It has been a bad week for decency in America.
The current occupant of the Oval Office suggested that constitutional oversight was “nonsense” and that his opponents in Congress better wise up or fear for their safety because rogue military, police, and biker gangs are personally loyal to him.
We learned that the male head of the agency charged with resettling refugees has maintained weekly spreadsheets tracking the menstrual cycles of under-age girls within his agency’s control so that he could delay and ultimately block rape victims, some as young as 12 and some likely raped while in government custody, from terminating the pregnancies.
President Trump, who evaded public service of any sort until he could make it personally profitable, launched another series of attacks on a deceased senator whose life was a study in public service, while the still-sitting senator who promiscuously proclaimed his great friendship with the deceased continued slavishly to serve his dead friend’s attacker and antithesis.
We learned from court proceedings that the government continues to argue that it would be “too hard” for it to locate, let alone reunite with their parents, all the children seized during the period when its “zero tolerance” family separation policy was intended to terrorize refugees away from our borders.
And, when dozens of Muslim children, women, and men were slaughtered in a white supremacist terrorist attack on one of our closest friends in the community of nations, #45 ignored the sole request made by our friend’s prime minister, which was to express support and sympathy for Muslim communities at that fearful time. Instead, #45 retweeted Breitbart, ranted about the “invasion” of our own country, brushed aside unimpeachable statistics on escalating white supremacist terrorism, launched a vigorous defense of his favorite talk show white nationalists, and proclaimed himself the real victim. Again.
None of that is decent, moral, or defensible. And we all know it, right? Then why did most of our government and much of our citizenry just shrug it all off?
I grew up in a working class, small-town, mostly religious — my grandfather regularly proclaimed that clergy were by definition scoundrels, but the rest of us were herded to church every Sunday by my mother — extended family household which included my immigrant grandparents, who spoke their native tongue at home. Meals tended to be rollicking debates. Until the day my father died, I don’t think I ever agreed with him on a single political issue, starting with arguments over the dinner table when I was a pre-teen.
Under the clamor, though, were four consistent, consensus lessons – lead a “decent” life (even if no one’s watching), treat other people with respect (even if you disagree with them), understand that words and actions have consequences (so behave accordingly), and keep learning as long as you keep breathing (because, as my father said, you’re never as smart as you think you are, and other people are rarely as dumb as they seem).
When I’m gut-punched by the staggering horror of the slaughter in Christchurch last week – as well as by the now routine obscenities baked into the current era closer to home, such as brutalizing other people’s children in the name of God or Nero, debasing friends (dead or alive) and one’s own character to curry political favor, or demeaning the value, lives, and deaths of other people because they don’t look and pray like you – my first thought is not about legislative action, heightened security, or other cosmetic applications. My first thought is about those four, basic dinner-table lessons, which unfortunately can’t be legislated.
And the adjective that jumps to mind is “indecent.”
It is indecent that the president of the United States cannot directly and unequivocally express sympathy for the actual victims of a terrorist attack, and that he instinctively pivots to minimizing evidence of the spread of the malignant ideology of the terrorist.
It is indecent that so many religious communities seem to validate my grandfather’s gross slander by defending brutality, debauchery, and corruption when it produces the political access and judicial privilege to impose their alleged beliefs on others.
It is indecent that a party that purports to advocate constitutional constraint, limited government, rule of law, and moral rectitude so easily abandons any and all such principles in order to excuse, enable, and advance the obverse in exchange for an extension of minority rule.
It is indecent that the person who sits in the office of Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDR has become, whether by blither or design, the inspiration for a violent extremist ideology, and that the government over which he presides is spreading the contagion by denying its existence in exchange for short-term political gain.
And it is grossly indecent that so many of the rest of us have allowed ourselves to shrug that all off.
Enough is enough. As a first step forward, it’s time to reclaim our sense of decency.