For those of us who care about love and relationships, there’s much we can learn from a public corruption trial currently taking place in Richmond, Virginia.  Former Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen are accused of pocketing about $177,000 in gifts and loans from a businessman in exchange for favors from the governor’s administration. Mr. McDonnell, a vociferous proponent of family values while in office, is using a novel defense for the alleged misdeeds that essentially boils down to this:  We’re Not Guilty Because My Wife Is A Crazed Bitch.

You may remember Mr. McDonnell, who used to be a darling of the Republican Party. His critics dubbed him “Governor Ultrasound” for his role in legislation that made trans-vaginal ultrasounds mandatory for women seeking abortions. (The bill was ultimately watered down, after much protest, to allow a woman to opt for an over-the-stomach ultrasound instead.) It turns out that when he wasn’t approving bills for invasive medical procedures, Mr. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were busy being showered with gifts by the head of a dietary supplement company, Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Mr. Williams reportedly had hoped that the McDonnells would help to promote the supplement. Derived from a chemical in tobacco—which right there ought to give pause to anyone older than a toddler—the drug was touted for its “anti-inflammatory” properties in treating Alzheimer’s disease. (A seriously skeptical Food and Drug Administration recently forced its withdrawal from the market.) Mrs. McDonnell allegedly flew to Florida on Mr. Williams’s plane to pitch the drug to potential investors and later hosted a launch party at the governor’s mansion.

It’s funny how these things go. One minute you’re planning a little promotional get-together at your official residence for a businessman friend—and the next thing you know, the friend’s giving you $15,000 to cover the catering costs of your daughter’s wedding.  And an engraved Rolex watch. And sets of golf clubs in fancy bags. And loans to help pay down credit card debt. And a $20,000 shopping spree in New York. And a vacation at a luxury resort.

When news of the McDonnell’s alleged misconduct first broke, some stories suggested that the couple felt compelled to try to keep up with the high-rollers they had to entertain. After all, the governor of Virginia pulls in only $175,000 a year, according to Ballotpedia—the fourth-highest gubernatorial salary in the country. He and his family have to live in state-provided housing: the Executive Mansion, a stately Federalist home done in pale yellow brick. It comes with a chef and household staff. And there’s an official car, driven by a chauffeur.

In his testimony, Mr. McDonnell acknowledged being the recipient of Mr. Williams’s largess, but emphatically denied conspiring with his wife to trade the favors of his office for the gifts. His 38-year marriage to her was simply too broken for the two to boil an egg together, much less hatch any kind of a plot. By his accounting, the couple barely spoke. Mrs. McDonnell was emotionally estranged from him. She resented the time he devoted to his job. She ranted at her household staff. She developed a “crush” on Mr. Williams. She spent hours talking on the phone with him, to the exclusion of her own husband. As proof of the impairment, McDonnell has even moved out of the family home and is now living with his parish priest in a rectory.

What we have here is the old dog-ate-my-homework defense taken to a whole new level. We should all be excited about this. Because if the jury buys it and finds the McDonnells innocent, think of the possibilities it opens up for the rest of us. Finally, a use for our dysfunctional relationships: a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.thoughtcatalog.com

Shades of apartheid South Africa.

That was my immediate reaction when I saw the images from Ferugson, Missouri. Not for the racial divide between the (mostly white) police and (mostly black) protestors demanding justice for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a cop. Rather, it was the military accoutrement: the armored personnel carrier, helmeted police officers in camouflage and vests, sharpshooters taking aim with assault rifles, tear gas and rubber bullets—all shockingly reminiscent of what I witnessed as a journalist 20 years ago covering the fall of apartheid.

By its very nature, apartheid required the virtual militarization of parts of the country. How else could the white minority government impose racial segregation on the majority black population? South Africans of color, who comprised more than 80% of the nation’s inhabitants, were denied even the most basic rights. Skin color was destiny: it determined where you were born, where you grew up, where you were educated, where you could work, whom you could marry, where you could live, where you would die. And it was brutally enforced.

As a result, there was no such thing as community policing in the townships, the destitute, grossly overcrowded and underdeveloped areas where people of color were forced to live. I spent much of my time reporting in Soweto, Johannesburg’s sprawling black township. To enter the place, you first had to navigate a roadblock manned by policemen decked out in full combat gear. These were not your cheerful cops, walking the beat: the white government believed it was engaged in a full-on war to keep the black population, led by godless Communists (as it characterized Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress) from taking over the country. The police patrolled the township in Casspirs, snub-nosed armored personnel carriers that rode high above the ground to limit damage from mine explosions. They brandished semi-automatic rifles, smoke bombs and tear-gas dispensers. They shot to kill at the slightest provocation.

Is that what we want in our country? It was ostensibly a war—the war on terror—that has turned our police forces into small armies. After the al-Qaeda attacks on Sept.11, 2001, federal funds flowed to these law enforcement departments, which were seen to be on the front lines of a worldwide fight against terrorism. Grants from the Department of Homeland Security paid for bullet-proof vehicles, body armor, night-vision equipment. Justice Department money bought rubber bullets and tear gas. The boys in the Pentagon sent machine guns, armored trucks, aircraft and other surplus war equipment.

If the uniform makes the man (or the woman), then what message is transmitted to police officers when they don all this military gear? That their fellow citizens, whose safety and rights they’re sworn to uphold, are the enemy? We, in this country, are guaranteed the right to peaceful protest. Those guys in the GI Joe getups are supposed to be on our side.

Much of this militarization went unnoticed—and unchallenged—until the confrontation in Ferguson. It’s encouraging that politicians of all stripes have decried the deployment of such equipment and vehicles. President Obama, in his press conference on Monday, said that it’s “probably useful” to make sure that what the various police departments are purchasing “is stuff that they actually need….there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions.”

Because here’s what happens when that occurs. On March 21, 1960, several thousand black demonstrators gathered outside a police station in Sharpeville, South Africa. They were protesting against having to carry racially designated passes that determined where they could work and live. The 300 or so policemen who confronted them were arrayed atop armored vehicles and armed with submachine guns and rifles. The protest was mostly peaceful; after several hours, a few of the demonstrators threw stones at the police—who began firing their weapons. Sixty-nine protestors died in the two-minute barrage of bullets, many of them shot in the back as they tried to flee.

Hyperbole? Perhaps. But we should take it as an object lesson.

 

Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.thoughtcatalog.com