Political Morality and Tilting at Windmills

I recently watched a video a friend posted of women who are Trump supporters talking about the decade old tape that has caused a firestorm of passionate debate. One friend who identified herself as “not a Trump supporter” observed that we seem to choose when we want to respond to these things with outrage.  Political morality always has a point, and the point isn’t morality.

How true that is!

Anyone who was an adult in the 1990’s remembers the Monica Lewinsky matter and subsequent allegations from other woman about Bill Clinton’s indiscretions that all took place when he was serving in public office in different capacities. There was outrage then, but the bulk of it came from a different quarter.

That is politics.

The Republicans, who have been considered the moralists among us (a label not necessarily meant in a flattering manner), were outraged by the Clinton affairs. Most Democrats stood by him. He was the acting President. Sure, there were some Democrats who condemned what he did, but not enough to jeopardize his office.

Gary Hart comes to mind as another public official who was given to indiscretion. He, as much as any politician that I can remember, triggered a discussion of the extent to which personal, morality should be a criteria in the political arena. Many people argued that what he did on his own time with consenting adults should not matter if he is qualified for the position (and has the right political platform).

Gary Hart and Bill Clinton were Democrats, of course, and so Democrats were known as the party willing to overlook personal, moral indiscretions in favor of political policies and positions and qualifications for the office.

That has all changed with Donald Trump.

Now the shoe is one the other foot, and the Democratic leaning world has turned passionately moralistic.  Republicans are the ones scrambling for different ground to stand on with their man. “It was ten years ago”; “He didn’t really mean it”; “It was just locker talk”; “men will be men”.

The hypocrisy of both ends of the spectrum should not go unnoticed.

It says something about us that I don’t think we are very willing to take seriously. Our moral compasses are not tuned to the moral north, but to the ends we want to justify.  It’s a cheap morality, and it isn’t very appealing when you peal it back.

It’s hard to take any of the moralizing very seriously in the context of the political world where the passions flow primarily along party lines. Kudos to Paul Ryan and the few other Republicans who have tried to find the moral high ground instead of wallowing in the political mud. Kudos to the Democrats who broke ranks with the Bill Clinton over his indiscretions.

But they are just prophets crying out in the wilderness.

Morality makes for a good club when used to best political advantage, but real morality is more akin to tilting at windmills in the political world. It doesn’t play well in Washington.

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