Wednesday, July 15, 2020


I know I have written about it before. Maybe several times before. But I got into this debate last night with the group of men with whom I have started to meet regularly once a month and the subject came up once again. 

The whole thing started, I think, with my expressing a confusion of emotions in our current situation. It's hard not to feel angry at the way the government of this country is being mishandled--not only, but especially the pandemic that besets us. I share the anger of those who are tired of the oppression they have experienced in a multitude of ways, not least at the hands of those whose sworn duty is to "protect and serve" them, along with every other citizen. The fear that rises in me all too frequently these days has to do with the future of the country, the world, the planet we inhabit: will it all survive for the benefit of my grandchildren and future generations? The answer is unclear. And then there's the sadness, the grief, the sense of loss that comes in part naturally, with age, in part as a result of all of the above.

Which led us into sharing views on the social and political climate that now so deeply affects our lives. Which led us in turn to our judgments of the man who, many of us feel, has led us into our current predicament. Which led us to the question of integrity. Of four men, three of us saw the president as a man entirely lacking in integrity. Between us, we cited numerous examples of the kind of words and actions on his part that betrayed a lack of compassion, understanding, human decency, and concern for the well-being of the country and its people. We pointed to his intellectual dishonesty, his obsessive lying, his tenuous relationship with science and factual reality.

The specter of both-sides-ism arose, and I expressed a firm rejection of the notion that both sides on the political spectrum bear equal blame for corruption, cynicism, and distortion of the truth. I see no equivalence between one side that habitually cheats and lies and caters to the worst qualities in its supporters and another that strives for decency, compassion, mutual respect, equality. No human is without flaws, we could all agree, and there is bad behavior on both sides of the spectrum. Even so, I insisted, the judicious exercise of discernment should enable us to make sensible preferential choices between one side and the other. 

We arrived at a familiar issue: whether laudable actions in one area should excuse execrable actions in another; specifically, could the president's actions to halt the sex trafficking of children be used as an excuse for the enforced separation of many other children from their parents at this country's border, and their enforced imprisonment in sordid and intolerable circumstances? And should one--or even a few--admirable deeds be allowed to weigh against the preponderance of despicable ones? The argument of our majority was that, in the matter of integrity, that should not be the case. Our minority member insisted that the president should not be judged; he could see "slivers of integrity" even where we opponents saw an almost universal absence of that quality.

Integrity, in my view--and I expressed it without reservation--does not come in slivers.  It is, by definition, whole. It is characterized by honesty, good character, cohesion, a consistently honored set of values. Call it, perhaps, honor. Or an old, some would say quaint expression, virtue. Like pregnancy, famously, it's all or nothing: just as you can't be a little bit pregnant, you don't get to claim integrity on the basis of some of your actions while you practice the opposite in others. It's integrity that inspires trust, and trust is the prerequisite for all human transactions, whether social, political, or simply personal. And in this, with all the goodwill I can muster,  I do not see an equivalence of either responsibility or blame.

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