Shame and Honor

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Back in the nineteen nineties there was an uproar when Bill Clinton eventually admitted his indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky. Both the public and his Republican opponents decried the fact that he had betrayed his wife and his office. There was a hue and cry proclaiming that he should feel a sense of shame for his lies. Many wondered what had happened to the sense of honor among our leaders and lawmakers. For decades the stain of President Clinton’s “sin” followed him and his wife. There was a kind of self righteous furor that engulfed him and members of his party who seemed reluctant to condemn his behavior. Many like myself felt betrayed because we had been ardent supporters and some of us even wondered how it was possible for his wife to accept such a public humiliation by staying married to him under the circumstances.

I remember having a long conversation with my mother who maintained that it was fine for me to feel anger toward him given that I had thought him to be a better person than his actions showed him to be. On the other hand, Mama argued, his relationship with his wife was a private thing, none of my business. Believing in the sanctity of marriage and being a proponent of forgiveness, she insisted that it was a beautiful act of love when Hillary chose to stand by Bill even while she admitted how much his actions had hurt.

I suppose that I learned a great deal about my mother’s wisdom with those discussions. In a sense she taught me a bit about a life as it really is. I began to understand that it was not my place to judge the relationship between two adults, but that I was free to have expectations about how an elected official carried out the duties of an office. As a voting citizen I have every right to desire that our official leaders should always operate with a sense of honor, and that they should be called to task when they bring shame to our country with egregious actions. Therefore, I understood the anger and judgement that drove Republicans to vote to impeach President Clinton. He had betrayed a sacred public trust and deserved the humiliation that was heaped upon him. As much as it pained me to admit, he had brought the fury upon himself.

I was, of course, saddened by developments because I thought that President Clinton had been one of the best presidents of the twentieth century. He had done a tremendous job, but there were ultimately far too many questions about his character to ensconce him in a hall of fame. It seemed such a waste of a brilliant mind. His feet of clay had made him seem ordinary and small.

The Republicans reveled in their self righteousness. They claimed the moral high ground, and even though I had twice voted for President Clinton I had to admit that he was wrong. I too felt a bitter disappointment in how he had conducted himself.

Now as a nation we are facing an all new moral dilemma with President Trump, and to my utter dismay I find that the same Republican party that was so eager to chastise President Clinton is mostly either defending or remaining silent about the salacious and disgusting behavior of the president. I find myself wondering where the men and women of honor have gone. I worry that we have truly reached a point at which the end justifies the means. We have surrendered to the god of winning rather than asserting the need for honor above all else.

I dream of seeing a moment when a Barry Goldwater leads a contingent of party members to a President Nixon and advises him to leave office for the sake of the country. That is honor. That is high moral character. That bold action forced me to view Goldwater with a new admiration. I was proud of our leaders at that moment. Today I look into the void and see so few who are willing to stand up for what is right and good not for victory at the polls, but for love of country. I see only a handful of such individuals, and without support they just get slapped down with insults from President Trump and his supporters.

I have made a list of the few good men and women who have the courage to speak the truth. John McCain has become one of my heroes, along with Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake, and Robert Corker. They have all been willing to speak out whenever they feel that President Trump is outrageously leading our country in a questionable direction. They have been unafraid to to what they believe to be right, even when it may mean losing political support. Few others have followed their lead. There is a deafening silence from most Republicans that I believe will tarnish them individually and as a party.

In fairness I also do not think that the gloating that is so apparent in the ranks of Democrats is much better. Their own track record in regard to setting an example of high moral character is far from sterling. In fact, much of the unwillingness to work in a bipartisan manner began with the events surrounding President Clinton and has only escalated in the ensuing years. There are not many Democrats willing to view any event from the perspective of what is right and good, rather than whatever they believe will help them win the seats of power.

I long for a time when honor wins, not just among the members of the political parties, but also among the voters. We need to send a loud and clear message that lying, cheating, and dirty tricks are unacceptable regardless of who does such things. The slippery slope of acceptance in the name of winning what we want is a dangerous way to go.