Here is a loose quotation on the Bill Cosby matter, an observation about why people dismissed Barbara Bowman’s accusations in 2008: “People didn’t want to live in a world where Cliff Huxtable was a rapist.” That makes you ask, would you want to live in a world where America’s favorite dad was a rapist, but no one would acknowledge it?
Yes, Cliff Huxtable is a TV character and Bill Cosby is an actor, but you know why we put the two together in a case like this one.
Imagine again a political crime committed against a whole nation, as serious as rape committed by one person against another. What is better: to acknowledge the truth about a crime like that, or look the other way when accusers come forth to say what happened? When famous people like Bill Cosby commit crimes, it takes people with integrity, and the right circumstances, to make the truth be known. The same holds for political crimes like 9/11 and Kennedy’s killing: a lot of people want to pretend the king has clothes on, because to say otherwise means they’ll lose their standing. In fact, others will ridicule them in public for saying what is obviously true!
The common perception is that high profile political crimes are moments of supreme dishonesty. The crimes seem to foster grand cover-ups, investigative commissions that merely pretend to find the truth, every kind of secrecy, misdirection and obfuscation, and of course the identification of a villain who becomes the nation’s scapegoat. These kinds of dishonesty do in fact follow high crimes, but we ought to perceive the crimes themselves as moments of high truth. Organizations and people that normally operate in secret, reveal themselves through acts that betray a kind of hubris not often seen.
What except hubris can explain bringing down a forty-seven story skyscraper, World Trade Center 7, in seven seconds, and claiming the cause was anything but a controlled demolition? What except hubris can explain murdering one of your assets, Lee Oswald, on television, then expecting people to believe Ruby’s claim that he did it to protect the dead president’s family? Blowing up buildings in downtown Manhattan and shooting a president in Dallas’s Dealey Plaza are not fundamentally inexplicable moments, when some unpredictable event jars history and the whole world seems to tilt off its axis. They are moments of truth, where the national security state briefly shows itself.
For the most part, the national security state can operate in secret, and it prefers to do so. Occasionally it undertakes actions far more conspicuous. It expects, from citizens’ past behavior, that the Cosby rape principle will protect them: if it’s an accusation that people don’t want to believe, they won’t believe it. The Cosby rape principle has another side to it, though. Eventually, people do believe the truth. Hannibal Burress takes the accusation of rape for granted in his stage performance. The Internet goes crazy. Victim after victim comes out, encouraged because others suffered as they did. Suddenly that smug Cosby smile in the old photographs, and the devilish look in good ol’ Bill’s eye don’t look so cute.
The same thing happened during decades of persistent accusations about Kennedy’s execution in Dallas. At last, fifty years after the event, people start to wonder why they ignored and ridiculed people like Jim Garrison in the 1960s. Why did we treat the truth tellers so poorly? Why did we not see evidence that a great political crime had occurred, not a lucky pot shot by a lone nut? Why did we let them get away with it? Why did we let Bill Cosby get away with it? Why did we let Jian Ghomeshi get away with it? Why do we let so many famous people get away with criminal acts, merely because we don’t want to live in a world where people we admire could do things like that?
Someday we will ask the same questions about 9/11. Why did we let the perpetrators who blew up those buildings get away with it?