When it comes to values, we can’t not choose. That is, you have to cast your die. To set your sail.
In some cases, you have to choose sides. To be “for” this will require being “against” that.
Even if you say “values don’t matter,” you’ll nonetheless be deciding upon a values-based course of action. To wit: you very much value being liberated from thinking critically about what values human beings might ought cherish.
Ponder with me, if you will, Donald John Trump’s describing of Haiti and assorted parts of Africa as “sh*tholes.”
I think most of Trump’s critics on The Left practice bad strategy. In their fervor of animus towards him, I think they are guilty of what, in debate, is called the fallacy of extension. “He’s racist … He’s crazy … He’s Hitler,” etc.
Why make stuff up and stoop to name-calling when there is something so obvious and self-evident to merely observe?
Donald Trump is, on a good day, ignoble and inarticulate. These afflictions must needs make him divisive. Crazy? Try brilliant. Division is a calculated strategy for holding on to power.
But, see, none of this surprises me. And it shouldn’t surprise you. Our Vulgarity-in-Chief is the bed we made and in which we must now lie. Trump isn’t responsible for a divided America. He is simply a singular genius at exploiting divisions. Trump isn’t responsible for our wholesale erosion of decency, adulthood and willingness to seek truth; he is the perfect reflection of it!
What does surprise me is Trump’s defenders. For example (and there were many), I thought conservative columnist Wayne Root summed up the Faustian bargain required of Trump’s notorious “base:”
… I will tackle Trump’s supposed offensive words about Haiti and African nations. Trump called those countries by a crude name. He certainly could have chosen his words more carefully. But – who cares? He told the raw truth. As usual, he was right on the money.
Supposed offensive words? Supposed? Meaning, you no longer have the ability to know the difference between noble words and vulgar, belittling words? But, you are willing to notice the words were crude? And, while he “could have” chosen his words more carefully, you’re certainly not saying he should have. And, besides, who cares! Because it’s the truth.
Ergo, Wayne’s values amount to this: If it’s true, then you are justified in saying it. Any way you want to say it. Vulgarity is just great as long as you are technically correct.
So, if I go to the grocery, and I see a morbidly obese woman on one of those electric carts trying to reach for a jar of pickles, I can say, “Let me help you there, fat-ass!” And, if she is so overly-sensitive as to take offense, I’ll say, “Who cares? You are fat, right? I’m a teller of raw truth.”
Really, Wayne? This is the beginning … and the end … of what within you might be called depth?
Conservative columnist Bret Stephens said it this way:
This is the fatal mistake of conservatives who’ve decided the best way to deal with Trump’s personality — the lying, narcissism, bullying, bigotry, crassness, name calling, ignorance, paranoia, incompetence and pettiness — is to pretend it doesn’t matter. “Character Doesn’t Count” has become a de facto G.O.P. motto. … Trump is normalizing all this; he is, to borrow another [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan phrase, “defining deviancy down.”
Once, years ago, the family went camping. My mother came along. She and I starting putting together the new tent. Typical of me, I skipped something obvious, and we had to dismantle 6 steps to rectify the error and begin again. She teased me. She dropped her voice into a low register and did a caricature of my father: “Gawdammit Steven, you’ve got your head up your ass.”
I laughed. Then, quite spontaneously I said, “For the record, mom, my criticisms of my father were never that he was technically incorrect.”
And then we both laughed until we had tears in our eyes.
At what point does some combination of vulgar, violent actions and vulgar, violent words make truth less crucial than decency? (SEE Bobby Knight, circa 2000, erstwhile NCAA basketball coach of the Indiana Hoosiers whose infamous vulgarities finally negated whatever benefit his ‘basketball truths’ might provide.)
If you’re always honest because Honesty Is The Best Policy, then your honesty is corrupt.
Truth is a much more rigorous discipline.
(Steven Kalas writes a regular column for this newspaper. He is an Episcopal priest, a therapist and an author. You can reach him at email@example.com.)