Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

OPINION

How integrity got its bite back 

 Integrity in 2017 is rebellious, outspoken and angry

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By Marisa Bate on

There are many reasons to panic at the moment. You know what they are. Headline after headline spells out how the American dream is morphing into a nightmare that is haunting us all.

But out of the ground swell caused by Trump’s administration, what we are seeing is hope in the unmistakable shape of integrity. 

Integrity isn’t an easy word to throw around. It can come with the heavy, sombre connotations of a headmistress; it can seem earnest and pompous and privileged, something associated with class, not behaviour. It can feel like a moral high ground that is too high for some of us to reach. I’ve never heard anyone talk about the integrity of a single mum, but I have heard white-haired men use it to describe the reign of Thatcher.

Integrity might sound righteous and ceremonious but I think we need to re-understand what it is. It’s rebellious, outspoken and difficult. It is stubborn and of its own mind. It is Elizabeth Warren at an airport with a megaphone, or it is Elizabeth Warren standing up to Wall Street

And that’s another problem, one woman’s integrity is another woman’s bullshit. It’s a convenient byword for sticking by a decision, even if that decision is the wrong one. Integrity, heavy in meaning, is lightweight in distribution. Recently, after US department store Nordstrom dropped Ivanka Trump’s fashion brand, a statement from the Ivanka camp was issued saying: “We believe that the strength of a brand is measured not only by the profits it generates, but the integrity it maintains”. A Trump family member employing the word integrity not only highlights how fickly we use it, but how grubby the word can become too. 

But whilst language is malleable, real integrity is not. Not alternative-integrity or fake integrity but to your core, in your bones integrity. Jean Valjean integrity. Michelle Obama integrity. And this is starting to shine though.

To me, integrity is embodied most perfectly in the American Senator for Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren. During a hearing on Jeff Sessions and his nomination for a federal judgeship yesterday, Warren attempted to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King, on the senate floor, which expresses in no uncertain terms, that she believes Sessions to be racist. Evidently, taking lead from their new party leader, the GOP-run senate shut down what they didn’t want to hear and blocked Warren from reading the letter, attempting to silence her. Republican senator McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation but nevertheless she persisted”. His comments were meant to be damming but instead they spread round the internet faster than quick fire and have become a mantra of the growing, global female voice of resistance. 

We’ve seen other examples of integrity lately and closer to home. The speaker of the House of of Commons, John Bercow – in an unprecedented move – said that Donald Trump should not be invited to address parliament. Harriet Harman MP is leading a “no show” of female MPs if Trump does speak during the highly contested upcoming state visit. Conservative Ken Clarke’s  speech on Brexit was called “magnificent ” by left wing journalist  Polly Toynbee for his courage to speak against his party on Europe. We’ve seen the integrity of major corporations denying the US president with pro-immigrant half-time Superbowl adds or the offer of jobs or places to stay. We’ve seen a lonely MEP hold up a piece of paper in defiance of Nigel Farage. We’ve seen the integrity of judges across America put their jobs on the line as they challenge Trump's executive orders. 

Because now, today, in 2017, integrity is about human rights and it is defiant: it’s protest, it’s going against the tsunami of democratically elected officials or referendums or your own party or the police or the establishment. It isn't political or personal. It’s being a lone voice standing up to a bully. Now, integrity is not about how you believe you behave in your own private world – it’s how we all behave in our communities.

Those who really know me know about my “silent protests”. They know I’ve done something or not done something, gone somewhere or not gone somewhere, to protest against something or someone, to make a point.  Except – and here’s the really stupid bit – I don’t tell anyone. Nobody knows this is a protest. This is absurd for so many reasons (not to mention a complete waste of time and energy) but it is also completely without integrity. Because integrity is the bravery to speak up – not keep silent. 

Integrity might sound righteous and ceremonious but I think we need to re-understand what it is. It’s rebellious, outspoken and difficult. It is stubborn and of its own mind. It is Elizabeth Warren at an airport with a megaphone, or it is Elizabeth Warren standing up to Wall Street, or it is Elizabeth Warren refusing to be silenced and reading her letter anyway – not to Senate but to millions on Facebook Live. It is her persistence. 

So now is the time to find our own integrity. And hopefully, next time I’m protesting, you’ll actually know about it.

@marisajbate

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