In retrospect, a news conference that former Mayor Ed Murray held in June plays like a scene out of a Greek tragedy.
It’s quite possible Ed Murray would still be Seattle’s mayor if not for that day a few months back when he defied the gods.
That’s how the ancient Greeks would see it, anyway. They did know a thing or two about tragedy.
It was June 14, and one of the four men accusing Murray of sex abuse had just dropped his lawsuit. At City Hall, Murray took to the podium to pronounce himself completely vindicated — so much so that he was considering getting back into the campaign.
He didn’t stop there; he scolded the press for not doing enough research into the records of what really happened with another of his accusers, his foster son down in Oregon in the 1980s.
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“Do your homework,” added his husband, Michael Shiosaki.
The whole city now knows how that turned out. This newspaper cited the mayor’s comments to get the state of Oregon to turn over the records of its child-abuse investigation. And this past week, the mayor’s cousin referenced the bold tone of this news conference for why he was coming forward after more than 40 years to tell how Murray had abused him.
“News reports show Murray standing at the publicly owned mayoral podium, with his husband (a Seattle employee) by his side on taxpayer time, declaring ‘vindication,’” Joseph Dyer said in a declaration.
“That pissed me off to the point where I am like, ‘That’s it. I have had enough,’” Dyer added to The Seattle Times in an interview.
What Murray exhibited that day was hubris, what the Greeks thought of as “defying the gods” with overconfidence or vanity. In Greek tragedy, hubris inevitably leads to “nemesis” — the “dispenser of dues” who metes out a retribution for prideful folly.
Back in the literal world, we now know from Murray’s family members that this allegation he had abused his cousin, whether true or not, was a story known among relatives for years. Given that, why stand up there and practically dare it to come out? It was astonishingly reckless.
According to two doctors who coined the term “hubris syndrome,” recklessness is a telltale sign of what they say ought to be an official acquired psychiatric disorder.
“When you see it, you’ve got to be very conscious that you may be watching somebody who is intoxicated with power,” the British neuroscientist David Owen told the New Yorker magazine earlier this year.
The magazine was interviewing Owen not about Mayor Murray, but about you-know-who.
So it was doubly gobsmacking that of all people, it was President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr., who decided to weigh in on the Murray scandal. He implied the fact that Murray didn’t quit until after the fifth allegation was an indictment of Democrats.
“It took 5?” he tweeted. “Also: Ed Murray (D) fyi.”
Of course, his own father has also been accused of sexual abuse and harassment, and far more than five times. So it’s revealing that another element of hubris syndrome, the doctors wrote, can be an irrational blindness — in leaders but also followers, who don’t want to acknowledge flaws in their leaders because it “reflects poorly on their decision to put them there.”
There was some of this denial around Seattle with Murray. My own view, which I tried to articulate back in May, is that people in Seattle mostly believed Murray’s accusers. That was balanced against a sense that the allegations were so old the real truth would never be known. So what resulted was an awkward, damning silence.
Damning for the mayor, as nobody defended him. Awkward for civic leadership, which for the most part adopted the position of quietly hoping the whole mess would go away.
This silence was an opening for Murray to serve out his term, merited or not. Yet he couldn’t help but to break it. That’s the way it goes with hubris, especially among some political leaders: They seem powerless to control it.
So this is where our story ends. For now. But seeing as how the Greeks wrote the first episode more than 2,000 years ago, we’ll doubtless be seeing another version soon.