If a person visibly made the lives of millions of people worse than they previously were, or blocks any reform to allow them any type of relief, is that person good or moral? When a politician, or let’s say, a famous judge dies, are we morally responsible to give that person a pass and ignore their blatant faults in some misguided attempt to be respectful? I personally don’t hold any of these inhibitions. For a culture that is so consumed with retroactive justice, it is strange that certain people are given a pass for being terrible and immoral once they die.
Christopher Hitchens, when Jerry Falwell died, went on Fox News to denounce the recently deceased preacher. Rev. Falwell was an unabashed homophobe who blamed 9/11 on American values being so morose in our acceptance of homosexuals and feminists. I have no problem in letting private people enjoy privacy during the most unfortunate of times, however this should not apply to public figures. If we do not address the crimes and sins of presidents or pastors who commit or say terrible things while they are alive, it is most likely that as a nation we will forget what they did and hold them in great esteem when that may not be appropriate.
It is always the political or corporate establishment that gets to decide who is free of criticism once their heart stops beating. It’s morally bankrupt to put certain people on pedestals, and even though we as Americans love to talk about meritocracy and the self-made man, isn’t it strange that there are those who are untouchable? Presidents like Ronald Reagan, a controversial figure who directly caused a lot of great hurting for most Americans usually gets this treatment, as a figure who is more esteemed than he should be. With “Reagonomics” and the interventions that led to hundreds of thousands dead in Latin America or the Middle East as a direct result from Reagan supporting the Contras or the mujahedeen, are we not entitled to lambast the man? I thought that no one is immune from criticism in a democracy? How are we to remember the past and who was crucial to it, if we aren’t allowed to criticize? It is in this way that if you are among the elite, you are immune.
Most recently, Justice Antonin Scalia received the special treatment and the media was there to do the bidding as always. A man renowned for his witty refutations and unique way of saying horrible things, will also go down as one of the most important conservative figures in American history. Unfortunately, he also ruled on many cases that have proven to be disasters, most noticeably, Citizens United. Scalia was also a proud homophobe that argued that that vice would not deter him in being an impartial judge. He did rule against marriage equality last year and also pointed out quite astutely that, gay people receiving “special treatment” was bad and that if we are making up more minorities to protect, then why not child molesters? See the brilliance here? I don’t care if he was the smartest guy to ever walk into the courtroom, being a flagrant bigot, means you’re going to be criticized when you die. No one should be immune.
A few more examples of people who should be pulverized for their actions are Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa, and the list goes on. You might be saying, Mother Teresa?! What a great human being. The best of the best! Not really. I’m sure you’ll remember her support for the Duvalier family which bitterly oppressed its “people” in Haiti. Or her House of the Dying where it’s been reported that the dying just needed medicine, not terrible living conditions. What about her support of Charles Keating, the mastermind behind the Savings and Loans crisis? Those besties raised about a million dollars together. In 1991, a German newspaper reported that only 7 percent of all donations went to charitable purposes.
There is the evil anti-Semite Richard Nixon whose renowned war crimes earned him a get out of jail free card. Well, those crimes didn’t get him in trouble, it was the whole wiretapping and breaking of the constitutional law that did him in. War crimes don’t seem to carry much weight for some countries.
Then there is Margaret Thatcher who wreaked much havoc on the poor in Britain and dined with friends such as General Suharto, who she called “one of our very best and most valued friends.” You may also remember him as the brutal dictator who killed 500,000 of his citizens and then invaded East Timor, committed mass genocide and put the women and girls into sexual slavery. Suharto was an anti-communist so all is forgiven. Thatcher worked for the powerful and not her people. She also supported dictators throughout the world not caring for the people of those countries. When Thatcher died, conservatives and liberals throughout the western world hailed her as a champion of liberty and freedom, diluting any meaning in those words and completely ignoring the pain and suffering she imposed as prime minister. Few spoke up when she died.
See? These are the people we worship. They are immune and glorified even though they are crooks, bullies and thugs. Why should we give them death etiquette when they destroy the lives of thousands or even millions? George Orwell, Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald and others all stress the importance of being critical of power, even if they are dead.
Mark Kobzik is a junior majoring in English/journalism.