The phrase we most associate with the fall of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954, after an anti-communist rampage that took a terrible toll on the lives of innocent Americans like Pete Seeger and Ronnie Gilbert, is this: “At the end of the day, sir, have you left no sense of decency?” The line was spoken by Joseph Welch, chief counsel for the Army during the Army-McCarthy hearings.
Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College, has a line that might fit the current times, linking the word “decency” with “shame”. In reviewing the election in Alabama, Nichols concludes in a Washington Post opinion piece that they way to reach Trump voters is not through reason, but through calling back their collapsing moral sense.
“These voters are, indeed, angry. And their feelings are not entirely unreasonable: They fear — rightly — that much of the culture of political correctness is aimed at squelching their participation in public life. And, yes, they have legitimate concerns about globalization and changes that have both improved their standard of living and put many of them out of work.
None of this is rational, and it cannot be remedied with reasonable argument. These are the politics of resentment. Although inevitably poisonous, resentment feels good. It gives meaning to a life in turmoil. It allows voters to dismiss facts at will. It’s a great rationale for staying put and staying mad. It gives focus to an otherwise inchoate rage. Why is your life less than you want it to be? It’s all Don Lemon’s fault.
The only response to such irrational and even hateful politics is to bypass pointless arguments and instead try to rouse a sense of basic decency. Are you arguing that black families were better off under slavery? Shame on you. Do you really believe America is no better than Russia? Shame on you.”
I think Nichols is on to something. I watched Paul Ryan on CNN today, while working out, and heard his nonsense-ridden claim that the tax cut is for the middle class. In reality, returning a pittance in tax benefits to ordinary Americans while then requiring them to shoulder the costs of their health care and retirement while showering huge benefits on the wealthy is cynical beyond words. Nichols’ word reverberated in my mind.
Shame on you, Paul Ryan. Shame.