Last Word | December 21st, 2016
“This my prayer: Civil war fattening on men’s ruin shall not thunder in our city. Let not the dry dust that drinks the black blood of citizens through passion for revenge and bloodshed for bloodshed be given our state to prey upon.” - Aeschylus
“…the anarchical tendency of our worship of freedom in and for itself, of our superstitious faith…in machinery…our want of light to enable us to look beyond machinery to the end for which machinery is valuable,…All this, I say, tends to anarchy.” - Matthew Arnold
“It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice.” - George Orwell, “1984”
A wise man, Pastor Jake Kincaid of the First Presbyterian Church in Bismarck, preached a sermon a few years ago in which he defined the three things we could never really get back once we had lost them: our good health, our good name, and a golden opportunity which we let go by.
Now that the Republican Party has successfully nominated and elected a demonstrably dishonorable man, Donald Trump, to the Presidency, this country is in danger of losing its good name as “the last, best, hope on earth.”
The Donald had a bad week or two after losing his three debates with the Democratic nominee for the Presidency, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. However, he made it that far by appealing to anti-establishment anger of his supporters against ruling elites in the Republican Party who, clearly, showed interest only in feathering their own nests.
Then Trump, with vague promises of economic uplift, but very specific phrases of misogyny, racism, religious hatred, and contempt for the disabled, appealed to anti-establishment anger among those who had previously held out [especially in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania] against race baiting and sectarian bigotry, even as their jobs were being floated overseas by vested elites in both parties [See Sen. Byron Dorgan’s (D-ND), “Reckless: Take This Job and Ship It.”
Trump thus succeeded against ruling elites in the Democratic Party who dared to show interest in feathering nests other than their own. Despite tangible benefits of Democratic programs from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to the Affordable Care Act for angry white voters in formerly blue states, the fact that many birds in the Democratic nest were of different hues and views was enough for these folks to “see so much red” that they turned their states the same color.
Between nomination and November 8, Mr. Trump was aided by Republican elites, whatever their disclaimers, he had railed against in the Primary process. This was very clever. This was also more dishonorable than the usual rough shenanigans that accompany the process of achieving political power in America.
I will pray for Mr. Trump, now that he has reached an office that commands the respect he feels he deserves. But his newfound powers will not make me respect him, even though I am as white as he is, as male as he is, and (before I decided to become a school teacher instead of a well-connected Chicago lawyer) as economically privileged as he is. Neither he nor the Republican Party which embraced him, can continue to exercise power without responsibility. He is not the type to “shut up,” but Mr. Trump is now going to have to “put up.”
Republican office holders and power brokers must face accountability for their enthusiastic embrace of the narcissistic Tea Party crew. This cynical move by Republican House and Senate Leadership upon the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, and Mr. Trump’s denial of President Obama’s citizenship in his birther hoax were first steps in the corruption of power within their ranks that brought Trump to power.
The methods of Donald Trump’s triumph also do not exonerate opportunistic pundits, like George Will, who suddenly found their “conservative values” threatened by a man who merely took the 19th Century Gospel of Greed, trumpeted loudly during the Ronald Reagan Presidency of 1981-1989, to its logical conclusions: self-worship and self-delusion.
As if the “Gospel of Greed” were not enough of a burden on the moral well-being of a democracy, we also have the “Citizens United” decision of the Chief Justice John Roberts Supreme Court of January 21, 2010. That decision created a monster capable of ignoring codes of honor that bind a civilized nation. It elevated and sanctified the modern corporation, at best a collection of individuals, to the status of a single human being. Thus the most powerful economic engine in Western Civilization has been effectively granted all privileges and protections of what, heretofore, had been defined in terms of individual human rights.
Given such “blank checks,” over the years, it is no wonder that CEOs of Wells Fargo and mineral corporations, the Koch brothers, or Rupert Murdoch consider themselves their own “superheroes,” above law and morality. How did we reach this juncture, spiritually and ethically, as well as politically?
I do not use the terms “honor” and “dishonor” lightly, but in the way they were defined (The Roots of Honor ) by a man who opposed the “Gospel of Greed” in his day, John Ruskin, a 19th Century art and social critic in Great Britain:
“Five great intellectual professions, relating to daily necessities of life, have hitherto existed,…in every civilized nation.
The Soldier’s profession is to defend it.
The Physician’s [Doctor’s] to keep it in health.
The Pastor’s [Teacher’s] to teach it.
The Lawyer’s to enforce justice in it.
The Merchant’s [Businessman’s] to provide for it.”
Note that Ruskin does NOT include “politician” as one of the civilized professions.
That is no accident, but it does not mean that all politicians are “crooks” or “uncivilized.” That train of thought is for those too lazy to use their God-given brains to exercise their hard-won freedom to decide issues of right and wrong.
Politicians come from all walks of life, and most can be referenced in one or more of Ruskin’s five categories. Politics per se, however, and political parties are about the acquisition and maintenance of power. Moral judgments upon those who engage in it dependon how we perceive honor in other walks of life like the military, teaching and preaching, medical, legal, and business professions.
One can really only be an ethical politician if one is already an ethical soldier, doctor, lawyer, teacher, preacher or businessman, and sticks to those moral principles during their life in politics. If, like Donald Trump, you have behaved unethically in the business world, there is no reason for anyone to expect that you will clean up your act in politics. To date, Mr. Trump has not.
Although some Republicans I know and respect have been appalled by Donald Trump’s behavior, and Democrats and Independents are not immune from the narcissism that characterizes the larger evils of power worship, I have only singled out the Republican Party in 2016 as deserving the epithet of “dishonorable.”
That is because they put forward for President of the United States someone with no use for John Ruskin’s sense of honor in the 19th Century and the average person’s sense of common decency in the 21st Century.
The Democrats merely put up someone whose flaws, real and perceived, do not meet the test of “deplorable” which Republican elites have managed to achieve.
This series examines the roots of dishonor in what our contemporary worship of the corporation has done to erode and sabotage the individual’s concept of honor held so dear by John Ruskin.
The first two, dealing with the honor of a soldier, and his civilian counterpart, the policeman, have already been published in HPR (10/26/16; 11/02/16). This introduction will put those essays into context with the rest that follow, well into the new year of the Trump Presidency.
The line I draw between honorable and dishonorable is a traditional one: “death before dishonor.” That is what Ruskin does when he defines the price that 19th century men [and nowadays, as we say, 21st century men and women] might have to pay for upholding the honor of their professions:
“And the duty of all these men is, on due occasion, to die for it.
The Soldier, rather than leave his post in battle.
The Physician [Doctor], rather than leave his post in plague.
The Pastor [Teacher], rather than teach Falsehood.
The Lawyer, rather than countenance Injustice.
The Merchant – what is his ‘due occasion’ of death? It is the main question for the merchant, as for all of us. For, truly, the man who does not know when to die, does not know how to live.”
If we Americans would honor those individuals among us who have taken the spirit of John Ruskin’s words with them to their graves, we need to get a better grip on what the gospel of greed and worship of the corporation have done TO us, as well as for us.
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