I used to resent self-aggrandizing claims of America’s exceptionalism, our country “Set on a Hill,” a Beacon of Light to the world. Why shouldn’t we belt out “God bless America!” – our home, sweet home.
I’ve changed. I am in a state of mourning. At times, I have intimations of terror. What has shocked me out of mind is that our democracy is so fragile! I had no idea. The realization of this truth came as a complete surprise. Obviously, I had never understood, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” In only ten months, less than a single year, our political institutions have not only been undermined, but transmogrified into a burlesque show, a vehicle for entertainment and make-believe. And exploitation.
Thomas Hobbes observed, “Hell is the truth seen too late.” Belatedly, I now can recognize America was indeed something special. For 240 years! Then Poof!
The Age of Enlightenment, those glorious centuries of Reason, became a living reality not only in the POLITICAL MIND of our Founding Fathers, but in their POLITICAL WILL. They wrote a Constitution. They signed it. They took it to the States for ratification. They elected a President and Congress. They created The United States of America.
And since 1789, our country has been governed by that political document. It established The Rule of Law. It placed governance, the most vital and far-reaching of all human activity, on a foundation of reason.
What has contributed to my state of shock is that no one saw this coming. The last president wielded his high powers as prescribed in The Constitution. No scandal touched his eight years in office. Under his Presidency, the country survived financial collapse. Economic growth was steady, the future roseate with promise. Our functioning as a democracy shone indeed like a beacon of hope across the world. Life was moving right along. So what happened?
WE LOST OUR SENSE OF SHAME.
Unlike guilt, which is personal, shame is a group experience. It is extraordinarily powerful. Shame destroyed Senator Joe McCarthy. At the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, before a vast television audience, Boston lawyer, Joe Welch, shamed McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency?”
“Overnight, McCarthy’s immense national popularity evaporated. Censured by his Senate colleagues, ostracized by his party, and ignored by the press, McCarthy died three years later, 48 years old and a broken man.”
I was reminded of that event by John Kelly’s recent press conference, where he shamelessly lied. He is Chief of Staff to the president, for whom lying is stock in trade. Unlike Joe McCarthy, Trump’s utter lack of decency does not evaporate his “national popularity.”
What is beyond belief is the Russian Connection during the Trump election campaign. That’s treason. Is there a more serious crime than that? Isn’t that the most shameful act a citizen can commit?
So when the Republicans in Congress disregard treasonous behavior – Trump is a con man, impervious to guilt or shame – what is one to make of that? Is there any evidence that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell feel ashamed of their party leader? or that they feel shame that they slap together, without attention or seriousness, legislation affecting 308 million Americans, focusing instead at keeping a few hundred politicians employed?
“Republicans, you’ve done enough. At long last, have you left no sense of decency”?