The republic falters and we’re all agog and atwitter about Jeffrey Toobin’s masturbation on Zoom? We’ve managed to transform the old Chinese curse about living in interesting times to something far worse: we live in an age of cheap pathos -- we’re bathed in trivial resentment and, bereft of hope, we seek refuge in rage. It’s exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong. The allegations against Toobin are disturbing, deeply so, and they are profoundly depressing. The 60-year-old author and legal analyst for The New Yorker and CNN was seen masturbating by colleagues while on a Zoom call. He doesn’t deny the behavior, he merely apologizes, saying he thought the Zoom camera was muted.
Were a child of mine to do something like this I would at once be enraged and embarrassed. That a colleague I respect and admire would do this simply dumbfounds. I’ll neither minimize nor excuse the conduct: it screams of self-destructive narcissism; it reeks of entitlement.
And that’s not all, we learn, reading the reaction to this news. He once had a long affair, impregnating his lover, trying to convince her to abort, even going to far as to offer to pay for her fertilization with someone else’s sperm, the better, presumably, to avoid child-support payments. He fought off claims of paternity, and lost. Ordered to pay child support, he balked, until the mother of his child threatened a public wage garnishment. All this while married to another.
And there’s whispering that he had approached other women whispering lewd endearments.
I look at a photograph of him standing with what must no doubt be his long-suffering wife and I am overcome with pity for her. Surely, she deserves better than this.
Toobin has tumbled from grace, dragging his wife with him, the ripple effect of this sin staining those who stood by him year by year.
I reminded at once of St. Paul: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Toobin has a painful journey ahead. Whether his wife can forgive, his employers can or should forget, and his viewing public put all this aside are topics for another day. CNN has suspended him. The New Yorker has placed him on leave pending an investigation. It’s possible an ambitious prosecutor might try to make a criminal case against him. His troubles are legion.
But what about the rest of us? What graceless creatures take delight in another’s fall? The answer is simple: the same sort of creatures who fell in the first instance. What was it Jesus said to the crowd assembled to stone the adulteress: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” The crowd melted away without a stone cast.
Those were more honest times. We all carry a pocket full of stones today.
We’re filled with self-righteous rage; schadenfreude replaces an instinct for grace.
When last I checked my catechism, pride was as deadly a sin as lust.
I am guilty of taking an immediate and guilty pleasure in Toobin’s tumble. “He put the tube in Toobin,” I chortled. And at once, I felt diminished. Why the pleasure in the humiliation of another? It says something shameful about me.
I wondered last night about the circle of those surrounding Toobin. Does it have many friends? He needs but one now, someone to stand by him and to remind him that no one is the sum of his worst moments. I hope he has such friends.
Certainly, he will find no succor among the woke. Toobin’s a white male and his privilege undid him, some say. No mercy, cried some. Others charged hypocrisy. You dare question the president’s morals, Mr. Toobin? Were he on the right, he’d already be road kill, fume others. Still others simply chuckle, content now in the knowledge that Toobin is no better than the rest of us.
Come what will November 3, the presidential election will pass and we’ll be left with the same divisions and rancor that made the past four years possible. Identitarians will gather around idols cast in their own image and demand no peace until they get just what they want. We’ll be quick to deride those who have what we want.
We’re rapidly become a nation of graceless ruffians.
So what will become of Jeffrey Toobin? I, for one, hope he learns intimately about grace abounding. I hope he returns, chastened, armed with a better understanding of human weakness and what we do to hide it from ourselves.
I’m tired of the national shame game. Ugly though Toobin’s behavior was, I find uglier still the chorus of those taking pleasure in his pain. Grace built the civilization we take for granted. We forget that at our peril.