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The Dishonor System

Civility and Manners matter more to democracy than we thought.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.

1 Corinthians 10:23–24 (New Revised Standard Version)

In the days since we learned of the passing of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one observation has come to mind: no one is doing anything illegal.

People may talk as if rushing a new justice before the election is illegal, it really isn’t. Neither was it illegal to refuse to consider Merritt Garland as President Obama’s third choice after the death of Antonin Scalia.

If you’re a Republican, you are probably nodding along and agreeing with me. But that’s going to change.

The other thing that’s not illegal is what could happen in a few months. If the Democrats gain the Senate, you could see Majority Leader Chuck Schumer put through a plan to increase the Supreme Court from 9 to 12 justices. He could also put through a bill that would make the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico become the 51st and 52nd states. Republicans would be steamed, but the fact of the matter is, such manouvering would be legal.

Everything is legal, but are they beneficial?

Over the last four years, one of the things that many of us have learned is how much democracy is based on the honor system. There weren’t laws forbidding the President from doing something, it was just believed that a leader would not do such a thing because they were people of honor. A dishonorable person like Trump has lifted the scales from our eyes.

What’s even worse is that a number of Senators swore up and down a few years ago that they would never do something like this and when the opportunity presents itself, all the pledges go down the memory hole. Politicians stretch the truth if not outright lie at times. But this particular lie reveals the bankruptcy of their character. They made big promises with their fingers crossed. Why should anyone Democrat ever trust them ever again?

A healthy democracy is one where people act with honor. That’s what we mean when we say that the honor system was such a big part of the presidency. A liberal democracy is one where people are virtous, which is not the same as trying to “follow the rules.” None of the things done in the Supreme Court wars are illegal, but those actions aren’t necessarily honorable or virtous. Just as the Apostle Paul says, “all things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial.”

Being as I am as a NeverTrumper, I am familiar with the talk of Donald Trump not caring about the rule of law and that is important. But it’s interesting how so many of the founding fathers believed in liberty and virtue. Democratic societies are not defined simply by following the law, they are defined in how we treat each other. Samuel Adams says all the laws in the land don’t matter if the people are without honor. “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.”

If America is defined by how virtous we are, we aren’t doing so well. Jonah Goldberg talks about the fact that conservatives are increasingly focused on what can be done than what should be done. Democrats are hardly innocent in this matter if we were to bring up examples of nuking the fillebuster and other sins.

There used to be a time, not that long ago when politicians who thought about things more than owning the other side. Richard Nixon is not considered the most ethical leader we’ve had, but he had moments where he rose above the muck of everyday politics. The 1960 Presidential election was a nailbiter with Senator John Kennedy winning narrowly against then Vice President Richard Nixon. Because the election was so close, there were people that wondered if there had been some vote fraud. A number of journalists and Republican politicians thought there was some evidence of vote rigging in Illionois and Texas. Nixon went as far as killing a story by the pro-Nixon New York Herald-Tribune that believed there was evidence of fraud. His reason? He didn’t want to create a constitutional crisis. He may have had the right to challenge the results, but Nixon thought the cost would be too much for the nation to bear. Virtue beat the law.

Is it better to be loved or feared? That’s the question I’ve heard in some long -ago movie that I’ve since forgotten. Nixon wanted to be loved, to be thought as someone who fought the good fight and was willing to lose for the better good of society. The politicians of today, led by our President, believe it matters more to be feared even if it doesn’t better the other person.

I still can’t remember what movie the phrase was from. What I do know is that it came from a movie about the mob. That should tell you something about our leaders in Washington.

Written by

A middle-aged pastor living in Minneapolis. I write about politics, religion, sexuality, and autism.

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