A New Reality
The Trump presidency has been an eye-opening experience that calls into question the condition of our society. Prior to this presidency, I had no idea how politically polarized our country had become. I had believed that the most extreme division existed only within a small segment of the population. While I still believe this to be true to some degree, I am surprised by the results of the 2020 presidential election. President-elect Joe Biden has won. This is not surprising. However, I find it puzzling that President Trump, a person who, by all accounts, has embraced the capital vices as his guiding principles, has received more than 70 million votes. And I am even more perplexed to read that he has received substantial support from the conservative Christian community.
Desecrating the Moral Code
I am not religious, but I embrace religious values and appreciate the role that religion plays in promoting moral behavior in our society. As an outsider, I look upon the Christian community in bewilderment. In an article published on November 8th, 2019 by the National Catholic Reporter, the journalist Michael Sean Winters wrote:
“But, what we see with President Donald Trump and his cast of sycophants and co-conspirators — some of them beginning to flee the sinking ship on advice of counsel — is a rare thing: All seven deadly sins on display at once.”
Link to the National Catholic Reporter article: https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/distinctly-catholic/seven-deadly-sins-donald-trump
In my youth, I attended an Episcopal elementary school and a Catholic high school. I was taught the difference between right and wrong behavior from the Christian perspective. While I am not well-versed in all teachings of Christianity, I do not think considerable teaching is necessary to see the immorality of the President’s behavior. He is grossly consumed by the cardinal sins and incessantly violates several of the Ten Commandments. The man is the embodiment of sin.
Am I missing something?
This is an individual consumed by lust (adultery, e.g., affairs with Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, and sexual harassment, e.g., Trump’s recorded confessions regarding his behavior with women, including the obscene “Grab ‘em by the p-ssy” remark), gluttony (as detailed by Trump’s niece, Mary L. Trump, in her book Too Much and Never Enough), greed (a clearly insatiable, lifelong quest for money, fame, and power), sloth (negligence in fulfilling the duties of the President of the United States as described by John Bolton, Trump’s former National Security Advisor, in his book, The Room Where it Happened), wrath (Trump’s “Thumbs of Wrath” have provided a well-documented record of extreme anger on Twitter), envy (adulation of dictators and autocrats, again as alluded to by John Bolton in his book, The Room Where it Happened), and pride (examples too numerous to mention, but on display every day).
How could anyone who sees value in morality vote to promote this egregious behavior in our society?
Perhaps the answer lies within the President’s own comment, “I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
I find myself wondering, where is the line at which point the President’s supporters turn away? Does this line even exist? Is there no crime this man can commit that would dissuade his core from supporting him?
Sadly, and alarmingly, I fear that there is no crime against law, religion, or morality that this man could commit that would repel his core.
What does this mean for our society? What does this mean for the future of our Nation? Is the path forward characterized by unity or increasing divisions?
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”
While these words were spoken to uphold faith within the Christian community, I believe they apply to any set of beliefs, be they religious, political, or moral.
Over the past four years, it has been disheartening to see overwhelming support for elected officials “who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the” moral norms of our society and the fundamental principles of the US Constitution.
The Importance of Respecting the Moral Standard
While morality, in a descriptive sense, varies from culture to culture, every society must embrace some moral standard if it wishes to maintain a foundation upon which it can delineate conduct that is right from conduct that is wrong. In the United States, this standard arose over centuries of religious and philosophical deliberation, cultural evolution, and more modern contributions from the field of psychology. Morals are fundamental to the maintenance of societal order. As such, defiance of the moral standard disintegrates the cohesive and harmonious character of a healthy society.
It is bewildering to watch crowds of Americans cheering for leaders who entirely and incessantly defy the moral standard. To be clear, to bully, to lie and deceive, to incite violence, to spur social division, to cheat, to perpetuate fraud, to commit adultery and sexual harassment, these are not virtuous acts. And to indulge in, or support anyone who indulges in such behavior, not only undermines our Nation’s moral standard, but destabilizes the security and viability of the institutions of our society.
Failure to Uphold the Oath of Office
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
When I read the preamble to the US Constitution, I think of the Presidential Oath of Office, that is:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Has the President fulfilled his Oath of Office?
When I read the words, “in Order to form a more perfect Union,” I think of the President’s interminable stream of divisive rhetoric and the social and political divisions that have arisen in consequence.
When I think of the establishment of “Justice,” I see only the President’s improprieties and his ongoing attempts to evade justice via the deplorable abuse of legal mechanisms.
When I envision a president, who works to “insure domestic Tranquility,” I certainly do not picture a leader who, by the reckless use of divisive rhetoric and obstinate refusal to condemn hatred and racism, fuels violent protests and domestic terrorism.
When I contemplate the President’s Oath to “provide for the common defense,” I think of Article I of the Articles of Impeachment Against Donald John Trump. Specifically, how the solicitation of interference from a foreign government exposes our electoral process to the influence of foreign powers.
In reading the words, “promote the general Welfare,” I see the greatest failure of all. I think of the 258,000 (as of 11/24/2020) Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 and of the millions of family members and friends who are now grieving. I contemplate the impact of the President’s negligence and his incomprehensible defiance of sound guidance from medical experts. And I wonder how many lives could have been saved had we the blessing of adequate leadership.
Ethical Fading Distorts Rationalization
Despite all that I have said, my greatest concern for the well-being of American society is not the current presidency. Presidents and their administrations come and go. What troubles me most is the apparent fading of ethics among voters.
The President’s transgressions likely extend far beyond what I have mentioned in this post. After leaving office, he faces a litany of lawsuits, including defamation suits involving rape (E. Jean Carroll) and sexual assault (Summer Zervos), along with potential indictments for insurance and bank-related fraud, tax evasion, and grand larceny.
Given that the President’s unethical conduct jeopardizes the stability of the Nation’s institutions, I struggle to understand why people would cast their vote in his favor. Have people made ethical sacrifices to rationalize their vote, or have they simply tossed the whole of morality out the door?
From what I have seen in the news, I have come to believe that many Americans have embraced an idea that they can support leaders that every day defile the entirety of society’s moral standard, yet so long as they (the supporters) do not commit the sinful acts themselves, their hands are clean.
This calls to my mind the words of the character Mildred Hayes in the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
“Y’know what I was thinking about today?
I was thinking ’bout those street gangs they got in Los Angeles, the Crips and the Bloods?
I was thinking about that buncha new laws they came up with, in the 1980’s I think it was, to combat those street-gangs, those Crips and those Bloods.
And, if I remember rightly, the gist of what those new laws were saying was if you join one of these gangs, and you’re running with ’em, and down the block from you one night, unbeknownst to you, one of your fellow Crips, or your fellow Bloods, shoot up a place, or stab a guy, well, even though you didn’t know nothing about it, even though you may’ve just been standing on a street corner minding your own business, what these new laws said was you’re still culpable.
You’re still culpable, by the very act of joining those Crips, or those Bloods, in the first place.
Which got me thinking, Father, that whole type of situation is kinda like your Church boys, ain’t it?
You’ve got your colors, you’ve got your clubhouse, you’re, for want of a better word, a gang.
And if you’re upstairs smoking a pipe and reading a bible while one of your fellow gang members is downstairs f-king an altar boy then, Father, just like the Crips, and just like the Bloods, you’re culpable.
Cos you joined the gang, man.
And I don’t care if you never did sh-t or never saw sh-t or never heard sh-t.
You joined the gang.
We the People
As established by the Constitution, We the People have the power to determine how we will be governed. And by our individual and collective actions, we define the character and condition of our Nation. If we vote in a way that promotes immoral behavior in our society, our hands are not clean. We are guilty of perpetuating immorality. We are culpable.
We may not agree with one another on health care, on foreign policy, on immigration, on gun policy, on climate change, on abortion, and so on. However, if we desire to live in a Nation in which we can vote to promote the values that we believe in, we must agree to act in accordance with a moral standard that maintains societal order and preserves the functions of our Constitution. To do otherwise, is to sew corruption into the fabric our way of life.
I have heard people make statements to the effect of, I do not condone the President’s behavior, but I prefer his (or conservative) policies to the alternative. In response, I think of the words of Henry David Thoreau:
“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
Well, what is the use of policy if you haven’t got a tolerable government to enforce it?
Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice is irrelevant in a society in which corruption impedes the effective application of law. Of what value is the Second Amendment if the power of the Constitution has been undermined by the People’s tolerance of unconstitutional behavior?
We must remember that one of the primary functions of the Constitution is to limit power, and in so doing, prevent corruption. Think of the words of John Dalberg-Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The principles of Separation of Power and Checks and Balances established by our Founding Fathers are intended to prevent “absolute corruption” by limiting the powers wielded by any one person or any one branch of government.
The political turmoil of the past four years is the consequence of a President desperately grasping for absolute power and a Constitution restraining him from attaining his goal. Take a long hard look at the President’s actions and tell me this isn’t so. If given the opportunity to seize authoritarian rule, do you honestly believe President Trump would refuse it? Both his character and his actions suggest that he would embrace it and abuse it for personal gain. In his book, The Room Where it Happened, John Bolton (a staunch conservative) clearly reveals that every action the President made was done only in consideration of how it would benefit himself and his reelection prospects.
Corruption is an ill that blackens all that it contacts. If left unabated within the highest ranks of government, it will in time permeate all branches of government and all the institutions of society: economy, education, healthcare, and so on. If you doubt my words, simply look to the effects of corruption in other nations.
Folks, this is the United States of America, not Russia, not China, not North Korea. For 244 years, we have evaded the ills of authoritarianism and tyranny by upholding a moral standard that preserves the democratic ideals of our Constitution and ensures our “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This is not to say that injustice and oppression have not occurred. They certainly have and continue to, but in the broadest sense, justice and liberty have improved dramatically. And if we wish to see continued social development in this country, we must embrace a form of patriotism that truly promotes American ideals and protects our freedoms.
Increasingly, I see a peculiar phenomenon in which people seem to believe that acting out a right, such as bearing arms in public, equates to the protection of that right. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unnecessarily waving a gun in public doesn’t protect the Second Amendment. Wielding firearms in front of children and unarmed women and men doesn’t protect the Second Amendment. Attempting to intimidate voters at polling sites by brandishing assault rifles doesn’t protect the Second Amendment (it’s also illegal, see Title 18 U.S. Code § 594. Intimidation of voters). These acts only create controversy. These acts only serve to call into question whether the Second Amendment should be repealed. Freedoms (e.g., the right to keep and bear arms) can make people feel more secure. However, abuses of freedoms (e.g., the right to bear arms) by a small group of outliers, can make the majority of people (voters) feel insecure. When this occurs, the majority may very well vote to trade certain freedoms for a feeling of increased security. In other words, increasing restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms are the fault of those who, by their behavior, convinced the majority that society would be safer with increased gun control.
As another example, protesting police brutality by rioting and looting the businesses of innocent Americans only reinforces the need for law enforcement. The First Amendment ensures that we can peaceably assemble and exercise the right of freedom of speech. And as history has shown repeatedly, speech is infinitely powerful. There is a reason why Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s words, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” has endured for almost 200 years. Protesters need not employ violence to be effective. As described by Malcolm Gladwell, in his book David and Goliath, the most powerful moments of the civil rights movement were achieved when peaceful protests fostered a violent reaction from law enforcement. If we want to enact change, we need not act violently. Violence only begets violence and creates increasing social divisions that weaken our society. Rather, we must act cleverly within the framework of morality. The clever mind is more apt to enact change than the violent. The clever thinker, who cares not only for his or her group, but for all of humankind, can achieve victories that benefit everyone.
Our system of government is not perfect. Injustices occur. There is much to be improved. However, unlike so many other countries, we possess a Constitution that defends our individual freedoms and enables our collective dream of what this Nation should be, to become reality.
If we truly want to protect the freedoms afforded to us by our Constitution and create a more equitable society, we have to protect the Constitution itself. This means respecting, not abusing the rights that we enjoy. This means preserving the moral standard of our society and voting for representatives that act in accordance with the fundamental principles of the Constitution. Patriotism requires working together to champion American ideals.
Furthermore, we must understand that the preservation, protection, and defense of the Constitution is not the sole responsibility of the President of the United States, but the collective responsibility of all Americans. As such, We the People must never allow corruption to prevail. We must never allow the immortality that fuels corruption to permeate our institutions unabated. We must never allow incessant abuses of power to go unchecked and unpunished. It is our duty, the People’s duty, to ensure that absolute power and absolute corruption never prevail. To do this, is to be an American patriot.