Closure after the trial

February 15, 1999|By Daniel. L. Buccino

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." -- Ernest Hemingway

DESPITE President Clinton's shamelessness, there are lessons to be learned to guide us into the aftermath of the impeachment trial.

This is critical. Mr. Clinton has a lot to feel ashamed and guilty about. But his flaws must not become central to the story that we, the people of the United States, tell about ourselves.

Precisely because of Mr. Clinton's personal inadequacies, we must redouble our efforts to do the right thing. Civic transcendence requires that we move on. Here's a seven-step plan to help us find our way:

1. We must stop worrying so much about what other people do and pay more attention to our own actions -- especially as they relate to those with whom we should most want to get along, including our families.

2. We must recognize that a cad and a sexual predator is not worth our friendship. While we may need to continue doing business with him, we must withdraw friendship, sever personal relationships and keep professional dealings on distant terms.

3. We must stop talking about Mr. Clinton's appalling behavior. To continue expressing our disapproval after the verdict leaves us seeming petty and possibly envious. As a nation, we must tell stories about ourselves of propriety, dignity, character, resilience and survival. We must not settle for stories depicting our disgrace.

4. As they say in Management 101, "Supervise the work, not the person." We cannot let the disgraced president become a continuing distraction to the business we must do. Senators Trent Lott and Tom Daschle have been models of civility. They should inspire us to focus on the real issues of this country. If we do, we may see an explosion of bipartisan legislation in the aftermath. If we don't, we will see an implosion of the current, intensely partisan system of gridlock.

5. We must pay more attention to sexual harassment and decide where we, as a nation, stand on this issue. Individually, we must be more vigilant about our own discretion, decorum and restraint. Many people claim Mr. Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky was only about consensual sex between two adults. But as the laws now stand, the relationship also can be seen as abusive, harassing sex and part of a larger pattern of inappropriate and illegal behavior.

6. As we all use this scandal to unearth what's strong -- rather than what's wrong -- in ourselves, we will encourage youths to set higher standards of duty and honor -- personally, professionally and politically. Some of them may consider careers in public service.

7. Finally, we must reflect realistically on the kinds of fathers we had. On the character of the person we want to be. On the legacy we hope to bequeath to the next generation. Our recent experiences can inspire us to be different -- and to leave a more honorable legacy.

Despite Mr. Clinton's acquittal, we can all aspire to surpass his conduct, showing how we want to live and be remembered. Mr. Clinton's story is not one we should settle on for ourselves, but it can rally us to a new civility and a renewed patriotism.

Daniel L. Buccino is a Baltimore psychotherapist.

Pub Date: 2/15/99

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