Karma Kameleon

I’m fascinated by karma. It’s been a theme of all my novels and many of my short stories. Rather than some mysterious external cosmic force, I see it as self-inflicted payback for a lifetime of hubris, arrogance and worse. In other words, shooting yourself in the foot.

Let’s take the case of a hypothetical President. And let’s say he’s facing a pandemic with the potential to snuff out hundreds of thousands of American lives. If this mythical President is of above average intelligence and possesses even a shred of empathy and political savvy, he’ll seize on this as an opportunity to do the right thing, create a cohesive national strategy, put the country on a wartime footing, rally its citizenry, and defeat the enemy before it spins exponentially out of control. That’s what his predecessors did. Guys like Lincoln during the Civil War, FDR during the Great Depression and World War II, and George W. Bush after 9/11. Not only did it work, these leaders reaped great political benefits when reelection time rolled around.

But if our President has spent a lifetime lying, cheating and covering up, if that’s his natural reaction to events that could paint him in a bad light, he might do something else—such as downplay the threat, pretend it’s nothing, and gaslight the very people he’s taken an oath to protect. And he’ll get away with it for a while. In fact, with the economy cranking along nicely, he seems like a shoe-in for a second term.

But then the economy tanks. And people die by the tens of thousands, alone in their hospital beds because their loved ones aren’t allowed one final farewell. And then, in a bit of toxic irony, the fearless leader contracts the virus a month before the election. And a disgusted electorate rises up in record numbers to remove him from office and let history render the ultimate verdict.

Too far-fetched, I know. But please continue to suspend your disbelief. Because it’s a textbook example of karma at work.

Here’s another example. My father-in-law, let’s call him “Jack,” was a happy-go-lucky hail fellow well-met kind of guy. Except when he was drinking. And he drank a lot. Then the dark demons took over and made everyone around him miserable for decades.

He also smoked four packs a day, unfiltered. Yet, in all the time I knew him, he never suffered so much as a sniffle. He just rambled blithely through life, causing more heartache and lasting damage than a Cat 5 hurricane. And he never paid the price.

Until he woke one morning with a hacking cough that no amount of medicine could touch. A short painful time later, he was dead of lung cancer at 63. Karma has a bitter sense of humor.

My point is, nobody skates forever. Sure, karma may take its sweet time catching up to its prey. But patience, Grasshopper. The longer it takes, the more heinous the consequences.

Don’t believe me? Keep watching the news.