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Betrayal of trust in times of crisis

November 2, 2016 GMT

Sometimes you think, “This only happens in movies,” or, “This reminds me of a book I read.” I’ve thought this more than once in this stranger-than-fiction election year.

In my race against Sen. Mike Crapo, I’ve been reminded of Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim,” the haunting story of a dramatic failure of courage.

“Lord Jim” came immediately to mind when Sen. Crapo un-endorsed Donald Trump; and again, last week, when the senator re-endorsed Donald Trump.

The comparison is to Jim, the main character of Conrad’s book. Jim is an officer on the crew of a dilapidated steamship carrying 800 passengers to Jeddah.

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Crisis strikes in the pitch darkness of night, in a collision with an unseen, upside-down floating wreck. The ship’s hold fills with water. The rusted bulkhead is sure to fail. Life boats for only half the passengers. No time.

Gripped by fear, the crew quietly abandons ship, leaving the sleeping passengers to a certain death. Jim, with the rest of the officers, rows away into the night, to be rescued by a passing freighter. In port, they proclaim the ship sunk and all its passengers lost.

But guess what? The ship did not sink. Steamship and passengers are towed safely to shore.

The lies, the abandonment and other failures of duty are subject of a very public criminal inquiry. Jim is banished, “certificate gone, career broken.” The balance of the book explores the consequences of Jim’s tragic failure when his character was put to the test.

On the surface, Jim is a promising man, with lots of potential. But when push comes to shove, he reveals his limits. He abandons duty and chooses to save his own skin.

Does this sound familiar? Like Jim, Sen. Crapo has jumped from the steamship Trump when he thought it was sinking.

He has sought redemption, swimming back to the ship and begging forgiveness.

Touching, but not the point. At the end of the day, it is not the crime, but the failure the crime reveals that matters. When I have tried to explain this in the past, I have been attacked for lack of charity.

But it’s not about charity, or forgiveness that I speak. We can forgive the “crime,” but when it comes to someone entrusted with high responsibility — a ship of passengers or the well-being of the citizens of Idaho — we have every right to focus on what the lapse reveals about the man. In moments of crisis, failures of courage, conviction and resolve unavoidably weaken our trust and undermine our confidence, even as the “crime” itself might fade from memory.

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We have been distracted from this and almost every other issue by the current political drama, which strains on the one hand to magnify the smallest faults and, on the other, to forgive the worst.

This political fog must be pierced and — at this time of crisis — we must focus on what really matters: the true character of those we would entrust to serve us.

Have they demonstrated courage? Shown they care for others than themselves? Have they allowed themselves to be co-opted and conflicted by the influences of party and dark money?

When push comes to shove, will they jump ship and leave us behind?

About Jim and the crime of the Patna, Joseph Conrad wrote: “The real significance of crime is in its being a breach of faith with the community of mankind.”

Do you hear the echo?

Jerry Sturgill, an avid reader, is running against Sen. Mike Crapo for the U.S. Senate.

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