In general, President Trump’s comments at the Wisconsin rally yesterday regarding civility were excellent. However, I must pick a nit with one specific comment:
For example, Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective. After doing that, The language of moral condemnation and destructive routine — These are arguments and disagreements that have to stop.
What I believe the president to be asking for there is to cease name-calling and condemnation as a form of political argument. That would be a good thing. But the inclusion of terms like “morally defective” and “moral condemnation,” are unartful and cede territory to our political opponents.
In point of fact, many of the political debates that currently confront us have a deep and abiding moral component. If we remove discussions of morals and morality we are losing much of the ground on which we stand in those arguments. There is little question we over-moralize much of our debate, and personal condemnation is matter for the Almighty – not us – but we cannot let our opponents cry “moral condemnation” when we make a straightforward moral assertion.
You see it is one thing to say, “Abortion is evil.” That’s an assertion. It is another thing to say, “You are evil because you support abortion.” That’s an insult, perhaps even a curse. The latter must be avoided, but the former is a statement necessary to our debate. If someone that has participated in abortion in some fashion feels condemned by the assertion, then perhaps they should listen to that feeling; however, we cannot let that feeling limit our assertion. We cannot be responsible for someone else’s reactions to our assertions.
But what is really going on in our national debate is an effort to claim moral authority on any issue because it is easier than actually debating. For example, if climate change is a simple moral matter, there is no need for all that homework about carbon emissions, temperature rise projections, causation vs correlation, cost effective solutions, and on and on and on.
The fact of the matter is moral authority has to be earned, it cannot simply be claimed. The fact that we are in a mess where we battle over moral authority is, as just asserted, attributable to laziness in debate. But it is also, and perhaps more so, attributable to the traditional seats of moral authority in our nation relying on authority earned in the past rather than making a concerted effort to earn it for themselves currently.
From selling snake oil to outright financial misconduct to the child abuse and cover-up thereof that has plagued Catholicism, Christianity has eroded its moral authority significantly. And that, perhaps more than any other single factor, accounts for the extreme moralizing that marks our current political debate. Too many people reason, more accurately that anyone would care to admit, that if the church claims moral authority while kids are sexually abused, then certainly they can claim moral authority as well.
But setting aside morality is not the answer to this problem. Earning moral authority is.