Monday, July 24, 2017

The honor of thieves

I try not to bring politics into this blog, not because I don't spend inordinate amounts of time following the latest horrors, but because what the regime will not tolerate is independent thought, long-term thinking, subtlety, the quest for... ways of living in truth and justice with all beings?

But I have to say something about the appointment of the new White House communications director. just one thing. In a TV interview he promised to help aid and abet [the president's] agenda. But "aid and abet" is, to the best of my knowledge, a term from criminal law, denoting conspiracy in helping someone commit a crime.

This bothers me not because it's a misuse of language, but because it may be a very canny use of language. It's not just the kind of promise of personal loyalty the president demands (and what is loyalty if it's not standing with you when you're wrong?), it's the suggestion that what the nation needs is the honor of thieves.

In an article I read a few weeks ago, someone said that to understand the president one needed to understand the New York real estate milieu he came from, one in which if you avoided the appearance of impropriety, you weren't trying hard enough. The Republican leadership in Congress has been learning to play that game, too.

It's not just that politics has always been sleazy, or that some people may think the stakes so high that scruples must be put aside under some circumstances. Brazenly flirting with impropriety is the style of the capitalist deal-maker, for whom everything is up for grabs (there is no such thing as a fair price, my sister learned the first day in her course on business ethics years ago) except that some people win - usually the strong and canny - and others lose. That was the worldview of America First as described by Mattis and Cohn: the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors, and businesses engage and compete for advantage.

Why would people accept such a vile view? Perhaps because some have always lived by this law, and some of those have spent recent years fearing payback. But more, I think, because the world many have to make a life in is one where values don't matter, just "win." The White House Counselor famous for the coinage alternative facts says that everyone knows the President doesn't think he's lying. She wasn't calling him delusional or unmoored from reality. She thinks all sane people accept that it's not a question he has time for - and his career has rewarded him richly for this agility. How quaint of some of the rest of us to think he should waste time on it - cravenly and culpably quaint when those who claim to be truth-tellers are all liars too. (Read all about that in the alt-press!) There's an honesty in the man's refusal to pretend people can be good, superior to the hypocrisy of those who piously claim otherwise. (Masha Gessen has warned us about the toxic infectious cynicism of authoritarians.)

This isn't to downplay the particular amorality and cynicism of these particular profiteers, nor is it to deny that the "fake news" playbook was written, and known to be written, in Russia. It's an attempt to make sense of good people's - I persist in believing most people are good, if not the same number as think they are - support of the man. They're not fools. They see what we see (if not always presented in nested Russian dolls) and think they can live with it, or have to.

How, in a time when people think they can't afford to expect propriety, can one rebuild a national conversation? Not to say "I know better." Perhaps: "I want to understand."

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