Thanks for reading the first of three summer editions of Times of E. We’re on a reduced publication schedule.
Over this spring, I wrote story about a man named Gordon Caplan. He was one of the offenders in the Varsity Blues scandal, which you may remember sent about 50 people to jail, people who were involved in a scam to increase kids’ test scores or create fake athletic records to get the children of wealthy families into elite schools.
Caplan, who had been the chairman of international law firm Wilkie Farr & Gallagher, went to prison for a month. On his release, he started his own company, and began working on prison reform issues and on behalf of individual prisoners – as well as some other philanthropic endeavors.
When they hear this story, most people mock Caplan and his efforts to redeem himself. That is tempting – The Atlantic published a terribly mocking story about him, tarring even those loosely associated with him. Part of abiding by the law is recognizing that people who have done their done their time and accepted their punishment have a clean slate. I took him seriously, and with the grace offered by Dana Ball, another man who had served time, I wrote the story.
Like many Americans, I have been watching the Jan. 6th hearings, and finding myself feeling grateful to Mike Pence and his advisors for refusing on Jan. 6, 2021, to throw out the electoral college votes. I don’t like it that evangelical Christians played a game of chicken with our democracy, supporting a sociopath for president so they could get their Supreme Court justices. And Pence’s team could have spoken up much earlier about Trump’s plans.
But when it mattered most, they abided by the system of laws, when their lives were under threat. I certainly don’t see them as heroes. But I can forgive them a lot, because of the courage they showed at the end of the day.
The people who embrace Donald Trump and his brand of white supremacy need anger to keep them going. (There are deeper issues there, including our broken education system and the mental health crisis among white men.)
The committee is giving many conservative Republicans – people whose political stances are abhorrent – a chance to separate themselves from the illegal actions of the former president.
Liberals and conservaties don’t agree on much, but they’re saying: We can agree on the Constitution and the rule of law. Re-embracing our system of laws and re-embracing truth, as embodied in the words we speak to each other, is critical.
But we need the emotional part of the process, too. We need comeback stories and narratives of redemption, or we won’t be able to achieve a lasting peace in the United States. Redemption narratives rest on a fundamental premise, a condition of empathy and an embrace of hope.z`
Gordon Caplan can come back from a bad mistake. Politicians like Mike Pence can progress. We don’t agree on much, but we can surely agree that we are all human, all flawed, and all moving forward.