Current American political culture sucks people into binaries — binaries between left and right, binaries between right and wrong, and, as I have witnessed, even binaries between heroes and villains. It has become difficult to categorize people as people, that is, acknowledging both the “heroic” and “villainous” aspects of their personalities. But it is crucial for us to break these binaries in order to move toward a less conflict-ridden mode of politics. We have to be able to criticize our political heroes and praise our political villains if we are ever to close the widening gap between political parties.
Oftentimes, we are more willing to acknowledge the mistakes of our political villains and pass over the mistakes of our political heroes. But no one is composed entirely of bad or good, and if we fail to acknowledge that, we will never see politics in the critical lens that is so crucial to positive change.
For some students at LMU, Ruth Bader Ginsberg was a political hero. But after her passing, many of them were forced to come to terms with the fact that she was far from perfect. As Emerald Green, a sophomore screenwriting major put it, the period following her death “should be spent honoring her life, including learning about the things that don’t make her the fictional superhero version so many of us had in our minds.” Green went on to say that though RBG made immeasurable progress, “it is still important to acknowledge that she was not a perfect person or judge.”
For Green, part of “honoring” someone’s life is accepting that they were neither perfect hero nor perfect villain. It makes it possible to hold someone in high esteem even if they were not entirely blameless. In fact, it is a person’s ability to work through their imperfections that may make them heroic in the first place.
RBG did make mistakes — including her infamous statement that Colin Kapernick’s decision to kneel was both “dumb” and “arrogant,” according to Slate. This and other comments that seemed to align RBG with white feminism could easily get her kicked out of the “hero” category and destine her for the “villain” category. But is this fair?
As Rachel Berookhim, a sophomore psychology major, put it, this type of cancel culture “doesn’t give people the chance to change and be productive and respectful members of society.” Rather, “it just excommunicates them without the chance to change.” Can a mistake, or a harmful decision, change a hero into a villain? For some, it can, according to CNN. But Berookhim and Green took a different approach.
Upon discovering that RBG wasn’t the ideal leader that many thought she was, Green took a step back and re-evaluated her opinions on the Supreme Court Justice. Ultimately, however, she decided to use it as an opportunity to “understand and appreciate” the political progress that RBG made, while still recognizing that RBG's feminism occasionally lacked intersectionality.
This is exactly the type of lens that Americans need to use when evaluating politicians or other famous ‘heroes.' By understanding that people are human who can simultaneously do good and do harm, we can hold our leaders accountable and allow them a space for positive growth and change. Villainizing or canceling a person at their first sign of failure is not a sustainable way to build a brighter future.
It is important to mention that this mindset goes the other way as well. We need to be able to acknowledge that even our political “villains” are capable of good. Rather than denouncing all that they do, we must evaluate each action with a critical lens. It is okay to accept that even people we do not like can do things that we do like. In fact, this too is crucial to positive change.
We must not succumb to the binaries that have been set up in our current political system. Instead, we must place each person and each action under a critical eye, allowing them to both make mistakes and make forward progress, no matter what side of the political spectrum they fall on.
This is the opinion of Jordan Boaz, a junior women's and gender studies and social justice double major from Denver, Colorado. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow and tweet comments to @LALoyolan on Twitter, and like the Loyolan on Facebook.