A bombshell hit Tennessee Wednesday afternoon when the leader of the state’s capital and largest city admitted to an extramarital affair. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, a Democrat, is in hot water after confessing to an improper relationship — with her chief of security, no less.
She’s apologized, accepting full responsibility for her actions, and has been fully cooperative of investigations into her own behavior. Some have rallied to her side, sponsoring billboards saying “We love the mayor.” But others won’t forgive so easily.
Barry claims her actions were legal, despite their questionable morality. Investigators are trying to determine if taxpayer dollars were used for romantic getaways. But as the mayor of one of the United States’ most well-known cities, and with a promised “aggressive agenda” ahead, most notably containing a $9 billion transit proposal and attracting a professional soccer team to the city, wide-spread travel was crucial. The mayor needed to meet with leaders of other cities, in order to observe model transit systems and soccer stadiums throughout the country.
Travel would be an appropriate expenditure if it’s main purpose was to ensure the quality of Nashville’s revamped transit systems and new professional sports franchise. Were it primarily used for romance, however, it would be grossly improper. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence pointing in either direction. Without a smoking gun, we cannot levy guilt.
While I would certainly never justify the mayor’s personal crimes, it’s worth noting the turmoil she’s recently suffered. Last July, her son died from an opioid overdose. Sure, the affair began before the death of Barry’s son, but she likely needed someone with whom to share the pain — and who might relate to her more than her husband. It’s only natural, and human, to desire companionship when life throws us twists and curves.
Barry should still consider handing in her resignation. Even if she hasn’t lost the trust of those she governs as badly as I first expected, it is still a blemish too large to ignore. But before we jump in to criticize her failings, we should consider how, recently, many figures more powerful than Barry have weathered scandals far worse.
President Donald Trump is still in power, despite being accused of impropriety by at least 19 women. He was still elected despite bragging about molesting women, which is, in my view, morally worse than having a consensual affair. The infamous Access Hollywood tape was one of several things that should have ended candidate Trump’s campaign, but here we are. Porn star Stormy Daniels has claimed, but is now denying, the two had an affair while Trump’s wife Melania was pregnant with their son Barron. A Wall Street Journal report even claims a Trump lawyer paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet.
Daniels has gone back on her word, making her testimony less than reliable, but the president’s impropriety is more than just a one-off affair. It’s a pattern. Trump cheated on his first wife with his second. He’s on his third now. There’s an entire Wikipedia article listing his past indiscretions with the opposite sex, yet he’s still president, denying nearly all of it.
The mayor has denied she’s having an affair with anyone else. Because of her frankness and open-mindedness, she still deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Trump’s track record is clearly worse than Barry’s, yet he hasn’t resigned. Why are we holding a double standard?
If the Nashville mayor funneled taxpayer money into funding her affair-related trips, that’d be morally wrong. But would it be worse than Trump’s taxpayer-funded golfing getaways? Worse than Vice President Mike Pence’s planned publicity stunt at an Indianapolis Colts game? If these actions are all above-board, then why are Mayor Barry’s trips unacceptable?
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, like Trump and Pence, remains in office despite admitting to an affair that occurred while he was still considering a gubernatorial bid. Greitens has been accused of blackmailing his mistress with nude photos, allegations he adamantly denies. If true, such a scheme would constitute revenge porn — another scandal far worse than Barry’s.
Politicians, like the rest of us, are often unfaithful in their personal relationships. It’s nothing new. Neither is improper spending of taxpayer funds. It happens on both sides of the aisle more frequently than I’d prefer. But, before we call out the speck in our neighbor’s eye, we must recognize the plank in our own.
With this in mind, it is not right for people, many of whom aren’t even Barry’s own constituents, to hold her to a higher standard than the current president of the United States and the sitting governor of an adjacent state.
Condemn both or condemn neither, depending on your own personal beliefs. But don’t let partisanship blind you to the faults of your own side. ■