I’ve been thinking a lot about the nuns this week. Being Catholics of a certain era, we were well acquainted with shame, courtesy of the clergy that tended to our educations. If Jesus’ example didn’t stop you from swiping candy or skipping Mass, the prospect of public humiliation sure did. As we got older, and the nuns more progressive, some of the shame fell away, which was a blessing.
But shame isn’t all bad. Lord knows, with what is unfolding in Washington right now, I miss it. I miss the days when the mere prospect of looking awful in others’ eyes could make somebody stop doing something horrible. Guilt is a private emotion, easily suppressed or ignored. But the public nature of shame is often a check on our worst instincts.
Unless you can’t feel it.
It is now abundantly clear — if it wasn’t before — that our new president has no capacity for shame. Caught in the act — telling blatant lies in an attempt to assuage his own insecurities, doing the exact opposite of what he promised, trying to use his awesome power to settle petty slights — he does not retreat the way a normal person would.
No, he merely doubles down, for he is shameless. And he appears to be surrounded by others whose capacity to feel shame is either absent or suppressed, who parrot or defend his transparent falsehoods.
In a normal world, this would destroy their reputations. But nothing is normal any more. Their shamelessness makes them almost invincible.
Speaking of invincible, does sainted quarterback Tom Brady really have absolutely no idea why his friendship with the president — who has boasted of predatory behavior and villainized refugees and Muslims — might be a problem?
“Why does everybody makes such a big deal? I don’t understand it,” Brady said on WEEI this week, apparently unmoved by the fact that millions had just taken to the streets to protest his friend.
Oh, I don’t know, maybe because most of us would not choose to be such public buddies with people who say and do awful things? And it’s not just a friendship. Brady said he thought it would be great if Trump were president. And Trump, who is also tight with Pats coach Bill Belichick and owner Bob Kraft, brings Brady up whenever he gets a chance, boasting as recently as Thursday night about a congratulatory call from the quarterback. The Brady association helps sell Trump, and his intolerance, to America, just as surely as it sells sheepskin boots.
Clueless or shameless? With Brady, it’s a toss-up.
Less of a toss-up: the actions of our state legislators, currently jamming through a hefty pay raise for themselves, constitutional officers, and judges.
Legislation usually moves glacially on Beacon Hill, but here they’re acting with awe-inspiring alacrity. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that the public, preoccupied with the disaster in Washington and Patriots fever, is barely paying attention (OK, maybe the legislators feel a little shame). It’s surely a coincidence, too, that including judges’ salaries among the pay raises makes the whole package impervious to repeal (On second thought, nah).
Look, maybe they’re worth the extra money. But it’s telling they aren’t willing to make that argument. And the pay increases are likely to cost $18 million over the next 18 months — during which period the state will be grappling with what promises to be painful financial fallout from the Trump administration’s desire to punish bright blue states like ours.
In an extra special twist, the package also boosts the salary of one Steve Murphy, the former city councilor whose lack of shame has given him a lucrative career as a proud purveyor of naked patronage. After losing his council election, Murphy rode a wave of apathy and name recognition to become Suffolk County’s register of deeds, a $124,000 a year position (soon to be $142,000) for which he has no apparent qualifications.
Here and everywhere, shamelessness pays.
Where are the nuns of my childhood when we need them?
Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.