On the matter of your moral inferiority…

A self-serving moral judgment is always implicit in any political judgment, for the simple reason that a politics without morality would be the physics of randomly colliding human atoms, of no meaning to anyone, or not authentically political at all.

Ramesh Ponnuru (in “Hate Trump Voters? You’ve Got a Problem. “) attempts to draw a simultaneously moral and political distinction:

Living in a democracy often means thinking that millions of our fellow citizens are making a big mistake, and saying so. That doesn’t have to mean considering them our moral inferiors. To the extent my fellow anti-Trump conservatives are adopting that mindset, they are making a depressing political season even more so.

I think I understand what Ponnuru wants to encourage – forgiveness, empathy, balance, wise strategy, among other things – but on the central question I believe that he is wrong: Thinking that our fellow citizens are “making a big mistake” does and must mean considering them our moral inferiors, in relation to the particular matter if not others, and, when I say so, I cannot help but also imply or  confirm that I believe that in this way, on this question, Ponnuru is my “moral inferior.”

A self-serving moral judgment is always implicit in any political judgment, for the simple reason that a politics without morality would be the physics of randomly colliding human atoms, of no meaning to anyone, or not authentically political at all. To say that in this way, on this question, I view Ponnuru as my inferior, and even to say that I feel morally obligated to say as much, is therefore simply to state the obvious about what I think and believe. It is in no way to suggest that I believe myself to be Ponnuru’s superior altogether. I must believe, however, that his being wrong would stand as evidence against him in some full and fair – and entirely unwanted and pointless – comparison of our moral constitutions. It likewise remains a necessary implication of Ponnuru’s position that those who disagree with it would be, unlike him, in authentically moral as well as political error, or that their position would be, in contrast to his, using his terms, both “unjustified” as well as “counterproductive.” If he were right, or possibly right, then his position would be morally superior to mine, and, on this matter, in this way, he would be my moral superior.

In the effort to avoid such seemingly impolite, but logical, conclusions, Ponnuru divides his thesis into two questions as follows:

People who disdain Trump voters en masse are, it seems to me, confusing two questions: Should an intelligent and decent person back Trump? And can an intelligent and decent person back Trump? I’m a firm no on the first question. But the answer to the second question is yes.

If the two questions are or must be connected, then acknowledging as much is not to submit to confusion, but to attend to necessity. The “should” question is the moral question, and the very firmness of Ponnuru’s “firm no” supports the notion of holding the “masse” of Trump voters in “disdain.” The “can” refers us to mitigating factors: Ponnuru argues that Trump supporters may have made this wrong decision or may be undertaking this wrong behavior for reasons that are not “obviously delusional or hateful,” but a morality that can reject only obvious delusion or hatred would be a morality difficult to distinguish from amorality. It would be like a penal code that punished first-degree murder only, and left everything else to the eye of the beholder (or perpetrator). Put simply, to the precise degree that one’s answer to the first question is firmly “no,” it must become more difficult to answer “yes” to the second one.

On the specific political matter, the fact that “Trump supporter” is not the worst thing I could say about another person does not make it a matter of moral indifference to me. The Democrat who cannot imagine being friends with a Republican, or vice versa, might indeed be making the same type of judgment. He or she might be doing so mistakenly and also immorally. At the risk of someday being judged wrong, or immoral myself, I also cannot help but make such judgments: That risk is the price of admission to any ethical discussion.

More to the present political point, if I believe that anyone who supports Donald J Trump for the office of President of the United States is very likely doing so on the basis of what amounts to moral defect, including for the reasons that Ponnuru goes on to adduce, to say as much is merely to translate the NeverTrump hashtag into into forty-some words. I would be acknowledging that “NeverTrump”-ism is for its adherents very much a matter of mores, and self-reflexively: NeverTrump says, “It is immoral not to view Trump and Trump support as immoral, and morality requires a responsible citizen to say so.” I would be acknowledging that to disagree with another citizen politically sooner or later means to disagree over matters that one takes with the highest seriousness – matters of life and death, of right and wrong, or, in religious terms, of our immortal souls. “NeverTrump” says that Trump himself, his most vocal followers, and many of those whose “firm no”‘s are not as firm as they could be (and instead may reflect the same moral compromises and incapacities that got the so-called “conservative movement” in its current predicament) are in this sense as seriously in error as it is possible for anyone to be in politics on this level.

The disdain the Trumpists and fellow travelers may receive from the rest of us ought to be considered the least of their problems, from their perspective – like the endlessly hurt feelings of a man whose trademarks are the insulting nickname and the attention-getting outrage against common decency. Indeed, if they were capable of taking our judgment of them truly seriously, if they were concerned about their reputations, they would not have ended up where they are.

Those with views we loathe may also sometimes be those on whom we could depend for things far more important to us than the outcome of any, or almost any, election. Yet putting the inescapable moral component of a political difference in perspective, treating the latter rationally and charitably, and with a view toward eventually overcoming it, does not mean ignoring the former. Doing so honestly and effectively relies on just the opposite commitment.


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2 comments on “On the matter of your moral inferiority…

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[C]limate scientists have a strange kind of faith: We will find a way to forestall radical warming, they say, because we must.

It is not easy to know how much to be reassured by that bleak certainty, and how much to wonder whether it is another form of delusion; for global warming to work as parable, of course, someone needs to survive to tell the story. The scientists know that to even meet the Paris goals, by 2050, carbon emissions from energy and industry, which are still rising, will have to fall by half each decade; emissions from land use (deforestation, cow farts, etc.) will have to zero out; and we will need to have invented technologies to extract, annually, twice as much carbon from the atmosphere as the entire planet’s plants now do. Nevertheless, by and large, the scientists have an enormous confidence in the ingenuity of humans — a confidence perhaps bolstered by their appreciation for climate change, which is, after all, a human invention, too. They point to the Apollo project, the hole in the ozone we patched in the 1980s, the passing of the fear of mutually assured destruction. Now we’ve found a way to engineer our own doomsday, and surely we will find a way to engineer our way out of it, one way or another. The planet is not used to being provoked like this, and climate systems designed to give feedback over centuries or millennia prevent us — even those who may be watching closely — from fully imagining the damage done already to the planet. But when we do truly see the world we’ve made, they say, we will also find a way to make it livable. For them, the alternative is simply unimaginable.

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They were concerned that any pre-election response could provoke an escalation from Putin. Moscow's meddling to that point was seen as deeply concerning but unlikely to materially affect the outcome of the election. Far more worrisome to the Obama team was the prospect of a cyber-assault on voting systems before and on Election Day. They also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia's efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.

This, right here. This is where they choked. The American people had damned close to an absolute right to the information their government already had. The most fundamental act of citizenship is the right to cast an informed vote. The idea that the Obama administration withheld the fact that the Russians were ratfcking the election in order to help elect a vulgar talking yam is a terrible condemnation of the whole No Drama Obama philosophy. Would Donald Trump have raised hell if the White House released what it knew? Of course, he would have. But, as it was, the American people went to vote with only about half of the information they needed to assess his candidacy. This was a terrible decision.

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Changing views of U.S. presidents over past decade and a halfAs Pew Research Center’s global surveys from George W. Bush’s presidency illustrated, many of Bush’s key foreign policies were unpopular, and by the time he left office Bush was viewed negatively in most of the countries we polled. His successor, Obama, generally received more positive ratings throughout his White House tenure.Today, in many countries, ratings for President Trump look very similar to those for Bush at the end of his term. This pattern is especially clear in Western Europe. In the UK, France, Germany and Spain, the low levels of confidence in Trump are very similar to the poor ratings for Bush in 2008.

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Wade McKenzie
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+ …the desperate last-gasp radicalism of American reactionary conservatives before the demographic deluge and the expected relegation of white-European Americans to “minority” status in “their own” [. . .]
Holy American Major League of Nations (Notes on Baseball and the Re-De-Nationalization of Americanism)
Wade McKenzie
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+ Speaking of George Friedman... The party of Chancellor Angela Merkel no longer uses the word “friend” to describe the United States in its platform. But in [. . .]
German Trust in America – the Trend (#OAG 12b)
bob
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just a note on your observation about the whiskey rebellion

https://youtu.be/ASZ7NXD4i1s

Holy American Major League of Nations (Notes on Baseball and the Re-De-Nationalization of Americanism)

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