On the old saw, “Remember your enemies are human too”

The notion that political enemies are human, too, sharing our common human hopes and fears, triumphs and vulnerabilities, is often deployed in a way to downplay political division and enmity. In reality, though, the fact that our enemies are human, too, is what makes them morally accountable. If they were inhuman monsters who thrived on death and suffering, then we would expect nothing of them but sadism. The fact that they share our common humanity, that they have experienced love and pain and disappointment and satisfaction just like us, is what makes it so intolerable that they would, for instance, vote to take away people’s access to health care just because they said they would, with no plausible narrative for why such a thing is beneficial as public policy or even as an act of political expediency.

The fact that John McCain would get up off his deathbed to participate in this cruel farce does not make him a hero, it makes him a bad person. He had a perfectly valid excuse to skip the vote. Indeed, he had a perfectly valid excuse to resign his senate seat altogether and wash his hands of this mess. Those would both be understandable human actions. What he chose to do instead was completely gratuitous and cruel, which is comprehensible only as an attempt to bask in the media’s adoration one last time. That motivation is human, and that’s what makes it morally blameworthy. If he were a mystical creature who fed on the praise of journalists, then we could write it off as a survival instinct. Since he is a human being with human moral agency, we are entitled to our equally human moral judgment. And in my judgment, which is my right as a human being, John McCain is an evil man and anyone who is trying to use his unfortunate medical condition to distract from that fact is a fool at best and a fellow villain at worst.

Yes, our enemies are human. That’s what makes them enemies. That’s why their actions are unacceptable — because they are just like us. If we can make the morally right choice, so can they. And they have not.

4 thoughts on “On the old saw, “Remember your enemies are human too”

  1. Insofar as the effort to repeal would have been over sooner had he not inserted himself, meaning that millions of Americans would not face days of constant anxiety about loss of health care coverage, I’m going to stick with my assessment. I’m glad the effort failed, but he gratuitously made it about himself and his legacy.

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