The Improbable Demise Of American Honor
President Trump has led America into a headlong retreat from global leadership on a host of issues from human rights to democracy, but it is the repudiation of honor and integrity by Conservatives that is perhaps most staggering.
By David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Honor is one of those words that Americans like to trot out on a regular basis in order to prove the theory that we are in fact, an exceptional country. As if we were the only people to walk the earth with any grasp of the concepts of honesty, decency, integrity or courage. In our eyes somehow, all other countries are deficient in ethical principles, devoid of inspiring innovation, bereft of the courage to lead, or are otherwise wallowing in moral turpitude.
We like to talk about the American character as something that is palpable. We revel in our reputation as fearless and optimistic, even as we sometimes, otherwise cringe at our misplaced bravado and misguided arrogance. Bucking the trend, doing it your way, and going for broke is only hubris if you lose, because as long as you’re winning, it looks a lot like genius.
America was chosen by God after all, and despite a nearly unbroken boulevard of moral failings, from the original sin of slavery to our current decent towards fascism, we believe ourselves to be that city on the hill; that beacon of freedom and democracy for the world to revere.
But even if you could have gotten past the craven desire for power, and the rejection of nearly every ideological principle ever devised by a conservative think tank, it would have been hard to predict even a decade ago that the Republican Party would have so quickly abandoned the principles of honor, integrity, honesty and the value of keeping one’s word. But to do so, in order to follow such a soulless cretin into the bowels of hell, well, let’s just say it’s been quite the fall from anything resembling grace.
There were always fundamental differences between conservatives and liberals. There were the technicolor social issues that tended to run a fairly broad range across both parties. And then there were the economic and policy questions, at the heart of which was the question, what should the role of government be in public life? These tended to come down to hot button issues like abortion and gay marriage, entitlement programs and federal spending. You could disagree, even quite vehemently at times, but it wasn’t personal for most people. It was truly a difference of opinion. But that all changed when America elected a Black man as President and white Americans everywhere lost their minds.
There is strong evidence that America is not nearly as forward thinking as we would like to think we are. Historically, we have tended to be one step forward and three steps back, with the backlash often being out of step with the progress. We defeated segregation in schools with Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, but in the six decades since, we have done more damage to Black students than if we have left segregation in place.
Racism in America runs deeper than we realize, and the forces arrayed against civil rights, aim to make us pay dearly for every step forward we attempt. Fix one issue, and expect to pay for it for the next thirty years or so.
I was raised with a heartfelt belief in the exceptional nature of America. That our founding was itself righteous and just, an unavoidable consequence of casting off the yoke of tyranny. That our founders, while arguably imperfect, were wise beyond their years, giving us a form of government that other countries could only marvel at. That our destiny had been awarded by God himself, and that even though we had sometimes fallen short of our ideals, our hearts were in the right place and we would get there eventually.
Which makes the fall of the Republican Party even more striking, as they were the party that most loudly championed their own superiority as the ultimate defenders of morality, honor and faith in God. It’s astounding to me that they have so quickly and easily forsaken their own theology, ideology, and morality in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.
Republicans like to assert that Democrats are lawless, decadent heathens who hate America. They lay claim to American patriotism as if it is a birthright awarded them for long suffering at the hands of liberal politicians. They are the true believers, in the America of the past.
But it isn’t Democrats and liberals who wish to revise history, it’s the pundits and preachers who want to continue to white-wash our past in order to wipe clean any responsibility they may have concerning our broken system, our racist history and the current mess we find ourselves in.
The dictionary offers us a fairly wide range of definitions for the word honor, but we usually define it as a surrogate for integrity, to mean “a keen sense of ethical conduct.” It has also been used as a means to define purity and chastity, as a badge of distinction, or in lieu of an exalted rank. But it has most often been cited as an apt descriptor of a person of superior standing, one who brings respect and credit to their profession.
There was a time, when men of good standing would rather lose their life than sacrifice their honor. But in today’s cynical world, honor is barely given a second thought, as it treated as an anachronistic luxury one can no longer afford in a society where power is worth more than life itself.
One cannot give Ayn Rand, that pitiful Russian novelist, too much credit for the demise of the American character, but we can certainly point a finger at her influence on the current crop of Republicans who have cloaked themselves in the warm embrace of egocentric avarice and self-indulgent materialism. But even one Russian influence peddler doesn’t seem sufficient to dismantle the American character quite so quickly as that.
It seems that Conservatives have met a perfect storm of obstacles and opportunities that have caused their moral downfall. A half century of failed economic theories, the inability to reconcile their complicity in America’s institutional racism, the shrinking dominance of white men, a global economy and the collapse of Christianity as the dominant social force in Western culture.
They found they could no longer afford to stand on principle alone, and since survival was more important than honor, they abandoned it like a sinking ship.
Lest you think I am merely making hyperbolic arguments concerning the honor of a political ideology I despise, to score political points, let me lay out a case. If we think of honor as simply the principles of honesty, personal integrity, moral courage and the keeping of one’s word, it is clear that Republican politicians have abandoned all pretense of living a life beholden to it. They ingratiate themselves before an unscrupulous President who lies so often we have become overwhelmed by his treachery. Their personal integrity lies in tatters as they trample on their own word, claiming fake news despite video evidence of their own hypocrisy. They have forsaken any pretense of Biblical morality, setting aside case after case of depravity and indecency, installing any judge they can find who will abolish a women’s right to choose, in order to get what they really want, which is unlimited power.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that we should be appalled that politicians act in ways that are less than open or honest. They’re whores for the most part. The higher up you go, the less integrity they have. Let’s all get our big boy pants on and stop the incessant whining.
But if you’re going to position yourself as the party with moral authority, a champion for the average working stiff, and the defender of the American character, it would help if you had a speck of morality, did something, anything to protect American workers and told the truth once in awhile.
If you’re going all in on power, if that’s your game plan, then we need to respond accordingly. Fight fire with fire. Democrats need to stop bringing a notebook to a gunfight. We continue to elect centrists that are afraid of alienating corporate America while the Republicans give the entire country the finger.
Democrats have their own issues, but at least we still have principles that we are held to, whether we like it or not. Ours is a raucous, motley electorate of passionate miscreants, and if we ever get our shit together, we will be a force to be reckoned with. But first we have to stop pretending that we’re in a fair fight, or even begin to believe we’re in a fight at all.
If America has any hope left, it’s that America’s Left retains whatever honor is left in the American character, and holds it aloft against the incoming tide. We have to hurry though, because the waters are rising, the wind is onshore and the moon is full. It’s a perfect storm and we are directly in its path. We cannot hope to ride this one out. Our only hope is that we may not tire, but fight long enough for the waters to recede.
There is always hope in honor.