It's fair to say, isn't it, that more than a few Republicans are unhappy with Mitt Romney right now.
The man is an authoritarian living in a bubble universe in which he's always right and no one questions him. Whenever that bubble intersects the real world, anomalies form, usually taking the form of his saying things that reflect the laws of nature in his bubble but that contradict what we know and understand about our lives outside. It makes it hard for him to successfully present himself as suitable for elected public office in the real world. And so he makes thoughtless comment after thoughtless comment, alienating one group after another, and at this point is likely not merely to lose the general election but to receive a drubbing.
Then the sun will rise the next day. And the next. And at some point during those next few days, he will be offered a new job, one for which he will be paid more in an hour than most of us make in a year.
He will be forgiven, almost overnight.
We call this phenomenon by a cynical acronym, IOKIYAR: "It's OK If You're a Republican." That is, if you're a Republican, any misstep or misdeed will be overlooked, excused, waved away, papered over. But this acronym is not precisely accurate. It doesn't apply to Republicans in general, only to Republicans of a certain rank, operating at a certain level in the world of power. And it's not just Republicans, although with Democrats the process seems to take a little longer.
In a nutshell, forgiveness is a privilege of rank.
This is something we owe it to ourselves to contemplate.
Forgiveness, as a virtue, is on a rapid slide toward oblivion in this country, and in decline across Western civilization in general. It's being elbowed aside by the punitive "accountability," the callous "austerity," the judgmental "personal responsibility," along with the resurgence of older, less polite values such as retaliatory justice.
At a time when more and more people live in precarious circumstances, the prevailing attitude seems increasingly to be that if you ever make a mistake, just one mistake, you deserve any and every bad thing that happens to you afterward -- reduced income, lost employment opportunities, ill health, curtailed voting rights, deportation or just plain bad luck -- and that if you should happen to suffer any misfortune, even if you were born into it, at some point you must have done something bad to deserve it.
Imagine that: deserving to be unhappy, unhealthy or in danger.
These are unforgiving times. One mistake can cost you a job. One mistake can cost you a professional license. One mistake can cost you your home. One mistake can cost you your freedom. And once these things are lost, they're difficult or even impossible to replace; having lost them justifies being denied them. It's the theory that the price of sin is eternal torment, applied to the here-and-now.
That's the unforgiving reality we live in.
Except not all of us live in it.
We live in a highly unequal society, one that's far more unequal than most of us are aware of and far, far more unequal than most of us would choose. Inequality of income leads to inequality of wealth, inequality of education, inequality of opportunity, even inequality of life expectancy.
But in my mind, the most tragic inequality in our society is not of education or income or wealth or even health but of mercy. The truly privileged have access to second chances (and third, and fourth, and fifth chances) that the rest of us can only dream of. CEOs fired from their corporations become CEOs of other corporations. Disgraced politicians become lobbyists and financiers and occasionally television personalities. We don't know what kind of shame they may feel on the inside, but on the outside, they seem to be doing OK. The phenomenon is so prevalent, a term was coined for it by writer Craig Kappel in 1976: "failing upward."
With rank comes forgiveness. Without it comes catastrophe.
The denial of mercy is a growing void at the heart of our national character. We tolerate poverty, unemployment, debt and other ills on a massive scale by blaming the poor, unemployed, indebted and otherwise ailing for the faults and failures that must have made them so, and we use those alleged faults and failures to justify denying them the means and opportunity to recover. I don't know what's behind it, but it's inextricably related to rankism ("abusive, discriminatory or exploitative behavior towards people who have less power because of their lower rank in a particular hierarchy," as defined by Robert Fuller), which is fed by inequality and by distance, social and geographical, between the haves and the have-nots.
Occupy Wall Street has returned to Zuccotti Park to protest the differences in treatment between the 1 Percent and the 99 Percent, and this presents an opportunity. Many of the Occupy protesters, I would expect, are calling for the Malefactors of Great Wealth to be pursued with the same lack of mercy that the rest of us are shown. But this moment could also be seized to bring the concept of forgiveness back into the national political dialogue. Must the price of error be ruin? Can the engines of state and the economy not run without grinding up the careless and the unlucky? Doesn't everyone, not just the children of privilege, deserve another chance to get things right?
Is America to be a land of opportunity to both succeed and fail, today's failure not standing in the way of tomorrow's success; or a land where, in words from the musical City of Angels, "You've only got one shot, then you drop out of sight"?