I can’t stop thinking about Edith Keeler.
The Depression-era slum angel portrayed by Joan Collins was the pivot point, not just of the plot of the best Star Trek episode ever, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” but of human civilization itself.
For the un-Treked: Dr. McCoy accidentally drugs himself, goes mad and jumps through a time portal on some misty planet. A moment later, Captain Kirk, Mister Spock and the regular cast members whose names come at the end of the show figure out that their starship is gone and all of history has been altered.
Why? Because, landing in New York in 1930, McCoy saved Edith from dying in the traffic accident that claimed her life in the original timeline. And by not dying, Keeler winds up leading a peace movement that delays the United States’ entry into World War II. Which the Nazis then win. No V-E Day, no United Federation of Planets.
So Kirk and Spock have to follow McCoy back in time and let poor, innocent Edith Keeler get squished by a truck.
“But she was right,” says Kirk, the galaxy’s most heavily armed emissary of Utopia. “Peace was the way.”
“She was right,” Spock replies, “but at the wrong time.”
Other people are right, too.
For example, Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and other church leaders who last weekend preached a gospel, not just of peace but of charity and civility. A message that people who disagree don’t always have to be so durn disagreeable. That we don’t solve problems, or win people over to our point of view, with insults and hostility.
The message was echoed on social media by Gov. Spencer Cox. He has been known to say similar things before and has been encouraging people to disagree more peacefully and helpfully in his leadership role in the National Governors Association.
Cox often calls out social media and cable news for their tendency to exacerbate political and social hostility because they benefit from building an audience that can’t get enough of the brain chemicals stimulated by anger and fear.
Each of those worthies, of course, is absolutely right.
There’s another public habit that is just as destructive. It’s something known to the pundit class as “both-sidesism.” It’s an approach to public debate that constantly strives to treat both sides of an issue, or in an election, as morally equal. Each with an equal number of good and bad points, each with advocates who are ethically above reproach, each with partisans who are nasty, crooked and deceitful.
But sometimes there are good guys and bad guys. Declining to call out the bad guys for what they are won’t lead to a just peace. Refraining from attacks on the evil-doers won’t cause them to soften their hearts and lay down their arms, actual or metaphorical.
Whether it is Vladimir Putin smashing hospitals and apartment blocks in Ukraine, Donald Trump calling on his followers to attack the U.S. Capitol or Ron DeSantis seeking to become president by promoting white, straight, male supremacy in Florida, the proper response is not always to split the difference and shake hands. It is to sometimes see the evil in our world for what it is and give it no sympathy.
So many of today’s political differences are not a matter of whether the corporate tax rate should be 25% or 29%. It’s not whether we should build a highway or a light rail system. Whether the taxpayers should subsidize corn or oil or nuclear reactors.
It’s whether women, racial minorities and LGBT folks are to be treated as human beings, equal before the law. It’s whether politicians and their allied propaganda outlets should be able to get away with lying to us about the conduct and outcome of our elections.
When Cox and others argue that CNN and Fox News are equally to blame for our sad political mood, they are just not telling the truth. CNN can get carried away with its “Breaking News” banner, giving and getting an endorphin hit of tension. Fox News, if there is any justice in the world, is about to be sued into a well-deserved oblivion for promoting lies about voting machines being hacked.
The aforementioned Star Trek episode, as nuanced as it was by television standards, worked because Edith Keeler was sacrificed in the name of defeating the all-time greatest evil, Nazi Germany. It had to be done.
Nothing we face today so clearly justifies the use of violence to counter violence. Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine come close. And the next time the Proud Boys assemble in Washington, the Capitol really must be much better defended.
Are some of us sometimes too quick to insult or defame our political rivals? Undoubtedly.
Are some political movements among us deserving of being opposed and rendered powerless? Yes. Though we can hope that no one will have to be run over by a truck in the process.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, realizes that Star Trek is fiction. And fiction is where the truth is often found.