Soledad O’Brien asks a great question of the now infamous Sarah Fabian: What kind of human being would do this [defend the painfully obvious inhumane treatment of children]? Luckily, we have several answers, but more importantly we can understand how we, ourselves, as individuals can avoid being co-opted by our circumstances like Ms Fabian was.
There has been some debate among folks on my various social media feeds about whether Fabian can be held personally accountable for her actions and arguments. After all, the naysayers reason, she is a career DoJ lawyer. She was just doing her job arguing the case that she was handed.
Professional Code of Ethics
All professions have a code of ethics that licensed professionals are required to follow. All employees of the federal government must follow the directives of the Office of Government Ethics guidelines and directives. All lawyers employed by the Department of Justice must follow the DoJ’s attorney ethics code. In addition, we also have our personal code of ethics which are based on social, cultural, and personal values.
Each and everyone of these codifications of ethics makes reference to adhering to social and cultural standards of behavior. Last time I checked our cultural and social values do not permit treating people the way we are treating these children in these concentration camps. Consequently, Fabian was professionally obligated to refuse to participate in this case.
The bare-faced immorality of the argument should have prevented her from participation even if it meant she should resign or be dismissed.
Normalizing the Indefensible
The further problem of watching her try to defend the indefensible by smearing a very thin coat of legalese over it is that it normalizes it.
We are all shocked and appalled by the conditions in our concentration camps. America don’t do concentration camps, do we? That’s what we thought. We also thought that America don’t do torture and imprisonment without due process and war crimes and illegal wars and crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Convention, but W learned us different.
So, when confronted with such an extreme violation of our cultural norms, the natural response is confusion, especially by those less well versed in and committed to American values.
The bystander effect shows what we do in the face of such ambiguous confusion. We look to others for guidance. What are they doing? And if one of the people we see is a LICENSED FUCKING PROFESSIONAL ATTORNEY WORKING FOR THE DoJ, we are likely to take it as a cue for what is right. It makes it more acceptable. Oh, it’s okay with the DoJ, we think, so, it must be okay. The DoJ wouldn’t sanction something that is immoral and criminal, would they?
Don’t ya see? The DoJ shouldn’t be defending the indefensible criminal amoral concentration camps. They should be prosecuting them! But, the government is a complicated thing that we don’t fully understand, so when the government misbehaves, it is easy for those barely sentient conscious engaged independent uncommitted voters to assume that it must be a-okay! How do you think we ended up with a second W term?
The Great Civics Lesson: Making Democracy Work
That is the Great Civics Lesson: democracy don’t work unless We, the People, make it work. It don’t work unless We, the People, are engaged and in contact with our elected and appointed officials. It don’t work unless We, the People, are aware of what’s going on and know who in the government is responsible for it. It don’t work unless We, the People, VOTE!
It is our civic duty to be know how our society, culture, and government functions. One of the most important parts of how our democracy works is the free press. The free press has a duty to enforce our norms when dealing with the government. When government officials are violating our norms, they must be called out in real time. Lies must be called out as they’re being told.
Our press has spent way too much time wringing its hands, clutching its pearls, and trying to treat this administration and the Repubes as if they were normal. They aren’t. They are bent in transforming our democracy into a single-party, pseudo-democratic, authoritarian, fascist regime that will transfer wealth from the middle class to the upper class just as fast as it can. They are determined to gut our democracy. The press needs to be calling them out at every turn.
If the press isn’t doing it, We, the People, must be calling out the press AND our politicians.
We all must call for accountability by our government, our press, and each other. We must do it every day and in every forum.
We must accept that we are in danger of losing our democracy. We must acknowledge the gravity of the threat and resist by strengthening our democracy.
Call your Congressional representatives and senators. Keep a running list of issues you want them to know about. Call them frequently, no less than weekly. If you don’t know your Congressional person’s contact information, use Call My Congress to locate your Congressional Representative and your Senators by using your zip code. It returns phone numbers, tweeter handles, party affiliation, voting record, and link to C-Span appearances!
If you’re afraid that you’ll miss issues important to you, sign up for 5 Calls.
Fight the good fight and stay engaged!