girl. I mean, I love The West Wing. I think it’s the finest show ever written for TV, bar none. I think Aaron Sorkin is a genius, and if I could have lunch with one person who is alive today, believe it or not, it would be him.
I love The West Wing because it has taught me more life lessons than anything I’ve ever watched. More than any piece of art. More than the movies. It’s The West Wing. I love that the characters are all flawed in many ways, yet spectacularly brilliant and caring in other ways. I love that we can forgive them their daily sins, the same way I would like my own to be forgiven. I love that they go in a room and say what they have to say and then leave. They never repeat themselves over and over again the way I do when I’m not watching.
So, it’s Fourth of July, and I wanted to write something about my love of America, and about my realization that we are not living in the best period of our history. We are living in a dark time from which we may not recover. Benjamin Franklin said the government can’t work if everyone in government doesn’t respect one another. I think we can all agree that right now, no one on either side of the political aisle, in the men’s and ladies rooms, or in the parking lots of the Capitol respect one another. In fact, I believe that many of them have no self respect, either. And, truth? What’s that in the beltway?
So, what to write about my country on her fabulous birthday? A call to action for myself and the rest of us comes to mind. So of course I turn to The West Wing, Season 5, Episode 14, An Khe. Leo McGarry, The President’s Chief of Staff, is a Vietnam War veteran. He was shot down and saved by his friend O’Neill, who carried him through the jungles for three days until they were rescued. Leo is loyal to “the finest man I have ever called a friend.” His friend is now the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company that makes things the government uses to do bad things in other places. Specifically helicopters. Leo finds out that his friend has crossed to the dark side and bribed someone to get a contract. I have just made a long, fabulous story short. You get the picture. O’Neill has let Leo down and Leo is stunned.
Fast-forward to Leo alone in his office after his friend confesses. Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s version of “My Country Tis of Thee” starts to play in the background, and the president comes in to see if Leo is all right. Leo begins to cry and tells the story of that long ago day when his amazing friend saved his life in the jungle. Then he explains that others died attempting to rescue them. He says that he and the fallen CEO had an obligation to those who went before — those who died — to lead lives on honor and service that would make those men proud of them. And the President quietly says, “Corruptio optimi pessima — Corruption of the best is the worst.”
Corruption of the best is the worst. Corruptio optimi pessima.
This is the Fourth of July weekend. Time for more than fireworks, burgers on the grill and bug repellent. We all have an obligation to start checking our facts before we republish the propaganda that clogs our inboxes and our minds. We have an obligation to respect other points of view — and to ask for the data to back up those points of view. And if we are to honor those who gave up so much for our freedoms, we must take action to ensure that every American can vote easily and have access to health care—and also that every American pays the taxes they are supposed to pay and works hard to better their lives and not just to get a free ride; these things and a host of others have gone by the wayside. We need to learn to take care of the environment, to understand the land the way those that were here first did.
We are out of control as a nation, and this is a day on which we should take a moment away from fireworks and hot dogs and steaks and red, white, and blue linens, and commit to doing the right thing.
God Bless America.