The more you stay in this kind of job,” said President Richard Nixon, “the more you realize that a public figure, a major public figure, is a lonely man.
These past couple of days, two stories in the British press have amply illustrated Mr. Nixon’s point.
One story in particular has torn at the public’s emotions. The horrendous slaying of Jo Cox MP represents a tragedy for her family and a deeply troubling development for the nation.
The other story, while understandably given fewer column inches, has nonetheless raised troubling questions about police conduct.
The end of investigations into Sir Cliff Richard on sex abuse charges foreshadows – or should do – the likelihood of new questions being asked of an already struggling regional police force.
Taken together, these stories reflect the high price paid by some people for life in the public eye.
They are not, of course, completely analogous. The pain to be endured by the family of Jo Cox is of a very different order to the grief Sir Cliff has faced throughout his trial by inference.
Moreover, the actions of a lone killer are not to be compared with those of a lawful (if bungled and, in the end, unethical) police enquiry.
However, these very different tales contain important lessons for our society. They should cause us to reflect on how we project our deepest aspirations – and particularly our fears – onto public figures, often dehumanising them and ourselves in the process.
In stressful times, when our aspirations are not realised and our fears are, those same public figures become the focus of a sometimes fierce disapproval or anger.
On the political front, the 2009 MPs expenses scandal reminded us – as if we needed to be reminded – that there is plenty of human frailty within British politics.
More recently, the infighting and fearmongering by people on both sides of the EU referendum debate have reinforced that sense of a system at best damaged, at worst perhaps broken.
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