Reality is a harsh mistress
All of us who have recognized that progress occurs through the efforts of imperfect beings know that moment as one of those first breaches to youthful idealism. Judges and politicians and religious leaders and all the rest are making decisions that have been placed before them based on information that has been filtered by biases and time and current understandings.
The part that may break the back of idealism is acknowledging that the crusaders are just as imperfect. While it is truly indecent when the crusader proves to behave contradictory to their crusade, so many other faults can be once too often to the indiscretion well. But should it really matter? You can not wait for the ideal plaintiff before you bring a lawsuit. Such-and-such state agency is harassing people because of their race/sex/age/choose-your-own-horror. That wait may force a lot of people to endure a lot more suffering. Insistence on fighting only for people of unchallenged character is unrealistic.
I doubt that we live in an age of more scandalous behavior. I suspect that people were appalled by the behavior described in the trials of Sheldon Whitehouse and Fatty Arbuckle as they are anything occurring today. For that matter, the behavior described then remains disturbing. Let’s not even discuss Lizzie Borden. The streets of New York were an education in behavior that would drive all of us to cower on our sofas for binges of sitcom watching. In short, people behave atrociously and yet they accomplish great deeds. The rarity is the historical figure with whom we would enjoy a pleasant meal.
Mirrors also are harsh mistresses
So, why do we rush to condemn when a hero reveals their feet of clay? Op-ed pieces are forever declaring that the populace loves nothing more than tearing down old idols. If they are right, the only reason for praising someone now is so we can enjoy the luxury in the future of stoning them, figuratively or literally. Salman Rushdie was a remarkable man as long as he remained in hiding. As soon as he emerged and started appearing in public doing all the things that the rest of enjoy, then he became something less.
Protecting Roberto Saviano costs money and he comes across as a little precious to an American reader. I’d probably enjoy sharing a pizza with him, but he doesn’t need to be a saint to earn my respect. Yet, we prefer saint, don’t we?
When we discover that George Washington or Martin Luther King or Mahatmas Ghandihi engaged in questionable behavior, that makes them human. When they become more like us, then we need to ask why we are not more like them. That can be a horrible moment when we have to look at ourselves and admit that we could be so much more.