Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Trump and the Loss of Virtue

I fear that one of the biggest long-term costs of the Trump reign as President is going to be the loss of virtue.

The moral foundation of our society had to have some serious cracks in it anyway for Trump to have even been considered for the office of President.

Many people predicted that Trump's campaign would be over at several points in the primary. When they showed Trump's lies, they thought that this would cause people to reject his campaign. When they showed his fundamental ignorance of facts that it would be important for a President to understand, they though this would be the end of his campaign. When he engaged in bullying, they thought that this would cause American voters to reject his campaign. When his history of sexual assault and recordings of him embracing and defending sexual assault as a legitimate practice came to light, many thought that this would spell the end of his campaign.

In all of these cases, pundits grounded their predictions on assumptions regarding the virtues of American voters. All of these predictions that the voters are going to reject Trump were built on the assumption that the number of good and decent American people so greatly outnumber those that are so lacking in virtue and good character themselves that they would vote for Trump.

I am not writing here about a distinction between the "virtuous Democrat" and the "vicious Republican" - which is a display of tribalism that itself goes contrary to virtue. I am talking about the view of the Republican party and the Republican voters themselves. The error was in assuming that there was enough virtue among those who vote Republican to keep the likes of Trump out of the office of President. Trump's continued success - the fact that he repeatedly proved that these pundits were wrong - means that he repeatedly proved assumptions about the virtue and moral character of American voters (or the strength and distribution of virtue among American voters) were inaccurate.

Not only did Trump prove that this assumption made by several pundits was mistaken, he also proved that this assumption - held by people around the world about the American people - were wrong. Those who held the American people generally in high regard now have to confront the falsifying evidence that people who deserve to be held in high regard would not have voted the likes of Trump to be President. The possibility of Americans electing such a person is no longer merely a hypothetical. It is an established fact. There is no way now to deny the conclusion that the moral character of Americans is such that they would elect somebody like Donald Trump. If any American would want to deny that this is true of Americans, they now only need to point at the White House.

But, to make matters worse, Trump is like a seed that has found its way into the crack in the wall or foundation of a building. Now that it has taken root, it grows. In growing, it pushes the walls of this crack further apart - doing further damage to the foundation.

Future generations are going to have to deal with a group of teenagers who grew up in this environment of blatant dishonesty, disregard for fact, racism, and injustice. Attempts to tell children that they should be honest are countered every day by a President who refuses to tell the truth and who is not condemned for his dishonesty. Attempts to tell children that they should treat others with dignity and respect are countered every day by a President who is celebrated for his indignant disrespect for others. Attempts to teach children to be morally responsible and to consider the consequences of their actions on others are countered each day by a president who is morally irresponsible and fails to consider the consequences of his actions on others even to the point of nuclear war.

So, the cracks in the moral foundation of American society are made worse by those who learn from Trump that honesty, decency, justness, respect for others, and moral responsibility are mere words to be ignored when inconvenient or, worse, to be tossed out in favor of dishonesty, indecency, injustice, contempt for others, and moral irresponsibility. People who find themselves in a society filled with these type of people cannot expect to live nearly as well as those who are surrounded by honest, decent, just, respectful, and morally responsible individuals. There will be a cost to pay.

Now, one of the vices that Trump promulgates - one of the vices he is promoting among the American people and, in particular, among its teenagers and young adults (particularly those who are being raised in a culture that supports and celebrates trump) is a disregard for women.

Fortunately, on this front, enough women - and enough people who care about women - are saying, "No. We will not accept this. We will not let this happen and suffer the consequences ourselves, nor allow our daughters, nieces, and friends' children and grandchildren suffer the effects of this change in attitude. While Trump effectively promotes a sexist disregard for women - an attitude that they exist to be used and manhandled - women are pushing back with the #metoo movement - spreading the message that this is not alright and that those who promote or engage in this type of behavior deserve contempt, not admiration. In this one area, we see a well deserved and overdue pushback, bringing home that future generations will be less likely - not more likely - to adopt Trump's vice.

Granted, I have not conducted an empirical study on this matter, but I have not seen the same level of pushback on several of Trump's other vices. Perhaps this must be the case. There is only so much "attention" bandwidth, and if that attention is now on the poor treatment of women by men with power, then perhaps some of these other vices need to wait their turn.

However, if it is true, it does not bode well for future generations. Because while decent people counter vices one at a time, the likes of Trump continue to promote a whole battery of vices all at once. How do we get the children growing up today to learn that such things as dishonesty and moral irresponsibility are not good things? How do we get them to acquire the virtues of honesty, to treat others with dignity and respect, and morally responsible in a world that gives the absence of these virtues a nearly free pass?

Our children will not fare well in a culture that lacks these virtues.

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