NEW YORK (RNS) Leave it to the governor of New Jersey to take 21st-century normal, strip it of any civilized veneer and show us exactly what we are becoming.
New Jersey, after all, is the state that gave us the so-called Chemical Coast around Linden — where unchecked industrial use of land, water and air to manufacture gasoline shows the ugly side of an automotive culture.
New Jersey gave us Newark, a once-proud city that collapsed long before Detroit made urban corruption and decay a cause for hand-wringing.
New Jersey also gave us balkanized suburbs where extreme wealth builds a wall around itself to keep the riffraff out.
So here was Gov. Chris Christie holding a mirror in our faces with “Bridgegate,” the intentional creation of a monumental traffic jam on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge to punish a political opponent.
During a two-hour apologia (not apology), Christie talked mostly about himself and how his feelings were hurt by this story of political vengeance against helpless commuters. This is what our national epidemic of narcissism looks like: “I am the center of everything.”
Christie took no responsibility for anything beyond having made poor choices in allies. He said nothing about the bullying tone he has set throughout his career; nothing about ignoring why his disciples were resigning after the mess in Fort Lee began to emerge; no curiosity as to why a top aide was copping the Fifth in sworn testimony down the hall; nothing close to a Truman-esque acceptance of a “buck” stopping at his desk.
This is what irresponsibility looks like. It starts with “I didn’t mean to break the lamp!” Then, the meaningless nonapology, “I’m sorry if you got hurt.” Now this, a state administration where the one at the top sees himself as hapless victim, not governor.
Christie’s dilemma, of course, is that he did great photo-op after Hurricane Sandy, walking beside a Democratic (!) president to show nonpartisan all-in-this-together compassion for storm victims. People desperate for a public face to Republicanism other than Ted Cruz began to hope.
Photo ops don’t have a long shelf life, however, especially when something juicier comes along. If you live by camera and contrivance, you die by camera and reality.
Then, of course, we have the sordid reality of bullying that Christie personifies in politics. Teenagers are committing suicide after classmates bully them. Rape victims get no justice after perps’ lawyers bully the legal system. Large employers bully their employees when the lowly presume to assert control over their labor. An Indian diplomat bullies her domestic staff, and then the nation of India bullies the U.S. to protect her. Gays are being bullied around the world and now in the supposedly ultrareligious state of Utah, where their legal marriages are suddenly not recognized.
Bullying has become the new normal. Use whatever power you have — from wealth to votes to unchecked surveillance-state data to anonymous social media postings — to get your way.
If you hurt millions of commuters, make emergency vehicles late to emergencies, keep students trapped in buses and embarrass an entire state — no problem, all in a good cause, namely, paybacks.
Chris Christie is the poster child for our pervasive ethical swamp. We are mired in narcissism (a personality disorder, untreatable and terrifying up close), evasion of responsibility and bullying.
New Jersey’s governor has shown us just how ugly that swamp is.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)
KRE/MG END EHRICH