Wednesday, October 07, 2020

The Banality of Rosenstein


banality noun 

ba·​nal·​i·​ty | \ bə-ˈna-lə-tē , bā- also ba- \ 

plural banalities  
Definition of banality  
1: something that lacks originality, freshness, or novelty : something banal : COMMONPLACE 
2: the quality or state of lacking new or interesting qualities : the quality or state of being banal

If you were going to look for an American face or a manner of corporate dress that embodied the words "lacking new or interesting qualities," you would have to search long and hard to find a face and suit more commonplace than Rod Rosenstein's to fit that definition.
Google Image search for "Rod Rosenstein" - 10/7/2020

evil noun 
\ ˈē-vəl , British often and US sometimes ˈē-(ˌ)vil \
Definition of evil
1a: the fact of suffering, misfortune, and wrongdoing 
  b: a cosmic evil force 
2: something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity

And if one were to ask what the most evil action of the Trump Administration was based on those dictionary definitions, a large percentage of Americans would reply with a description of the actions the Administration took to separate parents from their minor children at our southern border, and the suffering and sorrow those actions brought [since more than 200,000 Americans have died in 2020 from an out-of-control COVID-19 outbreak, there might be competition for the most evil act, so let's assume the questions were asked at the end of 2019].
Both words, and Hannah Arendt's short book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, immediately came to mind last night as I read the fourth paragraph in a New York Times article about the family separations. It was not totally unexpected that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was quoted as saying "We need to take away children" in the Justice Department Inspector General's report on the separations, but it was the following paragraph that made me think of Arendt's book.
"Rod J. Rosenstein, then the deputy attorney general, went even further in a second call about a week later, telling the five prosecutors that it did not matter how young the children were. He said that government lawyers should not have refused to prosecute two cases simply because the children were barely more than infants."
It's been more than forty years since I read Eichmann in Jerusalem in college, but it has always stuck with me on a very deep level. Evil, real evil, will always need bureaucrats who are simply efficient at doing their jobs, no matter who the boss is. All of us who have worked in the corporate world (I had decades in that environment) have met many potential Eichmanns and Rosensteins who are almost invisible in an office environment, and who would easily and efficiently (if not eagerly) implement or amplify orders without ever questioning the ethics behind them or the effects they might have on other people.
"For when I speak of the banality of evil, I do so only on the strictly factual level, pointing to a phenomenon which stared one in the face at the trial. Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth, and nothing would have been farther from his mind than to determine with Richard III 'to prove a villain.' Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all."
--Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem


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