When we talk about Bernie Sanders supporting a “Medicare for All” approach to healthcare, there are many distinct and legitimate approaches one can take when thinking about it. One is functionality; another is cost. Viability is a third, and unintended consequences is yet another. There are also moral aspects of politics, for example, when it comes to healthcare. For example, is it a right or a privilege? Can a CEO promise it during heated negotiations with employees, and take it away the next quarter? Is there equal access to quality healthcare, or is it, as with most goods in society, available in varying degrees based on one’s privilege, wealth, and power? This is but one example of morality as it relates to politics, the subject of this blog.
Morality is essentially the rightness and wrongness of acts, decisions, and stances. We clearly think about the moral aspects of, say, lying. Cheating on a spouse or shooting a burglar are absolutely relevant to the concept of proper behavior. There are both secular and religious approaches to thinking about right and wrong. Workplace ethics is of course a major application of the branch of philosophy dedicated to this subject: ethics. It is prescriptive ethics (or normative ethics) that comes into play when we ask ourselves what we ought to do in a particular scenario, and moral dilemmas vex and challenge us because there is no clear answer in such situations. Let me simply focus on descriptive ethics in this blog, though.
Specifically, I want to discuss morality as it relates to politics. Who can overlook the moral aspects of politics!? Every single day, Donald Trump does something totally unethical. As of this writing, Russia is STILL intervening in our society — essentially, repeated cyberattacks — to sow discord and reduce faith in American institutions such as the quasi-democratic election system. They also want Trump for reasons probably having to do with the treatment that Trump gives Putin, a former KGB agent. These guys are bad, bad news.
It used to be that the Soviet Union’s activities were often framed as a moral issue; think about McCarthy: he wasn’t saying “Soviets aren’t very nice so please don’t entertain capital-C Communism as a political ideology, America!” No, he wrecked careers and ruined lives because Soviet Communism and their imperialism and their nuclear arms competition and their treatment of dissidents etc. were thought of as morally reprehensible. Hoover and Nixon were all over people who didn’t toe the line on Russia being evil. In fact, not only did Trump have some highly questionable dealings with Russia in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, he obstructed investigations into his skullduggery six ways from Sunday. Most conservatives remained seated and silent during this dark chapter in our country’s history.
Further, as of this writing, Russia is attempting to sow discord by messing around with Twitter and Facebook, and potentially even hacking into state election offices. That is a 5-alarm fire, my friends! Does Trump take it seriously? No. Did he fire his Acting Director of National Intelligence the other day because, according to reporting, he had the gall to brief Trump on Russia’s meddling? Yes. That is to say that Trump dismissed his chosen intelligence head because Trump’s nemesis, Adam Schiff, the Congressperson from California who led his impeachment, was also briefed.
Let that sink in a minute: Trump heard an intelligence briefing that Russia was meddling in America’s upcoming election, trying to sow discord and cynicism in the electoral process, and he fires the official who brought him that information because he was angry that his political rival — the head of the House Intelligence Committee — also learned of it. Basically, embarrassing him. Then, replaced him with an unqualified yes-man. This, ironically, is Russian-style autocratic maneuvering! And, I hasten to say, it’s wantonly immoral to fail to protect election security when you’re the goddamned POTUS. Such dereliction of duty is hard to describe!
A further development is that Russia is reported to be intervening on behalf of Bernie Sanders, too. It’s galling to think of the fact that they think that Bernie would be the easiest opponent to best in an election. That is arguable. But more fundamentally, they seem to have the prime motive of simply sowing discord between Left and Right, between moderates and everyone else, between Sanders’ supporters and other candidates’ supporters. It’s all a brazenly immoral and wicked attempt at keeping people home on election day, and to provide oxygen to questionable beliefs held by millions about the “deep state” and so on. I think Russia would be quite happy if we had a knock-down, drag-out civil war redux, for various reasons. Bernie’s response: Trump may welcome your help, but you are evil and you must stay out of American elections. That’s politics 101. Why Trump doesn’t do it speaks to his willingness to foment and embody gross levels of political misconduct, which is — you guessed it — immoral.
Supporters of any of the 2020 presidential candidates will be complicit in that immorality should they do anything but condemn it, or by their actions fail to put America first. Ironically. There are few times when a moral imperative is as clear as the gut check: What do you do when Russia tries to ruin America? This is a moral lay-up, and it’s appalling that many conservatives from Joe Six Pack to Donald Trump don’t get this. Boy, I guess if Trump takes a cue from Obama and actually tries to jail journalists for not revealing a source or speaking ill of the Leader — he has called them “the enemy of the people — conservatives are going to what, stand by idly? Or if the jack-booted thugs actually show up to take dissenters such as myself to camps, I shouldn’t count on support from 50,000,000 Americans?? Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised; a fearful and angry populace was relatively fine with staying the heck out of Europe’s war, and then turned a relative blind eye to the attempted extermination of minority groups in Germany, Poland, etc. And a fearful and angry populace tolerated Japanese internment camps, didn’t worry too much about fire-bombing Dresden or essentially razing Nagasaki. It’s philosophical child’s play to consider the merits of, say, kneeling during the National Anthem versus tolerating Russian treachery in the American way of life.
Trump seeks out wedge issues that separate American from American, and drives his manipulative and corrosive brand of controversial action or speech. I can think of the “taking a knee” movement started by football quarterback Colin Kaepernick; whether “there was good and bad on both sides” in the Charlottesville white supremacist rally; or lately, if it is appropriate for the president to influence the justice system so as to punish his enemies and detractors, and reward his friends and supporters. I could probably make a list of twenty-five instances we all might recall when morality as it relates to politics became front and center of the evening news. It is, frankly, tiring in the extreme for a liberal such as myself.
A candidate’s character is always part of the voters’ decision-making process. We tend to vote on how we feel about a candidate, what we think about who the person really is; policy positions usually run secondary to that. Remember the “With whom would you want to have a beer test?” that snagged an obviously-superior Al Gore when he ran against George W. Bush? Indeed, Donald Trump had an approximately 35% trustworthy rating going into the 2016 election. That says to me that most folks knew he was a liar, cheat, tax fraud, bankruptcy-abuser, womanizer, and perhaps racist. Yet, they voted for him anyway to a slightly larger degree in some swing states. What was the issue then, was it that no one cared? No, two things stand out: one is the fact that about 1/3 of voters didn’t love Trump but were willing to take a chance on him because they saw such fundamental and fatal flaws in our “money buys politicians” system, one in which a thick level of bureaucracy and also privilege stood between the people and the powerful, that they decided to take a shot on Trump to see if he could follow his better angels and govern wisely. He obviously cannot. Secondly, however, is the fact that the Dems, mostly in a paroxysm of establishment fear, ushered a very flawed candidate into the position of nominee. The issue primarily was that Hillary Clinton’s trustworthy score was 33-35%. Throw in some sexism and you got yourself a loss in states like Florida and Michigan.
Abortion is clearly relevant to morality as it relates to politics. In fact, I doubt that any social issue dealing with right and wrong is as incendiary and polarizing as the right to choose abortion as a birth control method in concert with one’s doctor. Those who are on “the Left” more often than not view this as a moral issue: whether a woman has the right to choose what medical decisions she can make when it comes to her reproductive life. Should she be told by the government – no doubt a group largely consisting of men from some far-away place – that she must have a baby she will regret having, not be able to sufficiently care for, or that is the product of rape or incest. One caveat here is that abortion is probably more common than it ought to be, considering the availability of both proactive birth control methods such as condoms, and retroactive ones, such as the “morning after pill.” I would add that libertarians tend to view abortion as completely and truly within the rights of the individual, as they prioritize individual liberty above mad-made laws as a general rule. All involved tend to have an individualistic, rights-oriented approach to right and wrong when it comes to the protections the Supreme Court granted as constitutional in Roe v. Wade. That is, Roe established that relatively permissive rights of a woman to choose to have an abortion are not prohibited by the United States Constitution and thus the government cannot infringe upon those rights. Finally, proponents of abortion rights do not believe that a fetus is a human being per se, but more of a reproductive process properly confined to the uterus of the individual, and thus, the rights of the woman to carry or not carry the fetus to viability is at issue.
John Rawls, the 20th Century philosopher, makes one of the most robust cases for the sovereignty of the individual (as opposed to the social welfare state, for example) when he writes this: “Each person possesses and inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override…. The rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of political interests.”
Those who oppose abortion may do so for various reasons. One is, as my friend believes, that life begins at conception, and thus it is always wrong to terminate that life. Robert related to me that he saw mitosis through a microscope taking place with the zygote that would one day become his daughter, and was “touched” if you will. He isn’t particularly religious, so his view is more about the sanctity of life from a spiritual or emotional level. He is a libertarian, so he also believes that government has distinct and strong limitations on what it can or should do to compel through taxation individuals in society to contribute to supporting women who are obligated by the government to allow a zygote to turn into a fetus to turn into a viable infant human being.
Thus, he is in effect saying, “You have a life inside your body, and thus society has a moral interest in ensuring that you do not have a legal/medical procedure you can use to terminate its existence for a reason of your choosing; however, when it is born, you will be primarily responsible for raising it successfully through all circumstances and trials and tribulations, and you should not expect the father of the child or society in general to do much to assist you. You took on this responsibility and you will need to see it through (yes, even if it is the product of a rape). You can adopt it out if you wish.”
As well, he believes that the father of the fetus has rights, too. He feels that it is improper for a woman to decide, fully independently, that she will terminate a fetus growing inside her if the father (to the degree that he is authentically known) is in opposition. It is as though the impregnation of a woman through coitus entitles a man to have a 50% say in the next 9 months (or 18-25 years, as it were) in the personal and bodily life of the woman. Whether he is capable of fully participating versus merely meddling is of course an issue, and this means both emotional commitment as well as financial capacity to raise a child through to adulthood.
Case in point, we all can imagine a woman resenting the person she had sex with one time playing such an intimate and permanent role in her life, and the man in question being interested on Day 1 in what goes on with his former sexual partner but gradually losing interest (but none of the rights). This situation, absurd as it may seem, becomes more legitimate and compelling as the father becomes more intimately and decidedly associated with the mother for the long term; that is, we can imagine a wife deciding to terminate a four-month-old fetus without consulting her husband, resulting in his deep sense of betrayal and powerlessness seeing his baby killed (to put it in admittedly emotional terms).
Thus, in abortion, as with many issues where morality as it relates to politics is in question, there are many shades of grey. For example, a 22-year-old single woman grocery store clerk aborting a fetus after six weeks of gestation that was the result of a one-time sexual encounter with a stranger is a much different scenario than a woman who has been married for six years and who carried the fetus to the sixth month, at which point she had emotional or rational concerns about going through with parenthood. The first scenario is a fairly strong case for the right of an individual female to choose to abort a fetus in concert with her doctor; the latter feels more morally questionable, since the husband clearly has some rights to decide what goes on with the fetus whom he fathered and whom he has reasonable expectations for (e.g., they may have both picked out names, determined the sex of the future baby, perhaps decorated a room in their house to function as a nursery, or started a college fund by the time of the late-term abortion).
There are also religious reasons why a person could come to believe that abortion is more or less morally wrong, and the history of (usually) male lawmakers trying to effectuate control over women in society is not a pretty one (women couldn’t even vote in the United States until a hundred years ago, and a man has had rights of punishment for various wifely offenses even in this country [though clearly this situation is more egregious even today in many Middle Eastern theocracies). But I don’t want to solely focus on abortion rights when it comes to considering morality as it relates to politics.
Conservatives and liberals often clearly see issues of morality as it relates to politics in everyday matters. For example, consider the term the president uses: that non-Right-leaning media outlets are merely purveyors of “fake news” designed specifically to subvert his presidency. This clearly has moral undertones, for what the president is claiming is that there are “establishment” and “deep state” forces at work to destroy him. Trump is suggesting that these organizations are corrupt, nefarious, or evil. His supporters would clearly see an article that levels charges of cheating, lying, manipulating, or conspiring not as fair and evidence-based, but as illegitimate and appalling. Trump knows that he can use moral terms by rousing public sentiment to protect himself in a similar manner to Julius Caesar, known as the Man of the People. My belief is that what Trump says on Twitter or Fox News or claims in an ad on Facebook or Breitbart does not have to be true; clearly Facebook is not regulating lies and deception on its platform because it translates into dollars. It’s not truth vs. lies, it’s effective vs. ineffective, in Trump’s immoral mind.
Another significant difference, morally-speaking, between conservatives and liberals is in the approach to governing that I would characterize on the Right as a cynical, irresponsible, unscrupulous one. This modus operandi is partially based on a phenomenon called “starve the beast.” I have written about it before, here. Essentially, conservatives of a certain stripe (the power-brokers, the uber-capitalists, the hard-core think-tankers, and their political lackeys) aim to sow greivous mistrust in bulwark social programs (such as Social Security) by basically throwing a proverbial wrench in the works, budgetarily speaking, and then when the populace becomes dissatisfied and opposed to them, they defund and dismantle such programs. It would be akin to starving a beast of food it needs to stay healthy, and then slaying it (the goal all along) is more feasible. I have often thought, and especially now that Trump and Co. is in power, that conservatives claim that the government is inept, corrupt, inefficient, and deplorable – and then when they are in power, they set out to prove that it is so. it’s a deeply cynical and dysfunctional self-fulfilling prophesy. This “we break it, you won’t want to buy it” approach is a very calculated and Machiavellian strategy, and it is therefore immoral in the philosophical sense. When people rely on their healthcare, on a retirement strategy like Social Security, or need food stamps to essentially live, then when elites do things to jeopardize or ruin such programs so as to save themselves on taxes is, on the face of it, immoral.
Some things in American history are pretty obviously wrong. Or, as presidential historian John Meacham put it, “In American history, you don’t have to look very deeply to see the irony.” Though some knuckle-headed individuals believe that the Civil War was “the War of Northern Aggression” on a sovereign and sacrosanct part of the country (i.e., The South), and that “the South shall rise again,” and that slavery wasn’t really the root cause of the Civil War, fourteen out of fifteen Americans, looking back, would agree that “Importing, selling, and holding other persons as slaves due to no fault of their own is wrong” (that is, indentured servitude is a shade less wrong than Africans being used as slave labor to enrich Southern gentry. Some other aspects of morality as it relates to politics are probably obvious to the perceptive observer:
- Is it right or wrong to “drone strike” individuals, and how is it more or less wrong than, say, sending an elite unit into a sovereign country, or more or less wrong than, say, putting soldiers into a hot war?
- How wrong is it to allow corporations and wealthy individuals to “game the system” by hiding behind Citizens United, McCutcheon, Vallejo, and other Supreme Court rulings that are essentially a sell-off of democracy to the moneyed class on the part of politicians in the thrall of campaign dollars?
- Should a president be at liberty to fail to hold virtually any White House press briefings, and call the free press “the enemy of the people”? What if a journalist is killed by an indoctrinated fool with a gun?
- To what degree should guns be regulated versus unregulated? What if citizens use guns for murders of other citizens, or police officers, or mass shootings — does that alter the calculus? What exact rights to gun ownership did the founders of America envision when they inserted the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution into the Bill of Rights?
- Was the Vietnam War right or wrong? What role did lying and obfuscating on the part of high-ranking government officials play? Is the war in Afghanistan any less wrong now that news reporting makes it clear that presidential administration after administration lied about the status, progress, and course of the war? (LINK)
- Is it wrong for a president to invite, entice, or lead a White House intern to engage in sexual acts? What if there was some implicit or explicit coercion to continue or to maintain silence about it? Is it permissible to lie about the affair if caught? What kind of woman stays with her husband (Hillary Clinton) under such circumstances?
- Is it right or wrong (and to what extent, under what conditions) is it morally acceptable to tax one slice of taxpayer and utilize the funds for benefits that individuals lower on the economic scale disproportionally benefit from (i.e., progressive taxation)? Why does it seem to matter whether one is talking about 1946 vs. 2020 in gauging the moral rightness or wrongness of income redistribution? Do redistributive aims in taxation amount to a fair extraction of excess wealth from those who are best-positioned to utilize American “crony capitalism” (or laissez-faire capitalism, some would argue) or, as Milton Friedman and Robert Nozick argued, it is at worst tantamount to official theft?
Recently, as Mike Bloomberg inserted himself and his billion dollars into the 2020 presidential campaign, it came out that he was probably pretty sexist toward women a number of times, and he indisputably said some obnoxiously immoral things about black and Latino youth as mayor of New York. Make no mistake, initiating “stop and frisk”as a policing policy when you know it produced little in the way of returns on investment and virtually haunted the lives of young men of color is morally wrong. Whether that is a permanent mark of bad character or if it somehow, some way means less than that is a moral question. Putting it simply, though: it ain’t good.
House Impeachment Manager and gifted orator, Adam Schiff, said to those 50 Senators who felt that giving Trump a free pass on extortion, bribery, obstruction of justice, and cheating in an election was justifiable on the Senate floor (allegedly, the world’s preeminent deliberative body): “Can we be confident that [Trump] will not continue to try to cheat in this very election? Can we be confident that Americans and not foreign powers will get to decide, and that the president will shun any further foreign interference in our Democratic affairs? The short, plain, sad, incontestable answer is no, you can’t. You can’t trust this president to do the right thing. Not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country. You just can’t. He will not change and you know it.”
Much about America since its inception indicates that morality is only paid lip service here. Bush and Trump and to a lesser degree, Obama, did things that are against Judeo-Christian conceptions of right and wrong, which would make Lady Liberty cringe, and which were objectionable even at the time. Thomas Corbett takes the current era very seriously, and ends up crestfallen, like many good liberals do. Yes, the Republican Party is on its deathbed, but it doesn’t want to die and seems to be hellbent on taking many of us with it. He writes: “At 75 years of age, how do I feel about the country of my birth? I have long ceased to admire it. I certainly no longer salute it. Today, I can barely look upon its symbols absent feelings of extreme disgust. We have abandoned the last vestiges of democratic principles. We have become a rogue nation aligning ourselves with the worst authoritarians around the globe while abandoning the fight for peace, for the environment, for a sustainable climate, for equality and opportunity, and for the future and for our own children. Today, we represent all that is despicable among good men and women…compassion, civility, and community. We reject science, rationality, participatory governance, and every other principle of an advanced society. I am a man without a country.”
I subscribe to the Frederick Douglass model of political progressivism and pragmatism: “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Scholar Gar Alperovitz offers a wonderful case in point for liberalism: “… countless studies demonstrate that we currently throw away literally millions of productive people whose contribution to the economy could be enormous. To cite only one instance, research reveals that minority and other low-income students with high test scores are five times as likely not to attend college than high-income students with comparable scores.”
Tuition-free public college is an investment, not a give-away. If you can do the work, you shouldn’t be prevented from attending college. If you anchor it to satisfactory performance (getting As, Bs, and Cs), no one is going to game the system. Education is much less expensive than ignorance! This is the modern-day equivalent of a very interesting thing Winston Churchill said during war time: “There is no finer investment for any country than putting milk into babies.” Morally speaking, I figure, what’s the point of having four cars and three houses if I know darned well that Americans are sleeping on the street tonight, or going to bed hungry? I would have to have little to no concern for my fellow human beings to live in that manner (though, I would acknowledge, some wealthy individuals are not misers or crusaders to kill social programs, such as Grover Norquist or Mitch McConnell, they do indeed give a fair amount of their income and wealth to others who are in greater need).
It has been said that a populace gets the leaders it deserves. But, how could it be explained that probably 85% of people would not consider donating millions of dollars to SuperPACs to be “free speech” and yet it passed the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court? How did corporations get many of the rights of persons if that is patently absurd? Why can corporations pay people $1.00 an hour in the developing world, or dump pollutants into the air, water, and soil, often without penalty? Coal is clean now! Fracking is good! Morality is deeply relevant to much of the behavior we see from our politicians. And when individuals, like die-hard Trump supporters, ignore all manner of illegal, untoward, inappropriate, harmful, deceitful, and immoral behavior on the part of the president, it not only diminishes those individuals for having such poor moral judgment, it besmirches the Republic, as well.
Yes, I am referring in no small way to the “pact with the devil” that social and fiscal conservatives have made with Trump: You get judges appointed who will overturn Roe v. Wade, prevent homosexuals from becoming more and more normalized, deregulate industry, keep the 2nd Amendment strictly and irrationally interpreted, prioritize the interests of caucasians, and lower taxes (and probably, therefore, reduce the social welfare state to the size at which one could “drown it in a bathtub”), and we will hold our noses and vote for you. We will act like trolls and reprobates for you on Twitter. It has been said, and I don’t think it’s clearly incorrect, that Trump has such rock-solid support despite being what nineteen out of twenty Americans would probably admit is technically immoral and Machiavellian because they want to see him destroy the system as we know it. As well, someone once said that Trump voters give him unflagging support because he hates the same people they hate. That is repugnant but I cannot say it is false.
Speaking of taxing and spending, this is fertile soil for an examination of morality as it relates to politics. Famed economist and professor Joseph Stiglitz believes that “In short, we have created an economic and social system, and a politics, in which, going forward, current inequalities are not only likely to be perpetuated but to be exacerbated: we can anticipate in the future more inequality both in human capital and in financial capital.” Former Secretary of Labor and current Professor of Economics, Robert Reich, also sees the moral aspects of how society is organized and who benefits (and loses): “Many of the most vocal proponents of the “free market” — including executives of large corporations and their ubiquitous lawyers and lobbyists, denizens of Wall Street and their political lackeys, and numerous multimillionaires and billionaires — have for many years been actively reorganizing the market for their own benefit and would prefer these issues not be examined.”
Put succinctly by Walter Mosley: “Profit is made on a grand scale in America, but most of us don’t share in it. Most of us work for dollars that fluctuate in value at workplaces where the managers never really care about us or our hearts. We live within the margin of profit. We are the margin of profit. The money taken from our labor is used to buy political power that does not represent us.” One of the greatest strengths liberals have is that they tend to, all things being equal, consider others besides themselves and are willing to take pains to ensure that those others have a truly fair shot at a decent, dignified, democratically-derived life. I think of that as the real message of Jesus brought to bear on society — rather than what social conservatives try to pull off when they see evidence for the diminution of gays, outlawing abortion, and liberal gun rights in both the Constitution and the Bible.
David Leonhardt on the character of the typical American voter: “Americans, to be clear, are deeply divided on all sorts of important topics — abortion, guns, immigration and race. And on some of those social issues, public opinion is significantly more conservative than liberals often like to admit. But with economic concerns, the situation is different. A majority of Americans lean decidedly left on taxes, health care, the minimum wage and education funding.”
I think they are more influenced by religion than I am, but I think they see morality as it relates to politics as having much to do with the social safety net, protections from corporations run amok, and healthcare as a human right — not properly subject to the whims of politicians and their corporate benefactors.
Healthcare is clearly a moral issue in politics because it is a matter of well-being, financial ruin, and in many cases, life and death. If you have ever been very sick, or paid $10,000 in a given year toward healthcare, or God forbid gone bankrupt due to medical expenses, you too would probably feel pretty darned liberal politically! Indeed, thirty million Americans still have no healthcare, and for many it is grossly unaffordable. In my state, there is only one insurer for citizens who make over $70,000 a year. Obviously, the “let insurers compete” core of the A.C.A. falls flat in such cases. As well, 60% of bankruptcies are precipitated by medical bills! That is horiffic in a country as wealthy as ours. Alarming case in point: my wife was a paralegal, and she tells the story of folks who would come to her hemming and hawing about “That damned Obamacare,” only to find out that they indeed qualify for a generous subsidy for health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act. Not to mention the protections for preexisting conditions. They change their tune pretty quickly because voila!, they see the benefits of social welfare benefits and progressive taxation.
Indeed, progressive taxation is highly correlated with economic prosperity and performance (LINK)(LINK2)(LINK3). It seems pretty clear to me that something is totally bass-ackwards when Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates (3) have more wealth stocked up than 170,000,000 of the poorest individuals combined. Talk about a system that has moral elements embedded in it! In fact, Jeff Bezos, by doing nothing in particular, has accumulated well over $75,000 in the time it took you to read just this paragraph. Put that into perspective: A teacher works extremely hard shaping America’s youth all year for half of that $75,000 in most districts.
Politics not only interfaces with money, but also religion. Mark Galli made a big splash by coming out and saying what seems pretty clear to the impartial observer: Trump behaves immorally and recklessly and is tearing at the social fabric with his selfish schemes to enrich himself and bolster his fragile ego. He wrote in the Christianity Today, “[Seeking dirt on a political opponent by bribing or extorting an ally on behalf of Russia] is unconstitutional, and because it’s unconstitutional, it’s almost by nature immoral, because the President is forsaking something he promised to uphold. But my argument that Trump is of grossly immoral character is larger than that: about his behavior on Twitter, about people he has around him, about his attitude toward women and other things he has done. [Trump’s behavior has amounted to] a cumulative effect over months and years….”
“The U.S. Constitution makes no reference whatsoever to God. This was clearly a conscious choice on the part of the document’s authors, as it broke with virtually all known precedent, including the Articles of Confederation and nearly every state constitution. God is also barely mentioned in the eighty-five Federalist Papers by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, written in support of the Constitution, and the deity receives only two mentions in the Declaration of Independence,” historian Eric Alterman writes. This is relevant to morality as it relates to politics because politicians — most of whom probably do not really have Jesus in their hearts — cloak themselves in religious language and behavior and code words in order to earn the votes of constituents who, oftentimes, know little truth about the Bible and merely parrot catchphrases uttered by their pastors on Sunday. This serves to distract voters from their own best interests, I think. Further, a god who stands by and watches children die of cancer, 80,000 Americans die of the flu this season alone, and Donald Trump run roughshod over the laws and customs of “the greatest country on Earth” is not an authentic source of wisdom, anyhow.
Perhaps the most religious Senator, Mitt Romney, usually very risk-averse and hypercautious, made no bones about it: Trump’s behavior vis-a-vis Ukraine in 2019 was rife with ugly, immoral behavior. One of the most damning lines from his amazing speech on the floor of the Senate, in front of those 50 Republican weasels who turned their gaze from Trump’s stepping all over the Constitution: “The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a ‘high crime and misdemeanor.’ Yes, he did.”
Regarding Romney’s courage, here is an enlightening comment by Bret Stephens about morality as it relates to politics: “The central theme of Romney’s address is obligation: the things to which we are bound, and those to which we are not. Romney says, and clearly believes, that he is bound by the Constitution, his oath to God, the evidence, his conscience and the judgment of history. What doesn’t bind him: loyalty to president and party, the opinions of his constituents, the need to ‘stand with the team’ or — most specious of all — the idea that, whatever the facts, the Senate is obliged to acquit Trump so that voters can render their own verdict in November.”
Romney wasn’t always on the right side of the fence, morally speaking. He did major damage to his presidential campaign with this appraisal of the elderly, the disabled, as well as free-riders when he noted that 47% of Americans pay no tax (he didn’t mean the rich, or Amazon.com, I don’t think). Michael Cohen, in The Guardian: “This is a breathtaking statement: a fundamental misunderstanding of the American social contract. Romney proposes here that the senior citizen living on a fixed income believes government has a responsibility to care for them – rather than that government has a responsibility to fulfil its obligation to them after they spent years paying into social security and Medicare. He is saying that workers laid-off from their jobs, who rely on food stamps to feed their children and unemployment insurance to pay their rent, believe government owes them food and shelter, rather than getting some support at a time of dire financial need which their payroll taxes had paid for when they were in work.”
Yes, Reagan showed contempt for “welfare queens”, mostly missing the target, philosophically. Nixon was outstandingly noxious about Jews, blacks, liberals, atheists, Vietnam War protesters, etc. However, as Cohen indicates, “Romney has succeeded in highlighting the very things voters already don’t like about him: that he is not genuine, saying one thing in public and another behind closed doors; that he is so cosseted in wealth he does not understand and cannot relate to the challenges of ordinary Americans; that a callous streak runs through the private equity guy’s empathy deficit – the outsourcer who ‘likes firing people’. The fact that these remarks were given at a private fundraiser to a group of fat cats only endorses these negative perceptions.”
Morality in politics often, or usually, has to do with money. In two shocking cases, Elliot Spitzer and Anthony Wiener had fabulous fall from grace, and not surprisingly (as Democrats) it was about sex.
Trump has tried to muck with the justice system re: his friends and his enemies, reminiscent of Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover and McCarthy. He has more than once threatened witnesses or dangled pardons in front of potential state’s witnesses who had dirt on him. He tries to cheat in presidential elections, admires dictators, and has more than once mused about how if America were more like totalitarian regimes, he wouldn’t be limited to two, four-year terms. But one of the most egregious examples of Trump’s malfeseance was when he gave the sacrosanct Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh. The man is a known bigot, liar, hypocrite, and is now on his fourth wife.
Like most of the remaining talking heads on Fox News, Limbaugh doesn’t care if a story is true, he cares if it gets traction with his audience (e.g., the obsession that Obama wouldn’t show his birth certificate and was not an American). It’s about money and power. A couple days after receiving a medal that ideally is supposed to go to the brave and the just, the cheap demagogue took a stance on homosexuality that is either ugly or bigoted, depending on your viewpoint. Perhaps most notable was Limbaugh’s massive opioid addiction; he even paid or extorted his maid to procure his illegal drug of choice for him — all while spouting off about drug usage by low-social-class individuals whom he suggested should be locked up for a long time (LINK).
In 1995, he said: “There’s nothing good about drug use. We know it. It destroys individuals. It destroys families. Drug use destroys societies. Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country. And we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs. And the laws are good because we know what happens to people in societies and neighborhoods which become consumed by them. And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.” Was he “sent up”? No, probation. I wonder if it was due to his whiteness or his money, becuase some poor black kid doing the same exact thing would have met with the buzzsaw of the two-tiered criminal justice system. The biased criminal justice system is a glaring example of morality as it relates to politics. Imagine doing hard time for a crime you didn’t commit, or a low-level victimless crime, or “driving while black”. Or picture being strangled or shot to death or beaten with batons by a police officer for at best a dubious circumstance (and at worst, straight up murder)(LINK).
Jane Addams said that the essence of immorality is “the tendency to make an exception out of myself.” If so, Limbaugh demonstrates beautifully how morality functions (or dysfunctions) in the arena of politics, now a bloodsport. Trump is now infamous for muddying the water when it comes to right and wrong: former Senator Al Franken (who himself got the guillotine for probably sexually harrassing many women [something powerful men are inclined to do, I’m afraid]): “I really think that if we don’t start caring about whether people tell the truth or not, it’s going to be literally impossible to restore anything approaching a reasonable political discourse. Politicians have always shaded the truth. But if you can say something that is provably false, and no one cares, then you can’t have a real debate about anything.”
There are many flavors of this intriguing debate about the aspects of morality as it relates to politics. Though morality is often more visible in interactions we have with other motorists while driving, with our significant others and family members, and while listening to pastors and imams and rabbis give sermons and lectures, morality as it relates to politics is actually a fecund source of moral discussions, ethical theories, right and wrong conduct, and moral dilemmas. Ω
I now wish to share some quotes about morality as it relates to politics and public life:
“You don’t have to be a so-called ‘originalist,’ interpreting the Constitution according to what the founders were trying to do at the time, in order to see how dangerous it is to allow a president to seek help in an election from a foreign power. If a president can invite a foreign power to influence the outcome of an election, there’s no limit to how far foreign powers might go to curry favor with a president by helping to take down his rivals. That would be the end of democracy as we know it.” ~ Robert Reich
“When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours. As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over. We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation. We must say that this will not be tolerated. To stay silent in the face of such rhetoric is for us to tacitly condone the violence of these words.” ~ Mariann Edgar Budde, Randolph Marshall Hollerith, and Kelly Brown Douglas
“Trump’s evangelical supporters have pointed to his Supreme Court nominees, his defense of religious liberty, and his stewardship of the economy, among other things, as achievements that justify their support of the president. We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people. None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.” ~ Mark Galli
“The Bush administration has turned Guantánamo into a place that is devoid of due process and the rule of law. It’s a place where human beings can be imprisoned for life without being charged or tried, without ever seeing a lawyer, and without having their cases reviewed by a court.”
“Truthfully calling out Trump as a pathological liar and narcissist is futile if one thinks that this will move his die-hard supporters towards the truth. They are dug in, and inflexible, finding one excuse after another to absolve themselves from their moral breach. A moral breach here is defined as a conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge. It is supposed that Trump supporters know right from wrong, but they clearly have refused to know, and have dug their foxholes, isolating and consoling themselves with the likes of FOX News.” ~ Joseph J. Ohnstad
“Lying to children is a slippery slope. Once we have started sliding down it, how and when do we stop? Who decides when to lie? Which lies to tell? To what age group? As soon as we loosen the anchor of fact, of historical evidence, our history text boat is free to blow here and there, pointing first in one direction, then another. If we obscure or omit facts because they make Columbus look bad, why not omit those that make the United States look bad? Of the Mormon Church? Or the state of Mississippi? This is the politicization of history.”
“It depends on what the definition of is is.” ~ Bill Clinton
“A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart, and my best intentions, still tell me that’s true. But the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”
“Georgia senator Saxby Chambliss, who defeated Max Cleland, a man who lost three limbs to a grenade in Vietnam, by questioning his patriotism, managed to stay out of the military with five separate student deferments plus a medical deferment for a football-related knee injury.”
“…perhaps the strongest attack upon aristocracy in all of the great political books is made by [John Stuart] Mill in his Representative Government….When their actions are dictated by ‘sinister interests,’ as frequently happens, the aristocratic class ‘assumes to themselves an endless variety of unjust privileges, sometimes benefitting their pockets at the expense of the people, sometimes merely tending to exalt them above others, or, what is the same thing in different words, to degrade others below themselves.’”
“But when our elected officials and our political campaign become entirely untethered to reason and facts and analysis, when it doesn’t matter what’s true and what’s not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make good decisions on behalf of future generations. It threatens the values of respect and tolerance that we teach our children and that are the source of America’s strength. It frays the habits of the heart that underpin any civilized society – because how we operate is not just based on laws, it’s based on habits and customs and restraint and respect.”
“Each time the White House defies a subpoena or exerts the phony ‘executive privilege’, Trump is obstructing justice. Think of it as a running crime spree.”
“Less than a year ago, Mitch McConnell assured Americans that his $1.5 trillion program of tax cuts for billionaires and multinational corporations would not increase debts and deficits. ‘I not only don’t think it will increase the deficit, I think it will be beyond revenue neutral,’ the Senate majority leader chirped. ‘In other words, I think it will produce more than enough to fill that gap.’ Even as assessments by groups such as nonpartisan analysts and watchdog groups predicted that McConnell’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would push the federal deficit to $1 trillion and beyond, the Kentucky Republican declared that the measure he and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) steered to passage last December was a ‘revenue neutral tax reform bill.’ Now, amid reports that the deficit had grown by 17 percent to almost $800 billion in fiscal year 2018, and that it is headed toward—you guessed it—the $1 trillion mark, McConnell says it’s not his fault. Nor, he claims, is it the fault of the billionaires and corporations he and Ryan represent.” ~ John Nichols
“You know what their view is on the minimum wage? We should not have a minimum wage. It takes away your freedom. If unemployment is high and I want to hire you for four bucks an hour, it is my freedom to employ you and your right to work for me at four bucks an hour. Government should not establish a standard, that is taking away freedom. You own a factory, you want to dumb your pollution into the river? You want to pollute the air? That is freedom! You don’t want the government telling you what to do with your property? That is your freedom! That is what they believe and that is the ideology that is now dominating the Republican party.”
“Dear GOP Senators: You’ll soon face a choice. Will you accept the evidence of your eyes and ears, and the findings of the US intelligence community—and Mueller? Or will you stand with Trump let him do whatever he pleases? You won’t be able to do both.”
“If the concept of fake news is not new, its current techniques are. The Internet and social media have made it very easy to peddle and promote lies. Although theoretically these same methods ought to enable truth to win out in the end, in practice this has proven not to be the case. Political scientists have found that when people who have been exposed to lies are confronted with the truth, they often believe the lie even more strongly. One reason is that simple repetition of a lie, even in the course of refuting it, lends it credibility. Another reason is confirmation bias — people believe what they want to believe.”
“The heart and soul of our faith walk is a righteous relationship with God, humanity, and creation. When we value our relationship with our wealth over relationship with God, humanity, and creation, we are guilty of idolatry. Our highest value is the created thing rather than the Creator and the Creator’s commandments. …When we apply this value to the health-care debate, we can say that the rich ought to pay more to help fund health care. When 20 percent of the nation’s population controls 85 percent of the nation’s wealth, we see a political-economic system that is skewed to the rich. Distributive justice requires higher taxes on people who have more for the sake of providing necessary services to the entire population.”