Sunday, May 21, 2017

Republicans and the problem of moral relativism

During the presidential campaign, a major theme of Donald Trump’s campaign was the corruption and bad judgment of Hillary Clinton. Trump frequently referred to “Crooked Hillary” and promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C. Trump’s supporters were enraged by the lies and crony capitalism emanating from Foggy Bottom and thrilled to the promises of reform.

Then came the last two weeks.

The president summarily fired the director of the FBI, admitted on national television that the firing was at least partly due to the Russia investigation, and then was alleged to have told visiting Russian diplomats that Director Comey was a “nut job” and that getting rid of him relieved “great pressure.” On top of that, government sources charged that President Trump relayed classified information on an “ad hoc” basis.

Suddenly everything seemed to change with even casual supporters of the president. The battle cry changed from “drain the swamp” to “Hillary was worse.” In other words, the pro-Trump argument has shifted from the claim that he is a reformer who can clean up Washington to the claim that his actions are not any worse than the actions of the woman he called “Crooked Hillary” or President Obama. Talk about lowering the bar.

The pro-Trump right isn’t the only faction that has shifted. The anti-Trump left has also flip-flopped on a number of issues from resetting relations with Russia to whether James Comey should be fired. In fact, it has been both amusing and disheartening to watch my pro-Trump friends and liberal friends shift 180 degrees in their political views.

This really isn’t new. Liberal dogma often shifts with the changing winds of who is in office. As a case in point, consider their support for Bill Clinton’s war against the Serbs and attacks against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The Democrat Party became anti-war after many of its members voted to authorize George W. Bush to use military force and against Saddam and then became pro-war again when President Obama decided to hesitantly intervene in Libya.

It isn’t new for Trump Republicans either. It was only under Donald Trump that Republicans came to support tariffs over free trade, increased infrastructure spending, a childcare entitlement, universal healthcare, and higher taxes. The party of the Trump Republicans supports Donald Trump when he calls for the US to end nation building and put America first, but also applauds when he launches a symbolic, ineffective, one off strike on Syria and then moves on to other issues. The double standard of Trump supporters, especially those who professed to be Christian, was readily apparent in the campaign as well.

When Democrats shift with the prevailing winds on issues, conservatives like to call them “hypocrites.” When the shifting party is one that claims to be Christian and moral, another phrase applies as well: “moral relativism.”

Moral relativism is essentially situational ethics. Rather than believing that something is objectively right or wrong, regardless of the circumstances, moral relativists believe that an act, such as firing a subordinate who is doggedly pursuing an investigation, for example, can be right or wrong depending on the circumstances. Or depending on does it.

At one point, President Trump himself openly took this line of defense, exclaiming on Twitter, “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!” As a parent, I hear this tweet in my children’s voices as they whine, “He/she didn’t get in trouble when she did it!”

Does anybody really think that Republicans would not throw a screaming hissy fit if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama had fired James Comey as he was investigating Hillary’s private server? If a Democrat had referenced “the email thing” in the firing, most conservatives would be calling for his or her impeachment… if not their heads. There are a myriad of other instances, such as considering halting press briefings or jailing reporters that Trump supporters either justify or dismiss out of hand.

How about if a Democrat president had revealed classified information to the Russians? Before you answer, think back to how some conservatives accused Hillary of treason for discussing nuclear response times in one of the presidential debates.

A pro-Trump friend recently posted the video of President Obama telling Putin lackey Dmitry Medvedev, “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” The same friend is totally unconcerned about the myriad of links to Russia and Putin surrounding the Trump campaign.

The Trump supporters seem to discount anything negative about the president as “fake news” even when the Trump Administration openly acknowledges the truthfulness of the information. Michael Flynn admitted to lying about communicating with the Russians and was fired for it. President Trump acknowledged in tweets that he gave information to the Russians. Sean Spicer did not dispute New York Times claims that Trump told the Russians that Comey was a “nut job” whose investigation put “great pressure” on him. The fake news label used by the president gives his supporters the excuse they need to rationalize or deny his bizarre behavior.

In moral terms, it is like the excuse that you gave your parents that [insert forbidden behavior here] is okay because “everyone else is doing it.” Your mother probably answered that with the quip, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”

If Hillary and Obama are corrupt, does that mean it’s okay if Trump is corrupt too? Do we want a corrupt Republican or do we want something better? If you’re a Republican who excuses Trump and argues against holding him accountable, then you don’t want to drain the swamp. You just want to fill it with snakes of a different stripe.

In Christian terms, right and wrong are objective, not subjective. That applies to politics as well. If it is wrong for Barack Obama to fire the FBI director to impede an investigation (and it is, just so there is no question), then it is equally wrong for President Trump to do so. If national security is harmed by Hillary Clinton leaking classified information to the Russians, then the same standard applies to Donald Trump. If it is wrong for Hillary and Obama to insult their political opponents, then ditto for President Trump.

When the Republican defense of Donald Trump is “Hillary did it too,” they have already lost the argument for reform. At this point, the argument is merely a partisan squabble over whose corrupt politician should be at the national helm.

At some point, many Republicans will realize that Trump’s behavior is too outlandish, too corrupt for them to support. Meanwhile, a majority of conservative activists, many of them professing Christians, who spent the last eight years talking about the need to stand up for principles, are now twisting themselves into knots trying to justify the words and actions of a man whose words and actions are totally inconsistent. The Trump partisans seem to be standing up for a person, rather than principle.

Originally published on The Resurgent

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