Whatever Happened to Moral Virtue?
Only President Trump’s most ardent supporters would deny that his way of conversing and twitter postings has created an aura of incivility that has spilled over to virtually all aspects of society. He tends to be disrespectful of others especially those that disagree with him.
Trump routinely demeans others who make critical remarks about his decisions and actions. He attacks opponents for having views that are different than his own. For example, just a few months ago he attacked four Democratic congresswomen of color, the so-called ‘squad,’ saying they should “go back” to their home countries. Rather than debate the differences in political views, Trump resorts to bullying-type language.
Trump has lowered the bar with respect to incivility. On campaign stops, he encourages listeners to speak harshly about those he does not like. Trump uses offensive slogans to gin up support. Remember during the 2016 campaign rallies he routinely stirred up his supporters by chanting these words about Hillary Clinton: “Lock her up?” The tables were turned just a few nights ago when Trump attended game five of the World Series and many in the crowd chanted “Lock him up.” The point is uncivil behavior begets more uncivil behavior.
Rudeness is everywhere fueled in part by the tone in Washington. Protesters readily get into the face of those with whom they disagree even verbally attacking them in a public place. You don’t like a person’s message? Kill the messenger – just kidding. But, I sometimes worry when and if this will actually happen.
Civil discourse is essential in an open and free democracy. We have, as a country, lost sight of what it means to disagree with each other without being disagreeable.
The tenor of debate in the U.S. today is not what the founders had in mind. They pointed to fundamental principles and civic virtues as the foundation for our government. Unfortunately, these bedrocks of our society are being broken apart.
This is where character comes into play. A person of high character tells the truth, respects others for their differences, is kind and compassionate, and they serve as a role model for others. It’s not just Trump who is failing here. All politicians could benefit from a course in basic ethics.
We’ve lost sight of the basic virtues that reflect universal principles of moral and ethical excellence essential to living a good life and to effective self-government. These characteristic traits of behavior include, kindness, respect, responsibility, justice, and integrity.
The ethical expectation in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights is that we should treat others the way we wish to be treated – The Golden Rule. Today, the opposite is reality. We treat others in a way we wouldn’t want to be treated but do so anyway because the end goal of making those with whom we disagree look as bad as possible overrides the course we take to achieve that goal. In other words, it’s an ends justify the means approach to decision making, which is dangerous because if each of us acted that way, here would be no common moral values to bind us together.
We need to start a national debate about the fact that the basic fabric of our society is being torn apart. The truth is no one seems to recognize that a problem exists. We’ve normalized uncivil and unethical behavior.
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 29, 2019. Dr. Mintz recently published a book, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior, that explains how doing the right thing and being a good person can enhance well-being. The book is available on Amazon. Visit his website, sign up for his newsletter, follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.