During a recent interview, journalist Jonathan Swan asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell whether there were any moral red lines he would refuse to cross. The answer: none.
That is why McConnell could declare on Feb. 15, 2021, that Donald Trump was “practically and morally” responsible for the insurrection at the Capitol the month before, but two weeks later — and during the interview with Swan — said he would unhesitatingly support Trump if he were the Republican presidential candidate in 2024.
There are two types of red lines I recognize in my own life, in both of which the question of harm is uppermost: hurtfulness to me personally, or harm to others or the environment.
Republicanism is one such red line. I have never and will never vote for a Republican because of what the Republican Party stands for — and today it stands for little except keeping taxes low for the rich and corporations, fighting execrable “culture wars” involving the LGBTQ community, abortion, mask mandates, and critical race theory. It also promotes policies that, at heart, are racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic.
I would never befriend someone who I know supports Republicans, because in my view, that person has abandoned the core principles of virtually all religions. In another example of a red line, when I worked for the now-defunct New York Zoological Society magazine Wildlife Conservation, one of my jobs was photo researcher. For each issue, I would contact wildlife photographers and request that they send us photos pertinent to each of the articles we planned to publish.
Virtually all such photographers depend for their livelihoods on the money they receive when their photos are printed or used in any other way. One day I discovered that our new so-called publisher was planning to use photos in a promotional brochure without informing — and thus without paying — the photographers who had taken them. When I told him that doing so was both illegal and unethical, he lashed out at me, demanding to know where my loyalties lay.
Unwilling to work under such a person, I quit the zoo magazine as soon as I found another job.
In my personal life, I have ended several friendships when I felt that people had behaved in a way that either hurt me to my very core, or indicated that they did not truly value me. In one case, during a heated phone discussion about Trump supporters in 2020, a friend accused me of being “smug”— an accusation that struck me as not only false, but also as a serious aspersion on my character.
I immediately ended our conversation. Then I received an email message from her containing the dictionary definition of “smug,” to show me that she had described me correctly.
I have never socialized or talked on the phone with this person since then, because I would always feel either that I had to carefully weigh every word before I uttered it, or that if I did speak my mind, I would do so knowing that this person considers me an insufferable know-it-all.
I am not willing to maintain a friendship under such conditions.
I recently ended my friendship with my former boss. This past January, I sent to him and others who I thought were interested in me and my family an email in which I included links to a photography exhibit my son had had, the video of a talk he gave about his photos, and a message about the marriage of his daughter — my granddaughter — accompanied by photos of the wedding.
I never heard from my former boss about this email, and after a couple of months, I wrote to him, telling him I was puzzled as to why he had not responded to it. He replied that he had been extremely busy and had not had time to read it. Then I got an email from him with a single sentence, commenting only on my son’s photos. I wrote to him again, and again he wrote back: “Believe it or not, I’ve been too busy to read your email.”
I told him that I did not believe it. Who is so busy that they cannot spend a few minutes reading about someone’s grandchild’s wedding? He then wrote that there was something wrong with me and I needed psychological help. I will never contact him again. I am fully aware that my reactions to the magazine publisher and my now former friends are those of an exceedingly privileged person — privileged and exceedingly fortunate, because I do not grieve the ends of those friendships, and don’t feel a twinge of guilt or any other negative emotion.
I don’t feel that my life is diminished in any way. Rather, I feel I am standing up for myself. I feel empowered.