When a felon's not engaged in his employment,
Or maturing his felonious little plans,
His capacity for innocent enjoyment
Is just as great as any honest man's.
When the coster's finished jumping on his mother,
How he loves to lie a-basking in the sun;
Ah, take one consideration with another,
A policeman's lot is not a happy one.
-- W. S. Gilbert
The Pirates of Penzance
So Steve Bannon is out of the White House. I should be cheering. After all, I've wanted him out from the moment he walked in. The choice of a major alt.right guru like Bannon as his chief strategist was among the first indications from Donald Trump that he had no intention of walking his presidency back toward the political center. Bannon has sat at Trump's side all this time like a great rumpled spider, his fingers on the web of accusations, ideological distortions, and outright lies spun out endlessly by this administration and its allies in Congress. He is a white supremicist, an enemy of immigration, an economic isolationist, a believer in absolute property rights. His political philosophy is about 180 degrees removed from mine, and most of his ideas are repugnant to me. And yet....
And yet, I keep hearing him called "evil." And I have a real problem with that.
I don't think human beings can be evil. I don't think we have the capacity for it. We can hate; we can do horrible things to each other; but even as we do them, there remains, somewhere deeply buried, an unquenchable spark of good. Quakers call it the Inner Light, or the Inward Christ, or the Seed, or That of God Within. And because it is always there, there is always the possibility to uncover it. Humans are redeemable - every last one of us. Because of that, we cannot be evil. The malevolence of spirit that category requires - the unswavering desire to do absolute harm to absolutely everything in the world - is not available to us.
I can agree that there are acts that are evil, although the bar is pretty high. The Holocaust qualifies; so does the late-20th-century genocide in Rwanda and Burundi. I might even go so far as to describe driving a Dodge Charger at high speed into a crowd of peaceful protestors as an act of evil. But we must separate the actions from the actors. The actions must be forcefully condemned. The actors must be held responsible for their actions. But they must not be cut off from any and all opportunities to redeem themselves - and calling them "evil" does just that.
As for Steve Bannon: there are two things that Progressives, caught up in our glee over getting him out of the government, may be overlooking. One is that he is one of those in the Administration who has spoken out strongly against Trump's saber-rattling posture toward North Korea, pointing out - accurately - that in any war with Kim Jong Un, most of the residents of Seoul would die within the first 30 minutes in a rain of conventional missles: an unacceptable cost. The second is that his has been among the only voices in the West Wing - perhaps THE only voice - to advocate raising taxes on the rich. Those are walking out the door with the rest of Bannon's baggage, and I cannot say that it makes me particularly happy to see either one of them go.
Yes, we must halt the rise of Fascism in America. A thousand times, yes. It is a disease that must be eradicated. But as we attack it, let us remember that it is the disease we are after, not the people who have been infected by it. Steve Bannon may be a horrible human being, but he is still a human being. And that still matters.