Last night, I watched The Armstrong Lie, Alex Gibney’s 2013 documentary film that took a turn from being a celebration of Armstrong’s comeback to the Tour de France in 2009, to being an exposé, following the US Anti-Doping Agency’s formal charge that Armstrong had been doping during all the years that he had won the Tour. Throughout the film, Armstrong is interviewed by various people, under a variety of circumstances. What becomes clear is how devoted the man was to the complex of lies that formed the foundation for his dominance of what some say is the most demanding sport tournament in the world. At one point, he admits that he didn’t think his deceptions — neither the doping itself nor the lies he told to cover it — were wrong. He professes to know now and to regret, but let’s just say I found his supposed remorse unconvincing.
This is a guy who did absolutely everything in his power to become and remain the most renowned, dominant, and commercially successful person in his competitive field, from lying about himself to cynically using his status as a cancer survivor to throwing friends and former teammates under the bus. Yet even faced with the reality of having to own up to his transgressions on Oprah, before all the world, he seemed, more than anything, slightly irritated at having to take the time. Not sorry. Not a bit cowed. Not even, like Jim and Tammy Bakker (remember them?), willing to shed some crocodile tears for the optics of contrition. No mascara ghoulishly streaked Lance’s chiseled cheeks. His eyes stayed dry as west Texas.
So the documentary about a man who was willing to do anything to win played on my TV, and meanwhile, in the world of 2019, Alabama was all over the news, having passed, on May 15, the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the U. S. Today’s news follows yesterday’s with Missouri’s version of Alabama’s law. Several other states have already severely restricted legal access to abortion this year. These are not coincidences. They’re not unconnected occurrences. They’re concerted efforts, and the target is abundantly clear: the rights of all women, but particularly those of middle-class-to-poor women who can’t afford to travel to a more progressive state or country to obtain necessary healthcare. I sat there on the couch after the movie finished, reading about Alabama, following the furious women of Twitter, and trying to make some sense out of it all.
Am I surprised, really even a little bit, that America, this frantic, grasping bastion of white male power, at the federal level and in certain states, is moving to increase, concretize, and consolidate its power over women and minorities in what I fervently hope is WMP’s last gasp? No. I am not.
But I also, with this latest blow, don’t feel sudden, blinding outrage. The misogynist horror known as the state of Alabama has made another entry in its encyclopedia of backward policy and disregard for the lives of its residents. To Governor Kay Ivey’s statement that “To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious & that every life is a sacred gift from God,” it wearies me to rebut with the by-now well-established evidence of hypocrisy in such a statement issuing from a state in which execution is fiercely defended and employed. Among other things.
Why am I not seeing red? It is certainly appalling, this direct attack on the rights and protections of women. It’s worse than appalling — it’s immoral and unconscionable. But I’m not driven to outrage by this particular exercise of Alabama’s leaders (or Georgia’s or Missouri’s) because it’s only the latest piece of evidence that Americans have either hidden our heads in the sand regarding similar social and political injustices or have actively striven to perpetuate them.
This development doesn’t outrage me, because I’ve been continuously outraged since November of 2016 (to the point that outrage has come to feel like numbness). And I should have been outraged long before that. Like a lot of people, I was wrongly complacent about the progress America had made with regard to social justice and equality for all. Like so many people who had skin in the game, I ignored or misinterpreted or made excuses for numerous occurrences that should have stood as red flags.
How does The Armstrong Lie come into this? Watching Lance Armstrong ostensibly command the moral highroad as he used his identity as a cancer survivor to manipulate his fans, seeing him bristle defensively and lash out at those who questioned him or came out with the truth, lying extravagantly all the while, I was reminded of no one so much as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-OTUS, our Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief. But beyond that, I was reminded of the type of people who tend to be found at the front of the pack, in the so-called halls of power, appointed to SCOTUS, in boardrooms, in the office of the CEO, and voting together in support of their own self-interest in state legislatures.
People like Armstrong —mostly men, mostly white, like him — hold nearly all of the power in this country, and like him, they will do almost anything, perpetrate almost any kind of fraud to hold onto it, and to get more of it if they can. They will do so until enough people oppose them to wrest their power away and expose them for the bigoted and self-enriching charlatans they are.
We are those people.
We were those people in 2016, but not enough of us realized what was actually happening and came forward. That is, more of us did cast votes for HRC, the opposition candidate, but not enough more to outweigh Russian hacking, and not in the right places to control the electoral college.
Lance Armstrong seemed to believe he was unbeatable and untouchable. But here’s the thing: he was not.
Those who are in public office and are abusing their power in order to erode our rights seem to think they can act with impunity.
They have, and they can continue to, unless we step forward and advocate — and vote — for their replacements, people who will work for equality and justice for everyone, instead of bricking up the best of everything inside a fortress of their own fraudulent preeminence.
There’s a caveat to this: I’ve made it sound as though there are good people who will save us from the bad people who are hurting us. It’s not quite that simple, as you well know. Anyone who gains power is susceptible to it and can abuse it. History shows us that. But we-the-people can exert some oversight to help keep those dangerous impulses in check in our leaders. And when an elected official oversteps, we can vote to replace that person, banking on the hope that the newly elected will retain their integrity and sense of obligation to their constituents for a while before succumbing to the seductions of power (this is where term limits are crucial).
White men have overpopulated elected office at every level for much too long. The corruption is rampant. It is well and truly time to replace them with the formerly powerless (women/minorities) and hope that, for a time, they’ll work for the good of the people who elected them.
Copyright © 2019 Jennifer Brown. All rights reserved.