“ And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” — Matthew 7:26–27
You don’t have to believe in God or karma or another supreme governing force to know there’s a right way and a wrong way to build a house. The right way may be harder, take longer and require a lot more permits, but I have a feeling if you ask folks on the southern coast, who recently found themselves at the mercy of a hurricane named Matthew, they’ll tell you the extra time and energy is worth it.
When it comes to building other things — like careers and political majorities — there are, unfortunately, no instructions or building codes to follow. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t right ways and wrong ways to go about it. And while, yes, doing the right thing isn’t often the easiest or fastest way to get ahead, it is the best way to ensure that your future won’t one day be at the mercy of an orange-hued, wanna-be fascist with a god complex.
Billy Bush and Paul Ryan are learning that the hard way.
Yes, Billy Bush’s star would still be rising right now — if not burning hotter and brighter than ever — had he chosen to speak truth to power back in 2005, when Donald Trump bragged about using his celebrity to assault women. (Or at least not ushered a young woman into the arms of a man, who’d just gushed about his penchant for “grabbing pussy.”)
But Mr. Bush was a professional celebrity fawner. It’s how he chose to build his career and this couldn’t have been the first or only time he glossed over something despicable to film a fluff piece or keep an ass hole with Twitter followers happy. If this hadn’t brought it all crashing down, it’s not hard to imagine something else would have.
It’s also not hard to imagine how a myriad of different life decisions might have led him somewhere other than that Access Hollywood bus. Or how different decisions might have brought him to that moment with the backbone and moral compass to handle it differently, or just filled the void that somehow led him to crave the acceptance of an avowed sexual predator at the expense of his coworker and basic human decency. And that doesn’t include the many times since then that he could have spoken up, refused to promote the man or leaked the tape himself. Billy Bush would still be on the Today show had he reported the tape to NBC’s news division, versus bragging about it to coworkers in Rio, to what? Makes himself sound cool?
Speaking up would have been the right thing to do, not to spare us from Trump’s dictatorial ambitions (although he might have done that), but to protect future women from his grasp. It wouldn’t have been easy. It may have cost him some interviews and even set his career back a bit. But in the long run…he’d still have a career…a career he could be proud of…a career that couldn’t be brought down with a mere three minutes of audio.
Like Billy, when Paul Ryan and his fellow Republicans chose to endorse Donald Trump for president, they chose to advance themselves and the future of their party by doing something they knew was wrong. It wasn’t the first time.
While even just a year ago, it was almost impossible to imagine that a man like Donald Trump could ever be a legitimate contender to be our president, it’s not hard to look back and see all of the bad decisions, all of the times that not speaking up or not doing the right thing might have made this moment possible. I mean, the language, the lack of civility and basic disregard for facts — now ubiquitous in our national conversation— didn’t just become acceptable overnight.
Remember when Congressman Joe Wilson called the President of the United States a liar in the middle of the State of the Union? What about when Sarah Palin accused Democrats of trying to create “death panels” or when Donald Trump and others repeatedly questioned the citizenship of the first black president? Or what about when John McCain chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate?
Yes, telling members of the Tea Party movement (not all, but some) that they were over the line back in 2009 — versus stoking their anger — would have been hard. Refusing to embrace racists and bigots and bold-faced lies — making it clear that they had no place in the Republican Party, let alone main stream politics — probably would have made it harder for Republicans to regain their majorities as quickly as they did. But had they done those things…had they looked for another way to grow their party…had they chosen to do the right thing versus the most expedient and self serving…it might have taken them longer to regain the majority, but I’m pretty sure the country wouldn’t just be in a better place right now, the Republican Party would be in a better place right now. Not to mention, Paul Ryan never would have found himself in between a rock and endorsing Donald Trump for president.
We tell ourselves that doing the right thing is incongruous with politics. That you have to get a little slimy to win an election. But is that true? Or is that just the fastest and easiest way to win an election? If we tried harder, could we do better?
Our very constitution is the product of a roomful of politicians putting their ambitions and petty differences aside in service of something greater. They eschewed the path of expedience and least resistance to do what was right, not just for themselves but for generations to come. And you know what? We remember them like gods.
This isn’t just a dilemma for Billy Bush or Congressional Republicans, they are just the latest to offer a teachable moment. Because, who among us hasn’t cut corners or done something other than the right thing in pursuit of a goal we convinced ourselves was more important. The lesson, I’d contend, isn’t that those goals aren’t important, but that the way we go about achieving them is. Or as Jesus put it: when you choose to build your house on the sand, you can’t be surprised when the wind knocks it down.
Yes, being a Billy has consequences. So, don’t be a Billy.