The Call Of Moral Duty

I empathize with Michael Gerson, George W. Bush’s former speechwriter who is now a columnist for the Washington Post. Closer to home, I’m sympathetic to conservative blogger Paul Ogden. Despite significant policy disagreements with them, I respect these longtime conservatives, because they are two of the few–very few–who have remained intellectually honest during the Trumpification of the GOP.

People like these remind us that there is an intellectually respectable conservative philosophy, and that its basic tenets haven’t changed even if the party that used to espouse them has.

In a recent column for the Post, Gerson confronts the conflict between political philosophy and a desire to exercise power.

Is it time for anti-Trump conservatives to recognize that they have lost the political and policy battle within the GOP and to accommodate themselves as best they can to an uncomfortable reality?

This is the argument of the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Henry Olsen, one of the most thoughtful political analysts on the right. On issues such as trade, immigration and the Muslim travel ban, he argues, Republican critics of President Trump are dramatically “out of step with conservative[s].”

As Gerson sees it, this is a call to put aside differences on some policies in order to work together on the implementation of other goals upon which there is broad agreement within the conservative movement. In the abstract, that’s normal political realism; even within a particular faction of the same party, policy differences will exist and need to be negotiated.

As Gerson recognizes, however, these aren’t normal times.

If Trump were merely proposing a border wall and the more aggressive employment of tariffs, we would be engaged in a debate, not facing a schism. Both President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush played the tariff chess game. As a Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney endorsed the massive “self-deportation” of undocumented workers without the rise of a #NeverRomney movement.

But it is blind, even obtuse, to place Trumpism in the same category. Trump’s policy proposals — the details of which Trump himself seems unconcerned and uninformed about — are symbolic expressions of a certain approach to politics. The stated purpose of Trump’s border wall is to keep out a contagion of Mexican rapists and murderers. His argument is not taken from Heritage Foundation policy papers. He makes it by quoting the racist poem “The Snake,” which compares migrants to dangerous vermin. Trump proposes to ban migration from some Muslim-majority countries because Muslim refugees, as he sees it, are a Trojan-horse threat of terrorism. Trump’s policy ideas are incidental to his message of dehumanization.

So how do we split the political difference on this one? Shall we talk about Mexican migrants as rapists on every other day? Shall we provide rhetorical cover for alt-right bigots only on special occasions, such as after a racist rally and murder?

Gerson continues his analysis: Republicans criticize media bias, but Trump is trying to delegitimize criticism as “fake news” and mainstream journalists as “enemies of the people.”  Politicians being investigated can be expected to push back, but Trump is trying to discredit all federal law enforcement and he deliberately cultivates citizen distrust of a mythical“deep state.”

We have seen similar damage in the realm of values and norms. In the cultivation of anger and tribalism. In the use of language to inflame and demean. In the destruction of a common factual basis for politics, making policy compromise of the kind Olsen favors impossible.

As Gerson says, these choices are not a dialectic requiring synthesis. They’re alternatives demanding a choice. Instead of capitulating to the party’s white nationalists in hopes of policy victories and partisan dominance, Gerson counsels elected leaders to “remind Americans who they are and affirm our common bonds,” and to work for an

agenda of working-class uplift, not an agenda of white resentment — which will consign Republicans to moral squalor and (eventually) to electoral irrelevance. For principled conservatives to hear the call of moral duty and stand up for their beliefs until this madness passes. As it will.

People join political parties for all sorts of reasons. Both parties are mixtures of policy wonks, rigid ideologues and political theorists along with rank and file folks influenced by their parents, co-workers or friends.

Trumpism confronts the dwindling number of intellectually-honest Republicans with a difficult choice: whether to swallow hard and continue to be obedient soldiers in a debased, white nationalist GOP, or remain true to the conservative philosophy that led them to join the party in the first place, even at the cost of antagonizing old friends.

The call of moral duty is clear.


  1. “In a recent column for the Post, Gerson confronts the conflict between political philosophy and a desire to exercise power.

    Is it time for anti-Trump conservatives to recognize that they have lost the political and policy battle within the GOP and to accommodate themselves as best they can to an uncomfortable reality?”

    Copied and pasted from the web site, Slate News & Politics; from an Isaac Chotiner, March 13, 2018 interview:

    “In a new cover story for the Atlantic, the conservative commentator Michael Gerson examines why America’s white evangelicals have gone all in for a president that you might have once thought they would find grotesque. Despite his terrible conduct toward women, his racism, and his disregard for basic human decency, Donald Trump has managed to convince many evangelicals that he will protect what they see as their endangered status in modern-day America. He has also delivered to them a policy agenda rich in social conservativism. Gerson, a harsh Trump critic, looks at the complex history of America’s evangelical communities, and comes to the conclusion that the embrace of Trump will ultimately be corrupting and catastrophic. As he writes, “This is the result when Christians become one interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Christianity is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way. And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.”

    “The call of moral duty is clear.”

    Sheila’s final comment says it all; Gerson seems to see two options for the GOP, “to accommodate themselves as best they can to an uncomfortable reality” or “to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.” We, here on this blog and around the country can agree we are dealing with our “worst leaders” in our entire history; much of the world agrees with this view.
    It all leaves the apparent insurmountable question; how do we get ourselves out of this Trumpism quagmire? Like that old adage regarding the weather, “Everybody talks about it but no one does anything about it.” Is the Democratic party’s duty to lead us or are we to lead the party to solutions which we cannot legally act upon?

    And please; let us NOT argue about the failings of the two-party system being the cause of the failure. We cannot and should not switch to a three-party system in mid-stream..or mid-election year; we need to work within the system we have. I believe a three-party system would result in a deeper failure than we currently see, the 2016 four-party election should have been a lesson for all of us as it helped turn the election over to the Electoral College who appointed Trump. But that is another issue for another day…and another blog.

  2. Sorry JoAnne, but you are living in an alternate reality. When Sheila uses, “Politicians being investigated can be expected to push back, but Trump is trying to discredit all federal law enforcement and he deliberately cultivates citizen distrust of a mythical“deep state.”

    “Mythical deep state.”?????

    Trump rode in on the wave of Koch funded Tea Partyism. As Leon has always pointed, liberalism is killing America. Rigid conservatism is no different than close-mindedness. Pence and many other Republicans today disregard scientific facts over biblical raptures. Who invests their whole beliefs in a text written 2,000 years ago? There is no agreement over who Jesus was, yet all I hear today is we need to “all get along”.

    I’m not sure, but the Jews and Romans persecuted Jesus and hung him on a cross.

    When I read an educated woman write, “Politicians being investigated can be expected to push back, but Trump is trying to discredit all federal law enforcement and he deliberately cultivates citizen distrust of a mythical“deep state.”, I am truly concerned.

    The Koch brothers financed the anti-GOP establishment movement. Why?

    Many books have been written explaining why. Matt Taibbi with the Rolling Stones has done an excellent job of documenting the demise of the establishment GOP. Noam Chomsky has also explained why.

    There are too many ideologues who haven’t accepted that our body politic is a fraud and so if our political spectrum. There is no center, right and left. Our economic system rules all the other systems. Political parties were supposed to be checks and balances of power. There are NO checks and NO balances of power.

    Those with economic clout rule the social realm. How many votes do you think the Koch brothers will get if they publicized their real agenda?

    Why do you think they meet in private? Even our so-called press isn’t allowed inside during meetings of ALEC when our “elected representatives” are present and discussing public policies.

    Dwight Eisenhower, a military general and president, warned in his farewell speech:

    “Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

    Plato warned about an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry”…guess what?

    We didn’t listen to those warnings.

  3. The Call of Moral Duty was screaming before drumpf was elected – was it heard then? No. I don’t mean to be the eternal pessimist, but given the track record over the past year and some months.., please – moral duty? First you have to find the people with morals and the brains to carry out what needs to be done and NOW, or forget it.

  4. Conservatives have a moral duty, but they also have an intellectual duty. They continue to espouse “trickle down” economics, when we have clearly seen that it does not work. It didn’t work under Reagan and it didn’t work under Bush 43. Now we are trying it again.

    Even those conservatives who admit that climate change is real seem to have a hard time agreeing that humans are largely responsible, although science tells us we are. Conservatives continue to support he fossil fuel industries and its endeavors to wring every last drop of oil from the earth, despite the damage that is currently doing (over 200,000 gallons of oil spilled from the Keystone XL pipeline).

    Conservatives continue to espouse increased defense spending. The DoD budget was just increased by $80 billion, in spite of the fact that we already spent more than the next 8 countries combined. Also, we fail to recognize that future warfare will not look like it does today. It won’t be so much “boots on the ground” as “eyes in the skies.” Imagine what even half of that $80 billion could do for our veterans.

    I would urge our conservative friends to re-read the preamble to the Constitution and give more consideration to “promote the general welfare” than to “provide for the common defense”.

  5. Apologies. I lost a “t” somewhere. If you find it, please return it to “the” fossil fuel industries. Thank you.

  6. Todd; from my “alternate reality” I view your concern regarding Sheila’s comment to be misplaced. If all you are hearing today is “…we need to all get along”; you haven’t been listening.

    “Even our so-called press isn’t allowed inside during meetings of ALEC when our “elected representatives” are present and discussing public policies.”

    Having worked inside the Indianapolis Republican City Government for a number of years; the last few years as Records Secretary for the Metropolitan Development Commission, the most powerful Board in the state of Indiana, I am aware of the reasoning and the need for the press not be be inside their development meetings. They are information gathering, researching, comparing information, making decisions and putting together solutions in a format to be presented to the Commission and at the same time, made available to the media. The Commission had a pre-meeting; prior to this pre-meeting I sent out more than 100 mailings to the press, department heads, corporation representatives who had an interest in issues, et al; to know what issues would be covered at the actual Commission meeting and if any changes were to be made to the agenda. There is a valid reason the press in not involved in the initial decision making meetings between individual staff members submitting proposals but they were always welcome to ask questions or add views at the pre-meeting prior to the public meeting. It wasn’t a “cover-up” it was to prevent misinformation from becoming public before decisions on issues were made.

  7. So, Todd, how is it that you know about the Koch brothers’ “secret agenda”? Do you get to attend their meetings, or are you just a fly on the wall?

    Yes, yes. All the hand-wringing and tooth gnashing about Trump is valid. He is our version of a fascist stumbling into power…like you-know-who did in 1932 Germany. And yet…. And yet, the orange hairball retains a stubborn 40% approval rating from a variety of polls. FORTY PERCENT!!!

    So, all this babble about the GOP lurching to the cliff’s edge of outright fascism is not addressing how we’re going to save the country from the economic demons running our politics. They are so good at what they do that they’ve convinced 40% of our citizens that being led to the slaughterhouse is good for mankind and their well-being.

    How does that get fixed without an outright revolution in politics AND economics?

  8. Vernon; I had some curiosity over a CNN sudden increase in Trump approval poll of 42%; SSRS, a storage and research site telephoned 1,014 people to reach that figure. The poll was taken March 23-25 with that 42% approval rating released on March 27. On March 29 CNN released a report that a poll of Americans resulted in more than 50% of the country stating they would NOT reelect Trump. This CNN poll was accomplished by SSRS calling 1,014 people from March 23-25; the report was ordered held to be released on March 29th. Just sayin’

  9. I’m with Peggy. Indeed the Preamble sets out the rationale for even having a Constitution, and it is one we have largely ignored. It will surprise some to hear that I regard myself as a fiscal conservative in that I want a buck’s worth for a buck. The utter waste of our resources for more contracts with Boeing, Northrup and other big defense contractors when unnecessary by any reasonable standard come to mind, especially with tens of millions in poverty in this country, and yes, such waste in the face of need by the many does amount to a need for a moral compass. So morality is a hazy standard at best? Tell me what standard we are using in the endless development of a fighter plane that has cost billions of dollars and still is in need of “further development.” Ike was right with his much-quoted warning of the military – industrial complex (though I voted against him twice on other grounds).

    On the political and social front, Trumpism’s berating of Muslims in his alliance with certain elements of Christianity anxious to share political power suggest that such Christians are likely a greater threat to American democracy than Muslims. Trump the opportunist would be putting down Christians if this were a Muslim country. He really isn’t for anything or anybody but himself and the rapid accumulation of assets. That fundamental inability to act in a representative capacity gives rise to all sorts of endangerment to our democratic values, notably but not limited to a fair sharing of the income and wealth of our economy with all the actors involved rather than just the pockets of financiers .

    I am not a conservative, though I may agree with conservatives on isolated issues, and Gerson is right. We should be arguing about real issues, not porn stars and impeachment potential. I sometimes think Trump in his twisted mind may enjoy all these side issues as they sate his narcissistic desire for the headlines and cover up his real motives in accelerating personal gain. Whether I have guessed Trump’s state of mind and hidden intentions or not, it could not be clearer that what he is or is not doing or what he has done or talks about doing are grave threats to our democracy and, like a cancer on the body politik, must be excised this fall, and yes, theft and misuse of office are moral as well as secular issues. To the Bastille in November!

  10. I recently listened to a podcast produced by Politico on their “Off Message” show in which Arnold Schwarzenegger sat for a one-hour interview entitled “Schwarzenegger lets loose on Trump, Big Oil and #MeToo.” After years of discounting this man because of my own prejudices, I really listened to what he had to say and he MAKES SENSE and is a very knowledgeable individual. The thought crossed my mind that it’s too bad he can’t become our president. He is the exact opposite of our current #45, and anyone would do well to sit down and listen to this podcast. It initially aired on March 11, but remains available for listening. It is an hour well-spent.

  11. Manuel Colunga-Hernandez, thank you for saying (typing) what I’ve been thinking for months!

    This entire administration has no morality.

  12. JoAnn,

    Yes, such a small sample size and the timing are difficult to reconcile in statistics. With all sorts of new things going on daily, any snapshot is out of date before the ink is dry. Thanks for the input.

  13. In my opinion the root of our problems is not very sophisticated. We have been led by many to abandon the commons – the collective – we the people – the country and to focus instead on I the person – the family – the business – the individual. That is simply dysfunctional especially in an overcrowded highly connected world.

    We speculate every day here as to whether the process that dragged us away from what works is reversible but nobody knows.

    We imagine that because liberalism focuses on what we have been led from it can lead us back when in reality it is the politics of what to do when the culture is functional not how to take it back to when it was.

    What we need is a new founding, new founders, a revolution. Only after that can liberal democracy do again what it did.

  14. Interesting article in Politico: Church of The Donald Never mind Fox. Trump’s most reliable media mouthpiece is now Christian TV.

    By the time Trump arrived on the political scene, it almost didn’t matter that he wasn’t much of a Christian, or tended to mangle the names of the books of the Bible. This audience recognized him as a kindred spirit in everything but religion. His hair-sprayed reality-TV persona—to say nothing of the bluster and the heroic monologues—aren’t that far from the preaching style that has prospered on cable evangelism.

    And his (the Trumpets) books and TV persona dovetailed surprisingly well with the “prosperity gospel” preaching that thrives on Christian TV, the relatively new American theology in which material wealth is seen not only as a reward for good behavior, but a kind of endorsement by God.
    Given the “prosperity gospel” the scam artists in The Trump Regime would get a pass. However, there has to be opposition.

    ‘Trump Agenda Is Dead,’ Declares Sanders, If Democrats Do What It Takes To Win in 2018. Sanders told the Times there’s still “a tendency to believe that more conservative candidates are better positioned to win,” even as large planks contained in his progressive agenda—like Medicare for All, fighting for a much higher minimum wage, defending labor unions and works, and fighting for far-reaching action on the climate crisis—have shown to be resonating much more with voters across the country.

    During public remarks earlier this month, Sanders drew condemnation from some party members for pointing out that “the business model” of the Democratic Party over the last decade and a half—given that it has lost about 1,000 seats in state legislatures during that time—”has been a failure.”

  15. New book released today on Amazon and Kindle:
    Why Angels Weep: America and Donald Trump
    Authored by Vernon Turner

    List Price: $20.00
    6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
    Black & White on White paper
    212 pages
    ISBN-13: 978-1717207043 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
    ISBN-10: 1717207049
    BISAC: Political Science / Political Process / Campaigns & Elections
    When angels weep, something is terribly wrong. The election of Donald Trump, a minority President, has shaken the foundations of democracies around the world. This is a man with no governing experience, a massive ego, and a bullying attitude who also possesses the nuclear codes that could destroy all life on Earth.

    How did we come to this place? Who allowed themselves to be conned by a New York real estate hustler such that our very Constitution is attacked by a dictatorial agenda? How did subterranean pundits suddenly have the ear of this president?

    Ask yourself these and any other question you like, because “Why Angels Weep: America and Donald Trump” seeks to answer them all and suggest how we might fix the causes of such a frightening and disturbing occurrence.

    It’s time for each of us who claim to be true patriots to examine our own and others’ motives that made us so susceptible to the long con game of Donald Trump.

    Fasten your seat belt and enjoy the ride, the lessons and the possibilities for our future in this compelling book.

    Vernon Turner is a retired industrial engineer and science educator who currently publishes columns for specialty outlets. Vernon has traveled to all the continents except Antarctica and learned the wonderful things the good people around the globe have to offer.

    He started writing a political column in Marble Falls, TX in 2009, and watched it lead to a third career and four published books; this one being the fifth. Vernon’s hobbies include model replica building and following his favorite baseball and hockey teams.

  16. So if we have the blue wave in November, what is the reaction from the Republican Trump-faithful going to be? How are they going to reconcile that reality?

  17. Daleb – easy answer – stolen election and conspiracy by the liberal media

    I never liked the term “slippery slope”, but if you look from Nixon’s Southern Strategy to Reagan’s Welfare Queens and beginning his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi (yes, it’s OK to kill a couple of Jews and a N****r to protect the South), Republicans have been compromising for a long time. They glowingly spoke of a “permanent Republican majority” and now we have a President who wants to jail his political opponents and a Republican party that puts winning elections (and stacking the courts) as their only priority.

    It has been a long slide down, getting worse as they went. True conservatives abhorred the reactionary elements (think John Birch Society), just as the Democratic left feared anyone using the term socialism (let alone communism). Conservatives need to fight to regain their party, or let the Republicans go the way of the Whigs and come up with a new party. In either case, our country would be better off.

  18. I don’t remember anybody from the “Democrat left” expressing fear from anyone using the term “socialism”.

  19. Isms are just that – isms. Socialism may be a good fit for an economy in a given time, place and circumstance. Capitalism may work in others. The Constitution is silent on what economy we are to have but Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was published in the same year (1776) that our revolution began and I assume that most colonial Americans assumed that we would have a then form of capitalism. However, time, place and circumstance change, like everything else, so that particular ism is not written in stone. We should select an economic system, in my view, which provides a fair sharing of the income and wealth of the particular system selected, which is not the case with capitalism as now practiced. Personally, I would prefer to have an economy on the order of the one Germany now has, which has provided an explosion of the middle class and where wage inequality is prohibited by law, but that is unlikely to happen any time soon since the superrich have purchased our politics, thanks to, inter alia, Citizens United. Perhaps the millennials will resurrect unions and abolish wage inequality – or so I hope.

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