A Matter Of Morals

This is a very difficult time for those of us who are old enough to remember a much different politics.

When I was in City Hall, most elected Republicans and Democrats (granted, not all) could disagree over certain policies while agreeing about others. State Senators and Representatives could argue on the floor of a Statehouse chamber and go to lunch together afterward. Both Republican and Democratic Congressmen (yes, they were all men) would carry the City’s water in Washington.

And politicians of both parties honored election results and participated in the peaceful transition of power.

Why has that changed? Why do members of Trump’s hard-core MAGA base seethe with resentment and hatred of “the libs”? Why do so many of us respond to their hostility with incomprehension– as if they were representatives of a different species?

Well-meaning observers–pundits, political operatives, writers–counsel Americans to listen to one another, urge us to try to understand and respect each other, to make genuine efforts to bridge our differences.

Why do those pleas fall on deaf ears?

I think most thoughtful Americans struggle to understand the abyss that exists between the  MAGA true believers (and the integrity-free officials who pander to them), and the rest of us–the “rest of us” encompassing everyone from genuinely conservative “Never Trump” Republicans to the Bernie and AOC wing of the Democratic Party.

Like many of you, I have struggled to understand why Americans’ political differences have magnified and hardened. Clearly, our information environment has contributed greatly to the construction of incommensurate realities. That said, however, I think there is a deeper reason, and we find it at the intersection of politics and morality.

Political contests are about power, of course–about who gets to make decisions about our communal lives and behaviors. And power is obviously a great aphrodisiac. But purely political battles center on policy disputes–everything from where the county commissioners are going to put that new road to whether the country will enter into a particular trade agreement.

When politics works, the battles are overwhelmingly “how” arguments: how will we provide service X? What sort of law will solve problem Y? Who should benefit from program Z? Those battles certainly implicate morality, but not in the way or to the extent that our current disputes do. Increasing numbers of Americans believe they are engaged in a battle between good and evil–and to the extent the issues dividing us really are fundamentally moral ones, there is little or no common ground to be found.

I was struck by this observation in an article titled “The MAGA Hat Isn’t Campaign Swag. It’s a Symbol of Hate.”

Unless you’ve been marooned on the International Space Station, you know that Trumpism is racism, blatant or latent (here’s a summary of the voluminous evidence). That makes the cap no different than a Confederate flag. It’s racial animosity woven in cloth, unwearable without draping yourself in its political meaning. It would be like donning a swastika and expecting to be taken for a Quaker.

We Americans are still fighting the Civil War. As an article in the Guardian noted yesterday, the GOP has morphed into the Confederacy.

There has been a steady exodus from the GOP as its MAGA core has assumed effective control of the party.  And to be fair, there are still plenty of people who continue to vote Republican who do not fall into that category, although their willingness to ignore the obvious makes them complicit at best.

Those of you reading this post may disagree with the assertion that Americans are fighting over morality, not politics as we typically understand that term. But accurate or not, millions of thoughtful Americans  believe they are engaged in a battle for the soul of this nation, and are horrified by what they see as the willingness of some 40% of their fellow-citizens to spit on the aspirations of our founding documents and subvert the rule of law in order to retain a privileged status that they enjoy solely by reason of their skin color, gender and/or religion.

This isn’t politics as usual. It isn’t even politics as that term is usually understood.

Americans are having a profound and fundamental argument about reality, the nature of justice, the obligations of citizenship, and the kind of country we will leave our children and grandchildren.

That’s a hard chasm to bridge.

 

38 thoughts on “A Matter Of Morals

  1. The vehement backlash to the Feminist and Civil Rights movements, that aimed for equality in American culture, foretold our current intense struggle for power. I am guilty of disgust at what I perceive as hypocritical and immoral manipulation of American foundational concepts. In the 1970s I voted for the candidate with goals that best matched my own, and the value of character was a element in that decision. Today, I am a “yellow dog democrat” due to the betrayal of Republicans to their constituents. I am not sure how we survive this chaos, but I am confident we will, but at what cost?

  2. My thoughts keep returning to President Obama’s 2nd book, “The Audacity Of Hope”. I continue to hold onto that audacity and that hope tightly, that both parties will once again return to the bargaining table and seek solutions to our problems.

    To those of you on the blog who have spoken against unifying the Democratic party; you do not seem to understand that does NOT mean you will agree to every solution or every issue. It means you can come together at the party bargaining table and seek solutions to our problems. How else do you suppose Joe Biden and Kamala Harris came together to become our President Elect and Vice President Elect? Remember their debate issues!

    The matter of morals of politicians have come to the public eye since the beginning of politics but never, never to the degree of “morals” in the generally accepted meaning as we have witnessed for decades from our current president. The immorality of the current administration has run the gamut of denying civil rights, basic health care, the vast disparity of economics and humanitarianism as we have only witnessed in dictatorship in other parts of the world.

    “This isn’t politics as usual. It isn’t even politics as that term is usually understood.”

    After the past four years, after the past election period; what will the State Of The Union Address possibly report to the nation?

  3. While the phenomena overwhelmingly leans towards the MAGA crowd I do recall a D congress critter, Greyson from FL I believe, who refused to even speak with any republican. Thankfully he served only 1 term. We need to cleanse trump supporters/Qunon types but also those democrats who emulate them on the other side.

  4. When Trump supporters wearing MAGA hats, castigate China, following the practice of the Dear Leader, I wonder how many of them know that their hats were made in China.

  5. The Republican Party lost its way on moral issues the first time they substituted the religious tenets of evangelicalism and catholicism for morality and sold it to the voters as liberty.

  6. It’s ironic that another resurgence of the Confederacy is its monetary system. Now we call it quantitative easing.

  7. My heartfelt thanks to all the people who worked hard and VOTED in Georgia. Maybe there can be real change in our country. Thank you Georgia 🙂

  8. Professor K mentioned the profound fundamental argument Americans are having about reality, etc.

    The journalist Anne Applebaum asserts that’s at the very core of what Trumpism (MAGA) represents….a rejection of reality. I happen to agree with her and would only add that rejecting reality is a moral choice and I believe the moral philosophers of The Enlightenment would agree.

    https://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2021/01/05/amanpour-applebaum-otoole-trump-democracy.cnn

  9. We now know who we are. What will we do about it? The majority minority USA is just around the corner, so my suggestion to the MAGA crowd is : Buckle up, Buttercup!

  10. One of the most egregious wretches not often mentioned on this, or so many other blogs, is Steve Bannon. His diseased, corrupt and criminal mind hijacked Breitbart first, then was embraced by the orange mob boss in the White House. Watch for Bannon to get pardoned before 20 January.

    This statement: “This isn’t politics as usual. It isn’t even politics as that term is usually understood.” has an answer. It is both correct and incomplete. “THIS” is human nature; the ancient tribal instincts still living in the reptilian brain of all of us. Humans have, throughout time, followed the charismatic alpha male irrespective of lies or moral failings. Morals are an invention that allow civilization to exist.

    When money takes over, as it was allowed by Citizens United v. FEC, morals go out the window. As has been said so many times by so many on this blog, unmitigated, corporate-funded power corrupts. And, as we’ve seen over the last 4 years, absolute power – or at least the attempt to attain it – corrupts absolutely.

    These un-civilized criminals have no idea about the damage they’re doing to civilization, never mind just the United States.

  11. Well, what does history say?

    The GOP gave us “The Silent Majority” and, we all remember, ” The Moral Majority!”

    Unfortunately, there really was no unseen majority, but, the pattern of lies was laid down during that time, and has continued through today.

    Using their religiosity, they claimed a majority believed in subjugating the beliefs of their fellow man, or to conduct themselves in an amoral manner concerning the least advantaged of us.

    The GOP could actually be called the amoral majority, and, it seems that they are poised to be hoisted onto their own petard, the myth is ripe and ready to explode.

    Unfortunately, that explosion from the GOP’s petard is going to take many with them, mostly the gullible and the hateful! Chuck Schumer said this morning, it’s going to be a wild ride so strap in? LOL, let me tell you Chuck, it’s going to be more than that.

  12. I can only comment on what I have seen personally in my own little corner of the world:
    Supporters of maga embrace a world of the 1950s with white Christian men in charge, their wives at home with lots of children, no gays (out, that is), no abortion (unless you were rich), POC with no power, and the wealthy ruling our country.
    The world has moved on and they are throwing a tantrum because they just cannot.

  13. Thank you for writing this blog post. The lights are turned on. We see the wrong doers. There is much work ahead of our country. When 70,000 children have been pulled away from mothers and fathers for no other reason than they have brown skin and are poor, we have a morality issue. When asylum seekers are made into criminals, we have a morality issue. When the president lies without creasing and his party says next to nothing and does even less, we have a morality issue. When laws & regulations ons are rolled back, our people and planet suffer greatly, we have a morality issue. When our policing force is not held to account for abuse and for senseless killings (yes, blacks lives matter), we have a morality issue. This litany is seemingly endless. I thank God for the brave woman, men and children who are standing up for the right thing.

  14. Paul Street, writes in Counterpunch, ”

    Let history record that at least half the Republican Party is calling for the overthrow of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Fully 140 U.S. House Representatives and at least 10 U.S. Senators are backing their Dear Leader Donald Trump’s absurdly false, openly Orwellian claim to have been cheated out of his rightful claim to victory. They intend to preposterously challenge Congress’s certification of Joe Biden’s 306 Electoral College votes today.

    The noxious Republican Congressional challenge comes even after Trump has been caught red-handed in another one of his “perfect calls” – an extraordinary hour-long phone “conversation” in which Trump tried to bully Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State into “recalculating” his state’s vote in Trump’s favor. It is a state and a federal felony to solicit voter fraud on the part of a public election official.

    Why is half the GOP playing along with this dangerous game? The standard mainstream answer is that Congressional Republicans are just craven opportunists who are captive to the rabid Trump base.

    Trump Congressional rump is in fact “the Sedition Caucus”) are genuinely committed white nationalists who honestly believe that Trump deserves a second term because he won the only tally that ought to matter as far as they are concerned: the votes of white people.
    ================================================

    The GOP at least since Nixon’s day has presented itself as the party of Law and Order. We witness now the GOP Party of Law and Order revealing their true soul – The Ends justifies the Means. We have known this for decades as gerrymandering and voter suppression has taken place in broad daylight.

  15. And, now, Warnock has been projected to win, and Ossoff is close to that place, as the MAGA crowd gathers in DC, to protest reality. As the man said, some time ago, “You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.”
    Charles Koch, whose decades long behind the scenes manipulation helped to set the stage for the present situation, has publicly said that they blew it! He, and his brother, worked assiduously, since the ’70’s to build an elitist, all white, infrastructure, that includes at least several of the right-wing “Think tanks” that have fed right wing thinking.
    Morals? Ironically, the Evangelicals, basing their position on biblical material, which they mistakenly insist is necessary for the existence of morals, have lost their bearings. (I’m trying to be nice here).
    Citizens united? I do not see that as having corrupted morals, but as a symptom, like Trump, of the erosion thereof.

  16. The power to govern is intertwined with morality. Morality is an expression of an agreed set of folkways and mores presumably gained from experience. Those seeking to validate their power to make decisions for others in a communal setting use such an expression in harmony with the exercise of such communal powers, ideally for the common good.

    Unfortunately, such political power is all too frequently sought for purposes not leading to the common good but rather for purposes of control, money, prestige etc. by means of propaganda, misinformation, and the like, but however sought it is noteworthy that those seeking such power always clothe such pursuit in moral terms. Thus Trump can declare that his political opponents are cheating in elections when he is projecting; i. e., he is doing what he claims his opponents are doing, but whatever such not so subtle assignment of blame in this morality play, the operative word “cheating” identifies the issue as one of immoral conduct – a necessary ingredient in the admixture of politics and what we may call a community if godless religion.

    Where’s Plato when you need him?

  17. It’s a matter of Morals, how are we going to get Americans to agree on a definition of Morality, Compromise, Empathy, and Compassion, then how are we going to get Americans to agree on whether Morality, Compromise, Empathy, and Compassion are strengths or weaknesses.

  18. Those of us who are nearer the end of our turn on earth have seen this behavior before. We were there when it afflicted the Axis countries in WWII and the Chinese in the ’60s and the middle east once oil made them valuable. We always explained those events as products of history. What were the events that led to them?

    Now it’s our turn. Perhaps we will be lucky enough to escape into the future having deployed only democracy to escape back into normalcy. Perhaps the consequences will be much more dire. History will inform of that to our kids and theirs but it may well still be in question when we no longer can care.

    Can we continue on this course to sail back into calm waters? That would be nice but it’s way too early to know.

  19. Oh I must confess like Stephen Colbert, I am a Tolkien nerd. In Tolkien’s legendarium, it is obvious that the ring of Sauron and his grab for power is a story about how the lust for power corrupts people. And of course, pride goes right along with that.

    People who wear MAGA hats have felt disenfranchised and disempowered by the increase in the social progressives’ victories in regards to human rights. Question is: How can we dissolve Trumpism so that our democracy becomes more secure ? How do we help rural Americans in isolated areas feel more connected, feel like their concerns are heard?

    It’s going to be a lot of work because there are lots of Republicans who have been overcome by their lust for power and their fear of Trump’s base. There are many rural Americans living in isolated areas who believe the “American way” is existentially threatened by the marked increase of diversity in our country. There is little to no diversity in many of those small communities.

    I so wish we had more people who believed in servant leadership. Aragorn, the character in the Lord of the Rings who eventually becomes king clearly understood the temptation to abuse power once a person is given the mantle of leadership. I wish more of our leaders consistently looked at their own use of power and the potential for abuse of power.

    We need leaders who understand that the greatest leaders empower others to lead and who deeply believe in servant leadership.

  20. Today we will be treated to the spectacle of a Kabuki (sometimes translated as “bizarre” theatre) Dance performed by the amoral minority of the Senate and House as they lay out their reasons for attempting to overthrow the U.S. Government (basically that they didn’t get their way – how’s that for depth?). As deplorable as that might sound, remember that some of these individuals performed well at America’s best universities and, within the past four years, morally collapsed under pressure from one of America’s most unprincipled men. Besides techniques to ace tests, did they learn anything at those venerable schools?

    Can people who willingly sell out even when their self-interests are at risk (recall Jeff Sessions) be re-educated or compelled to live morally? Probably not. Then the most prudent way to deal with them is to keep a very watchful eye on their behavior and to call them out for whatever seditionist practices or policies they pursue in the future. They will afford us endless opportunities to explain to the American people how we got here and why “here” is worth preserving. By clarifying why their unpatriotic behavior is dangerous and unacceptable, we can conduct the ongoing national civics lessons that are so obviously needed and which the Democrats claim they will showcase in Congress today. Never have so few done so much to destroy so many. Let’s exploit their bad conduct by using it, over and over and over, to drive home the lessons of just how criminal it is.

  21. WOW, I do not know why people are surprised about cheating. Cheating ( a lack of moral guidance) is a part of America.

    100 years ago there was the infamous Black Sox scandal to throw the World Series. We had the steroid era in college and professional sports. The NFL in denial about long-term effects of concussions. There have been cheating scandals in our military academies. A recent scandal where the wealthy paid off people so their offspring could attend a prestigious university. The Catholic Church among others protecting sexual predators.

    The Wall Street three piece suit types engaging in fraud. – Think Enron.

    For some people there are no rules or guardrails or morals. Money or power is the reward of win at any cost.

    What we must have is a judicial system than can be trusted to bring law breakers to justice. We cannot have a “justice system” that treats the wealthy well connected differently from the rest of us proles.

    It is than with deep seething anger that I have read that James Comey writes, Donald Trump should not be federally prosecuted once he leaves the White House no matter how much evidence has been amassed against him, the former FBI director James Comey writes in a new book. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/05/james-comey-donald-trump-prosecuted-saving-justice-new-book

  22. Pascal, re/the made in China Trump hats, I’ve spent four years pointing out hypocrisy to Trump supporters and I can tell you that it does not even register with them. Quite literally. You would think they would try to defend themselves by pointing out how two situations are not comparable, but they never do that. It’s like you’re talking a foreign language to them. They just don’t get it.

    Yesterday, one of the networks interviewed a Republican voter in the ex-urbs. Just a typical GOP voter, I thought. But way she talked, she was mean and awful…deplorable would be a good adjective. I don’t think we can overstate the damage Trump has done to political discourse in this country. We cannot even be polite to each other while having political discussions. We have to hate the other side.

    I still want a poll of Republicans as to whether Biden or Trump has higher favorability. I guarantee you that Putin is more popular in the Republican Party than Biden, or any Democrat for that matter. That is a problem. We used to all be Americans, all on the same team. Not anymore.

  23. Oh, no, Sheila; I cannot agree with anything in your blog today.

    Not the conclusion that America’s split is political or that the political differences are merely moral or ethical. Those conclusions and the assumptions behind them are too prissy.

    Too prissy in light of the fact that America’s differences are more murderous than moral. More and more Americans understand that the solutions one side advocates for problem A means that people among the opposition are going to suffer and die. That’s not moral; that’s murder; that’s an act of war, of ethnic cleansing.

    Our American differences are no longer political; they are cruel, brutal, no holds barred strategies for all out elimination of opposition, of argument, of reason, or norms, of humanized transactions.

    Perhaps the Democratic Party and its members really are too prissy (our prissiness is the nauseating factor that disgusts the Deplorables; to them we all seem to be those little kids dressed up in starched clothes and absolutely petrified to acquire a spot of dirt — truly disgusts me). No, most democrats are too prissy to voice my conclusion, but for many of them that conclusion is fomenting in their subconscious and in the cloud of fear boiling in their gut.

    I say that few non-prissy people who recognize the threat to life that is proposed and partially imposed by the opposite party are the only ones dealing with reality.

    I recall when Hitler’s army crossed into southern Russia, it killed two million Russians before a drunk Stalin would even accept the fact that Russia was invaded. I say now that we democrats are playing Stalin’s game of reality denial. It is so much more prissy to turn this war into a little chess game of moral words versus ethic words…never mind the blood in the streets, the missing Hispanic children, the millions of bankruptcies, the untreated diseases, the homeless, the hopelessness.

    We need people on this blog to change out of their little sailor suits and step into a ragged set of overalls and put aside their prissy terminology and get ready to get dirty…as wounds in primitive wars were often healed with dirt and fire, it will be the dirt and fire that ends this blooding.

  24. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, eh? No, thanks. I wore a sailor suit in WW II but I will not wear that suit against my fellow citizens. I prefer the political solution. We have now the political means of reversing the horrors inflicted on us by Trump and his minions, so let’s use our time and energy in reversing them.

  25. Washington…Capital Hill…

    Where are the dogs? Where are the firehoses? Where are the gas cannons? Where are the batons?

  26. John King, what do you mean that federal police cannot anticipate something like this????????????????

    A wooden log if it had ears and eyes over the past few months could anticipate this attack on the capital.

    I am disgusted at the goddamned prissy naivety of security and of so many of our compatriots on this blog…as long as the attack is not coming from black or brown folks. Is that — racism — all that matters? That they are white, does that mean to you that reason will prevail; is that the racism you enjoy?

  27. Larry,

    I have to agree with you, this is definitely an attempted coup. And, this is the future Trump envisioned. Fascism on full display, cult of personality over rule of law! And, will see, but there might be a whole bunch of blood spilled on those steps today.

    They’ve been showing people with guns slung over their shoulders who are not part of law enforcement walking through the inside of the Capitol building.

    This is a perfect example of sedition and treason for that matter!

  28. Members of the Senate are texting that they are “stunned”.

    Stunned?

    Stunned?

    How could they be so naïve? We are being exposed to the raw ignorance of so-called reasonable Senators. How blind they have been. How unsensitive to reality! How utterly thoughtless! How incompetent…even for their own safety!

    Shameful!

  29. If that mob on the Capitol were mostly black, we would have early seen thousands of police with all sorts of exotic weaponry pushing them away and elevating the conflict.

  30. I just turned on Fox news, and the protesters had three police officers smashed against one of the doors that was locked, the police were banging on the door telling someone inside to open the door! You can see these officers are scared.

  31. Fox news has images of someone who was shot inside the building, also, secret service having their guns drawn aiming at people who have broken one of the windows.

  32. Oh, what a shame it is to be so right for over six years! I’m a dumb old man, yet almost every “bright minded” individual — even notable institutions — here and across the Internet and media have been blind to this sad inevitability …compared to me.

    Maybe seeing the handwriting on the wall is more a matter of vision than intelligence, more a matter of imagination.

    Stop voting for people who are expert at dealing with things, with bricks and mortar, and with balance sheets, and begin voting for people with imagination. Vote for poets and artists and fiction writers and creative folks who have IMAGINATION AND VISION. No measure of wisdom is complete without a full arsenal of imagination.

    You lawyers know the part imagination and vision plays in the work of great attorneys, so why get on the bandwagon and support with your own honor and wealth those lawyer office seekers who are devoid of imagination? Why? Why push back with such organized force against the candidates who are strongest in imagination. I demand an answer.

  33. Larry,

    If you recall a conversations over a year ago, we talked about that there would be blood! And everybody poo pooed that idea! But, like I said before, history is cyclical! And this path right now, is completely parallel to Nazi germany!

    The protesters that are a majority caucasian, are treated much differently than protesters of black lives matter or antifa or any of those other groups!

    What did the Nazis do? They burnt down the Reichstag (German Parliament) and blamed it on the Communists! They called them anarchists and moved in to wipe them off the map. Then, they went after all of the other minority groups. Like I said, history is cyclical, and if you don’t snuff out the flame of insurrection, it’ll burn you alive!

    Yep, there will be blood!

  34. John,
    Saying there will be blood is too general. It’s a cop out. It’s too prissy careful to avoid accountability. I have been specific. I can go back six years and retrieve posts where then I described in detail what is actually happening now…and the forces that propelled it.

  35. A bit disjointed today (meaning more so than usual)

    So here I was, waking up seeing that Ossoff grew his lead and would become Senator (I feel sorry for him, though. He would have had a day of glory and interviews for beating Purdue – kind of like Mark Spitz in ’72 – history gets in the way).

    Instead, I had to spend a good part of the day explaining to my wife that this was not usual in the US, and unlike China, we wouldn’t go in and shoot everyone (although the thought tempted me).

    Gerald mentioned Plato – to show that this has deep roots, a 2004 Bizarro comic titled “Karl Rove and Plato” – caption “But surely you agree that truth can be created by the repetition of a lie.”
    As many of us have pointed out, the seeds of this go back.

    Little boys love to play soldier or revolutionary, but the MAGA crowd can’t tell play from reality. Is this a moral crisis? – yes

    Our problem is (I repeat myself, sorry) – we euphemize , we soft-pedal – we don’t call it a moral crisis – “difference of opinion” sounds nicer – will Trumpism go away – did the Confederacy? Will we punish the rebels this time? Their instigators (Giuliani and Trump)? Those who aided and abetted (too many Senators and Representatives)? Did the police hold back today because “they didn’t want to look heavy handed” or “they were afraid of escalating the actions of the MAGA crowd”?

    This is a moral crisis, a political crisis (do we prefer to have a coup install Dear Leader Donald), and legal crisis (can we restore the rule of law and respect for our legal structure).

    I am listening to some Senator talk about an audit to satisfy the Trump people, and another Senator responding that those people wouldn’t believe the results. I am reminded of the expensive study in Britain to find a link between vaccination and autism. They found none. Angered citizens demanded a second study. Britain spent another ton of money. Again, no connection. Those same people wanted a third study. The MAGA crowd could have a million recounts/audits/court cases and not accept that Biden won.

    I woke up today very happy and now —

    I must remind myself – less than a month – a new President and a new Senate — now I feel better – somewhat

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