We’re all that dog in the cartoon. You know the cartoon. It’s the most apt meme of our time. A pooch in a tiny fedora sits at a table with a cup of coffee. The room is engulfed in flames. Danger isn’t imminent; it’s here, lapping at the canine’s fur. Yet his expression is vacant. He doesn’t move. He says, instead, “This is fine.”
In a year marked by daily threats to democracy and global stability—punctuated by hurricanes and mass shootings—Americans have sat at that table, coffee going tepid, the room a hot glow.
Closer to home we blinked at one another vacantly after a man filed suit against Seattle mayor Ed Murray in April, alleging Murray had sexually assaulted him as a teenager. Three more accusers made similar allegations. Perhaps we wanted to grant the mayor the benefit of the doubt, at first, countenancing his innocence until he was proven guilty. When the city’s leadership didn’t act, when the city council didn’t vote to have him removed from office, we seemed to accept their apathy. (It wasn’t until a fifth accuser, his cousin, came forward in September that the mayor finally stepped down.)
In any other year—that is, any year of our lives that wasn’t 2017—a mayor of a major U.S. city accused of sexually abusing children would’ve dominated national headlines. It’s the type of scandal cable news was made for. It’s the type of scandal that keeps Nancy Grace’s kids in Burberry.
Not in 2017. In 2017 events in DC, and the venom injected into our collective body 140 characters at a time, maintain a steady state of national dread. There, too, few have stepped in to right those wrongs.
Seattleites have never let the house burn for long, though. This month’s cover story (“100 Years of Activism”) lays out the case that for a century this city has stood for what’s right. Via peaceful protests, mass occupations of public spaces, and legislation, we have said, time and again, “This is not fine.” Even now, Washington stands out as a state defiant to federal policies that run counter to human decency. We’ve always had, in other words, a fire extinguisher stored just outside the frame.
The room is in flames. Time to put them out.