We are probably all familiar with the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It seems lately as we have watched political scandals unfold in Utah, those stages also apply. Some take a little longer to move through the steps of scandal than others, but you must admit, there’s a lot of predictability.
So, if your friendly neighborhood politico has been caught in a political scandal – or if YOU are the politico, here’s a little guide on the 5 steps of political scandal to help see you through:
Denial: aka “When the Real Truth Comes Out, You’ll Know I’ve Been [Picked On, Bullied, Framed]”
This is often referred to as “The Disney World Stage.” The facts begin piling up. But you make yourself feel better by thinking, “No one really reads newspapers anymore” – and surely they don’t listen to actual recordings. Besides, there are so many faux scandals whipped up, surely you’ll get a pass on your very real one. So, you go to Disney World and post pictures about the great time you’re having. Or you loudly proclaim from the Capitol Building that you’re having the time of your life. In the meantime, the official statements start being released from the party and your fellow officials. Todd Weiler starts mocking you on Twitter. Your denial is strong. There is a feeling that if you just hold out long enough, the political world will move on, and you’ll have made it through. You hope and pray you have some of Greg Hughes’ Teflon mojo.
Anger: aka “I’m The Real Victim Here!”
When it seems like everyone is piling on (because they are), the anger sets in. You feel like you’re being Swallowed. The rage without the ‘roids kicks in. You start to make accusations against your accusers, file countersuits and refuse to talk to the media. Or you can’t stop talking to the media. You blame the media. You say things like “It’s not like I’m _____ [Clinton, Weiner, A former Utah AG]” or “I’ll be vindicated when the facts come out” or even “I welcome the investigation.” Mmm-hmm.
The Bargaining: aka the “Let’s Make A Deal” stage
When the pressure stays constant, the behind the scenes bargaining starts. You call up your buddies, and shore them up. You promise to help them in their next campaign, with their next bill, or whatever else they need. You stop reporters in the halls of the Capitol and attempt to jokingly say, “Okay, okay, you guys have had your fun, enough already?” You email your delegates reminders of all that you have done for them. You paste a smile on your face, at all times. You make sure you post on social media pictures of yourself and your family at wholesome recreational activities, bonus points if you get the dog in the picture, too.
Depression: aka “Well, crap.”
If you’re Republican, it’s easy enough when City Weekly or the liberal Trib calls you out, and even less concerning when it is just bloggers, but when the Deseret News and KSL start mentioning ‘unsettling’ facts, the depression sets in. The reverse is true if you’re a Democrat and City Weekly has called you out. The realization hits: This thing is not going away. You stop shaving and start stress eating. You drink Diet Coke by the gallon. Your eyes get bloodshot, and your face puffy. You start to wonder if maybe, just maybe, this scandal might actually impact your political career. You might even admit to a minor error in judgment, but no one is buying it. Well, crap.
Acceptance: aka Awkward Press Conference, aka “At This Time, I’d Like to Thank My Family….”
And then you call a press conference. It includes all the necessary elements: the somber face, the loyal and stoic wife, the blaring lights of the cameras. You apologize to your supporters and most of all, your family, for letting them down. You may continue to insist on your innocence, or you may humbly admit – after months of denial – that you did, in fact, make a mistake. You then announce your resignation. This is usually the end. It is the official moment of death for the scandal, the political career, and the hounding press coverage. You slink home, still cursing the media and those meddling bloggers.
It should be noted that the above steps do not apply to all political scandal. Some choose to go a different route entirely or add a new seemingly perpetual stage of putting things on social media that make your attorney and everyone else cringe. #justice
However you handle your political scandal, best of luck moving through its stages. For the sake of all us, though, the sooner you get to stage 5, the better.