The end of shame

The end of shame

The Washington Post
By Ruth Marcus
Image courtesy of Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

“I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed,” Jonathan Swift observed. That was three centuries ago, so our current, degraded condition has deep historical roots. Yet it feels, more and more, that we are experiencing the end of shame.

Our sad national trajectory has been on display recently with two oddly connected stories: Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore and the tax bill. They share a common thread in President Trump, but their significance goes beyond the president. Trump surely helped fuel the end of shame, but just as surely we were already on that degraded path.

No one who has watched Moore expected that reports of how he allegedly preyed on young girls would provoke shame from the egocentric, already discredited judge. Moore has long proved — with his flagrant disregard for constitutional values, his homophobia and racism — that he is impervious to such feelings.

The open question involved Moore’s true-believing supporters and political allies of convenience: At long last, had they any decency? For some, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and most of his colleagues, the answer has been a welcome yes. Others, most prominently Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) and, inevitably, Trump, have failed what should have been an easy test. To conclude that electing an accused child molester to the Senate is preferable to seating a Democrat is the epitome of shamelessness.

If hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, what does it say, exactly, when our most senior public officials feel no such compunction? What does it mean if we lose Swift’s capacity to wonder at the absence of shame?

 

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