“This is how moral
Corrosion happens.” Erodes.
~David Brooks. He’s right.
~Michael Kroth, Haiku, 3-4-19
David Brooks’ recent NYTs essay, Morality and Michael Cohen, describes how congressional Republicans, as they support the current president, become “morally numb” via “daily acts of moral distancing, a process that means that after a few months you are tolerant of any corruption. You are morally numb to everything.”
“This”, Brooks says, “is how moral corrosion happens.”
Republicans, of course, don’t have a monopoly on moral corrosion by any means, but that’s who he is referring to here, in this particular situation.
Brooks wonders, “Do they think that having anesthetized their moral sense in this case they will simply turn it on again down the road? Having turned off their soul at work, do they think they will be able to turn it on again when they go home to the spouse and kids?”
I would be the last person to try to be a moral arbiter for anyone. I am quite imperfect and am mostly just trying to work on myself. More, I’m pretty much a libertarian when it comes to morality. For the most part, I think government should stay out of folks’ bedrooms and people should be able to live life on their own terms, unless they are harming or pose a risk to other people. I would hope that for the most part, parents and families and churches and other groups and people who care about character or virtues are the ones who would focus on educating, convincing, and inspiring people to be virtuous, without having to resort to trying to legislate it.
I am a lot less tolerant of hypocrisy, which again is not practiced only by one party, person, or group. I’d prefer elected officials just say “Lying is OK with me. Honesty really is not an important character trait to me.” Or “Bullying and name calling are just OK in a leader and a role model for my kids. In fact, I’m trying to get that added to the leadership development curriculum in our church”. Just be honest about it and we’ll know what we are trying to deal with.
I would rather people be straight up. I like rogues, ne’er-do-wells, people who are irreverent and break with convention. Creative disrupters if you will. People that shake up the system. People who are honest about their agenda and genuine about who they are. I also like conservative, traditional, quiet, principled people who really do their best to really do what they consider to be the right thing, and keep working at it day after day, month after month, year after year. Key words: Genuine, honest, acknowledge faults, keep workin’ on it.
So I give a lot of leeway to those trying to do the best they can to live their principles, even when they fall short. None of us are perfect, by a long shot.
I do wonder if these elected officials have simply lost their center in the heat of ambition, strayed from what they started with in public life that was important to them. Perhaps it is not moral corrosion we are seeing, as Brooks suggests, but a lack of any principled center.
If that is true, I hope it doesn’t take a calamity to force deep reflection. I hope at some point these people can step back and say, “Where in the world am I going?” “What happened to what is most important in life and beyond life?”
Perhaps at some point they will be able to “wait in the quietness of some centering moment that will redefine, reshape, and refocus [their] lives”, as the theological leader Howard Thurman (The Centering Moment, 1969, p. 85) has said. Perhaps they can re-center and rebuild their moral integrity, their depth of principle and purpose.
It’s something many of us lesser people must work on regularly. I wish that those with vast impact would sit in quiet contemplation and think about these matters often. Perhaps they do.
It’s the pernicious hypocrisy of someone who claims moral authority and then on a regular basis proves they don’t really care to even try to practice it that is a morass of moral duplicity. Lacking center, it is moral drift.
I don’t know if it’s moral corrosion we are seeing, or the lack of anything of substance to corrode.
Let’s all work on heading back to deep center. I know I need to, and so do the leaders of our nation.