I miss Ronald Reagan. That is not something that I say often. But as of this writing, the 2018 midterm elections just occurred, the Russia probe of Trump is about to drop, and the majority of Republicans remaining in Congress are extremists. There was a kind of class about that old coot Reagan, and it’s sorely missing now in the Commander in Chief. Character is all-important in everyone, but especially in the American President, a position that has increased in importance beyond the Founders’ intentions, and one that is of great power and influence.
It hurts my brain to see Donald Trump wreak havoc in the White House. Actually, I had it coming. What I mean is, I supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nominee, and because he was not treated fairly by the Democrats (the DNC, such as Debbie Wassarman-Schultz), I had a bit of an imprudent attitude about it all, sort of characterized by “Fine, cheat Bernie and see how well you do without our support in the general election!” Turns out my vote didn’t in fact count because I am in South Carolina and of course the state voted for Trump. But my puerile wish seems to have come true: Trump eeked out a victory due to myriad factors, and we are collectively living with this monstrosity every day now.
The election two days ago mattered quite a bit. Was it a “blue wave”? No, not really. Did it show that Trumpism and the wholesale hijacking of the Party of Lincoln is a real thing? Yes it did. Here is what Megan Garber from The Atlantic has to say about it:
“The 2018 midterms were about voter suppression, which is also to say about robbing swaths of Americans of their constitutional rights, which is also to say about structuralized inequality. They were about enfranchisement and its opposite. They were about progress. They were about backlash. They were about women winning. They were about women losing. They were about compassion empowered, and racism rewarded, and hard work realized, and cruelty weaponized, and corruption unpunished. They were about hatred. They were about love. They were about history made. They were about history ignored. They were about American exceptionalism in the best sense and—at the same time—in the worst.”
Reagan, for all his faults, was more moderate, classier, more stable, more trustworthy, less narcissistic, more advisable, less lazy, less entitled, and more negotiable than this man-child in the Oval Office. Heck, George W. Bush was better in most ways! I also would note that as unscrupulous and self-concerned as Nixon was, he was much more moderate. The Republican Party has moved to the right in the interceeding years, and has pretty much gone off the charts now. There are at least 20 fewer climate change moderates from the GOP now gone from Congress. Considering James Inhofe, that is a terrible thing. Trump doesn’t much care for the future; he cares about evading discovery of what a grown-up twit he is, and legal jeopardy due to his grossly poor character.
I didn’t realize how significant a sense of class, decorum, protocol, propriety, scruples, and tradition was to the presidency. Every day we are barraged by an array of bad behavior, tantruming, revenge, spin, lies, subterfuge, caviling, manipulation, and chicanery – and all this would be stemmed if the president were in possession of different traits. Class (classiness) was demonstrated by Obama masterfully, and Reagan, too, possessed more than his fair share. You can tell because instead of being riled up or unsettled by something that escapes the hole in Trump’s face, when Obama or even Bush would talk, you would sort of be lulled into believing them because they were pretty effective politicians. Certainly Reagan was more actor than statesman or philosopher, and this is why so many blue collar types voted against their best interests I believe.
“The last liberal American president was not a Democrat. The last liberal American president turns out to have been Richard M. Nixon. First, let us define liberalism as the belief that government can be the national instrument of democracy, capable of promoting economic and social justice.
Next, let us look at the words of the only American president ever to champion a federally guaranteed minimum income of $5,500 for every family with dependent children. That plan, which required job training for parents and child care for children, was objected to by some because it provided far less for the rich states than the poor states.
Nixon responded: ‘We reject that argument because we are one country. Consider the name of this nation: the United States of America. We establish minimum national standards because we are united. We encourage local supplements because we are a federation of states. And we care for the unfortunate because this is America.'” (source)
“The social pressures community brings to bear are a mainstay of our moral values”
Social capital is very important, and becoming scarce. Here is Steven Pearlstein on this topic: “Social capital provides the support for formal institutions and unwritten rules and norms of behavior that foster cooperation and compromise — between management and labor, between businesses and their customers, between business and government and among people of different races, classes and political beliefs. Societies with more social capital are happier, healthier and wealthier. In societies without it, democratic capitalism struggles to survive.”
This is what Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the heroic pilot who landed a plane on the Hudson a few years back, has to say about modern politics: “We are in a struggle for who and what we are as a people. The fabric of our nation is under attack, while shame – a timeless beacon of right and wrong – seems dead. This is not the America I know and love. We’re better than this. We cannot wait for someone to save us. We must do it ourselves.”
I hope that the future is brighter than the past. I hope that whatever is “American” in all of us can see that tribalism and individualism and corporatism are divisive and corrosive. Preserving our social capital is critical to the functioning and the future of America. Bill Moyers enlightens us with this: “For a season, in the wake of September 11th, there was a change in how Americans view their government. For the first time in more than thirty years, a majority of people said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing at least most of the time. It’s as if the clock had been rolled back to the early 1960s, before Vietnam and Watergate took such a toll on the gross national psychology.”
“Today, Americans see erosion of social capital in the declining trust they have in almost every institution in society.
We see it in lagging measures of worker engagement and the increase in the number of working-age males who have dropped out of the workforce.
We see it in the frequency of mass shootings, the decline in social contact with our neighbors and the appalling lack of civility on the Internet.
We see it in the way Americans sort themselves geographically — and virtually — into closed communities where everyone lives and thinks like they do.
We see it in a politics that has become polarized, partisan and paranoid.
We see it in a government where consensus is elusive, compromise is equated with treason and the aim of every newly elected Congress or administration is to undo everything done by its predecessor.”
~ author, professor, journalist Steven Pearlstein
Politics and the media are, to some degree, off the rails. To another extent, though, they really just reflect the values and norms and level of development in a society. I am in relative agreement with the conservative columnist, David Brooks here: “I used to think that this was basically a centrist country and that political polarization was an elite phenomenon. But most of the recent evidence suggests that polarization is deeply rooted in the economic conditions and personal values of the country. Washington is not the cause of polarization; America is.” We used to be much more aligned, civil, and united.
Our leaders really do help reinforce social norms, and they have been fraying since Reagan began to erode the foundations of economic prosperity under his conservative ideology. We have seen unionization, real wages, and manufacturing decline since then, leaving rusted out towns in the Midwest, dead zones in the inner city, and resentful whites in the South.
There is a lot about modern politics that involve the fundamental quality of character, the demonstration of class, and the consideration of decorum. It is so sorely missed now that the president is a narcissistic fool who was – I kid you not – made a millionaire by his father at age 8. Eight! In 1980 it was “morning in America”; it is now midnight, my friends. The Republican Party of your father is dead and gone. Let us individually and colletively find our way, or we are lost at sea on a foggy night. Ω
Honor, integrity, wisdom, and character matter. Here are some quotes to inspire your thinking:
Ethics, or morality, defines a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions — the choices and actions that determine the course of his life.
Moral courage is allied with the other traits that make up character: honesty, deep seriousness, a firm sense of principle, candor, resolution.
Greatness is not found in possessions, power, position, or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility, service, and character.
Conscience … is the impulse to do right because it is right, regardless of personal ends.
There is but one rule of conduct for a man – to do the right thing. The cost may be dear in money, in friends, in influence, in labor, in a prolonged and painful sacrifice, but the cost not to do right is far more dear: You pay in the integrity of your manhood, in your honor, in strength of character; and, for a timely gain, you barter the infinite.
A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.
If the society today allows wrongs to go unchallenged, the impression is created that those wrongs have the approval of the majority. ~ Barbara Jordan
Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.
Your greatness is measured by your kindness; your education and intellect by your modesty; your ignorance is betrayed by your suspicions and prejudices, and your real caliber is measured by the consideration and tolerance you have for others.
Universalization is one of the trademarks of morality. Moral maxims or duties, by their very nature, apply to everyone and under all circumstances.
How are we ever going to find our way to a society that accords respect to fellow citizens with whom we disagree? I think it depends on which conception of respect one accepts. [According to libertarianism], to respect our fellow citizens’ moral and religious convictions is, for political purposes, to ignore them (so to speak); to rise above, or to set aside those moral and religious convictions; to leave them undisturbed; to carry on our political debate without reference to them. But that isn’t the only way….