“Ethics is nothing else than reverence for life.”
This week, American citizens — or at least the more than fifteen million of them that tuned in to the debate in Las Vegas — were stunned to discover that politics does not have to be a contact sport, blood letting and circus act. They’d largely forgotten, if they knew at all, that intelligent people have no need to talk over one another, toss out insults, and behave like loons in order to make their point.
Don’t get me wrong, there were diverse personalities on stage and not all of them above throwing a jab, as did Clinton about Sanders’s voting record on gun control, although both candidates have earned a solid and disapproving F from the National Rifle Association on gun rights. But by and large, the conversation was stimulating, the proceedings respectful and the politics progressive, except for ex-senator and military minded Jim Webb, whom one pundit described as a “perfectly respectable Republican.”
By the way, if you’re interested in finding out where each of our candidates — right and left — stand on policy as reflected by their record,you can find that information here.
If you read on-line and watch cable news, you will discover that everyone won the debate (except Webb and poor Lincoln Chaffee, who seems a very nice man but not up to the rigors of a presidential run). Polls, blogs, and forums all report that whoever you liked going in, you thought won at the end of the evening. Obviously, we like the sound of our thoughts echoed back to us.
Big Bill sent out an e-mail to the faithful, crowing that Hillary had swept the event, and mainstream (read that corporate) media agreed. She seemed poised and polished, having been at this ‘public scrutiny’ thing for most of her adult life, and offered an authentic and passionate moment when she discussed the Republican attack on Planned Parenthood. Hillary has an impressive record working with and for women.
On the other hand, alternative media and progressive sites all agreed that Bernie had won, having set the agenda that the Warren Wing of the Democratic party had embraced, heart and soul. Sanders led in all the casual polls and forums, and raised over a million dollars that evening, and two more million over the next two days, all from small contributors. The loser of the evening was probably Joe Biden, who, should he still be looking for a reason to run, found none.
The Pubs behaved as expected, most of them either professing boredom or referring to the debate as a conversation about “giving away free stuff,” like Medicare and Social Security. Lindsey Graham couldn’t bring himself to watch the whole thing, Trump couldn’t figure out why everyone was so nice to each other, and Karl Rove called Bernie “an elderly dyspeptic Bilbo Baggins,” still unaware, I suspect, that those on the left — and even much of moderate America — would gladly vote for Bilbo over any of the narrowly drawn bully-boys running on the right.
Now, if things go as currently projected and Hillary gets the most caucus votes, it seems clear that she has plenty of energy and confidence for the run and, although an Establishment politician, will have the loyalty of voters on the left. If, however, Bernie captures the nomination, there is very little about the man’s politics to object to in terms of where he wants to take domestic policy, even among many Republican voters who view Hillary through a filter of literally decades of disdain. Those wobbling righties who refuse to vote for a Democrat under any circumstance might look at their own candidate and decide an Independent who wants to take on Wall Street is not so bad.
That’s the report on the political week, up to the actual topic I want to discuss today, which is character — national, presidential, and individual. I think of Eric’s discussions about the Pluto/Uranus energies, echoed again this week with the activity in Virgo, when I consider how far we’ve slid down the zip line since the sixties. The antithesis of the altruistic, spiritually-inclined anti-establishment qualities I knew as a kid is represented in the needle-swing of today’s Republican Party, whose mistrust of government verges on manic, along with a frightening disregard for intellectual discourse and the measured but secular response of science or social science.
They are no longer interested in electing the smartest candidate in the crowd, they’re going for the brashest. They have no love of religious scholarship that asks big questions seeking larger answers, they’re more comfortable with snake-handlers and creationists. They cotton to Ayn Rand’s manifesto that the superior man takes what he wants and deserves what he takes, with no mind to the ideals of the republic and its commonwealth that have provided them the freedom to think so.
And ethics? When Donald Trump declared that God was awesome — because He’d made that wonderful golf course he was so lucky to have purchased at a heckuva bargain — and lost no polling points, had no evangelical pastor thunder against his shallowness from the pulpit, caused no mainstream media pundit to question the ineptitude of his response as a sop to the Religious Right, it is easy enough to surmise that ethics has no place in the right-wing. That’s the same right-wing whose purity tests are so stringent that very few Pubs can live their life ‘out loud’ and pass them — and so they don’t.
Which brings me back to Tuesday night’s debate. A few things happened that made me think ethics might be making a welcome comeback. Most everyone heard about Bernie’s deflecting the heat off Hillary for her e-mail dilemma, winning him approval and applause from those who consider the issue another of the time-wasting tactics the right likes to employ. I suspect that’s where Trump would have pounced, and where he began to scratch his head at such polite behavior. Indeed, nobody was expecting Mr. Sanders’ exasperated response to a loaded question, especially Mrs. Clinton whose face showed not just relief but absolute joy.
Now we could say that Bernie made that comment based on his dislike for political posturing and personal attack, that he was just living up to his pledge not to bash other candidates. Or we might say that his answer was an extraordinarily clever hop-scotch over a Hillary-centric question in order to make way for his own message (which he then delivered). But since Bernie is not scripted, I’m going to take him at his word; an explanation given to a reporter right after the debate, who asked why he’d done it. “It was,” said he, “the right thing to do.”
Sanders typically does what he thinks is right. For instance, when asked about black lives mattering, Bernie had the right answer, which drew thunderous applause and preempted the question. In his response, he mentioned the name of Sandra Bland — the young black woman who was arrested for a traffic violation in Waller County, Texas this summer, found hanging in her cell three days later — which he’d promised her mother he would do when they lunched together recently.
The meeting was accidental, and remained confidential, despite the kind of political volume it would have engendered, much like the dust-up over the Pope’s meeting with Kentucky’s anti-gay poster child and religious zealot, Kim Davis. Clearly, Sanders’ decision not to exploit that occasion was an ethical decision that would have gob-smacked the average politico, who would have found some covert way to leak his growing bona fides with the black community, pre-debate.
Doing the right thing — despite the consequences — is within Bernie Sanders’s character, and I can’t tell you for sure that such ethical politics won’t disqualify him for the American presidency. That will be largely up to us as a culture and a constituency, able in the next months to push the nation into a return to ethical rule of law designed to meet public need, committing ourselves to that movement — or not.
I’m not bashing Hillary in this piece, as she’s doing a fine job of leaning as left as she can without cutting the threads she’s spent a lifetime weaving into the monetized politics of corporate neo-liberalism. If the left holds her to campaign promises, she may overcome her moderation to make some waves on domestic issues. I’m less hopeful about international entanglement.
But doing the right thing is something many of us have found a resonance for — some even a passion — not just in our own lives but projected into the community and beyond to government. So much that we see on a daily basis seems the wrong thing to do, institutionalized, politicized and stubbornly unyielding. So much is just plain unethical.
For instance, it’s hard to argue against a call for free (or even reasonably priced) public education when we discover that outstanding student loans amount to over a trillion dollars, a good portion of that in profit to the government, or hear of seniors dependent on Social Security having their checks garnished for back payment.
It’s difficult to justify multi-billions in corporate welfare to businesses that not only don’t need a hand, but don’t pay a cent in taxes to the nation that continues to feed them with perks and public money, while still playing with the notion of further cuts to the safety net.
It’s ridiculous to note the uptick in medical insurance and pharmaceutical costs when it’s clear that the prices being charged are “all the market can bear,” even though the free market isn’t free, the fair market is only a glimmer in a progressive’s eye, and all the market can bear is akin to Ayn Rand in perpetual orgasm. And that’s just the obvious.
It’s not the right thing to continue doing so much that we do these days, including celebrate bogus holidays that were politicized from the git-go. Since we’re just past it, let’s take Columbus Day as a likely example of how much we got wrong — and how diligently some of us are trying to make it right.
As I’ve already exceeded my word limit (!) I’ll offer a few quotes and links, for your exploration. This is a topic dear to the heart of natives of this nation and continent, and those of us who identify with them. I like what David Swanson has to say about Christopher Columbus, who we should all acknowledge was cruel to the point of sadism, possibly even a sociopath, and responsible for beginning a genocide that eliminated over 90% of this continent’s indigenous population even BEFORE the Pilgrims landed:
“Columbus was not a particularly evil person. He was a murderer, a robber, an enslaver, and a torturer, whose crimes led to possibly the most massive conglomeration of crimes and horrific accidents on record. But Columbus was a product of his time, a time that has not exactly ended. If Columbus spoke today’s English he’d say he was “just following orders.” Those orders, stemming from the Catholic “doctrine of discovery,” find parallels through Western history right down to today’s “responsibility to protect,” decreed by the high priests of the United Nations.
Evil is almost always mundane, is it not? A feisty little Italian, given to overreach, trying to impress the leaders of his country and church, while making a little stash for himself? A man not unlike some we know today. So long as we continue this antiquated notion of Manifest Destiny and colonialism, pushing ourselves where we’re not wanted in search of resources not ours — as long as we pretend that might makes right and profit is all that matters — we continue to be the anachronistic evil that infects the human race.
There are communities all across this nation changing out Columbus Day activities for celebrations of their native peoples, like Seattle’s Indigenous People’s Day. All it takes for that kind of sanity to spread is an educated population, respect for humankind and yes, a determination to do what’s right. Besides those already indicated, here are a couple more links worth your time — weekend reads, if you will — the first from people’s historian, Howard Zinn.
Doing the right thing is a matter of personal consciousness, of course, but it should look like, feel like, a higher calling than self-seeking and aggrandizement. An easy enough template to follow: whenever it looks like an ego-stroke, you can bet it is one.
When we live our life reaching up for that ‘right thing,’ integrity not only becomes easier, it becomes easier to notice when it’s absent. That’s where many of us find ourselves today — sensitized to what’s gone missing, and longing for it. The magic of transformation is found in doing what’s right instead of what’s easy.
If enough of us adopt that philosophy, the collective mind will change for the better, and perhaps in exercising those spiritual muscles we will find that we’ve discovered our purpose. Like Albert Schweitzer — a man of great compassion and a lifetime of service — told us, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
It does seem to be Bernie’s thing, and a number of others I can think of, but few of them with a stomach for politics. Maybe we need to make it our thing, too, if we’re to create the personal, as well as collective, world we’re yearning for.