Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Moral Disgrace As Public Entertainment


Extending back to the earliest days of the great experiment known as America, there have been a handful of social, cultural and political verities which have never been far from center stage.  These verities - call them America's version of Hegel's Dialectics (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) - include: individualism-versus-community; Federalism-versus-States' Rights; fear of "the malignant other"; and moral disgrace as public entertainment.  The first (individualism-versus-community) is what divides those who believe that most - if not all - individuals can succeed on their own just so long as there are no prior civil restraints, and those who hold that success is best achieved by people working together toward a common goal.  The second (Federalism-versus States' Rights) is the individualism-versus-community dichotomy raised to the political level; namely that the American polity works best when power descends from above versus working best when power ascends from below. The third (fear of "the malignant other") is the recurrent national mania for blaming others - "outsiders," and "aliens" "communists" or "authoritarian populists" for the nation's social, political or economic problems.  The fourth and last verity is "moral disgrace as public entertainment," a concept first popularized by writer Philip Roth in his lamentably underrated 1998 roman à clef I Married a Communist. This verity has played on the American stage ever since the days of the Salem Witch Trials, which - again in the words of Mr. Roth - ". . . fed the pleasures of paranoia." For in addition to partaking in the "malignant other" verity,  the trials were damned entertaining to boot.  Similarly did the "Know Nothings" of the 1840s, the McCarthyites of the 1950s and today's Trumpeters know the entertainment value of turning both moral and mental disgrace into a good public show. 

Make no mistake about it: the nation's 45th President is a moral, mental and political disgrace.  I mean, would a sane, balanced person starkly tell the world "I am a stable genius?" But beyond this, in putting both America and the very planet we occupy into grave peril, America's "mean widdle kid" (remember Red Skelton?) persists in masquerading as public entertainment. From his orange bird's nest coif to his penchant for puerile early-morning Tweets and exiguous grasp of civics, American history, the Constitution and our very political process, '45 is a train wreck posing as a transcontinental glide. And, with the publication of Michael Wolff's new tell-all Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (which I, unlike many, have already managed to procure and read) we have now had the worst, basest, most repugnant aspects of the man and his presidency reified.  This is  not to say that each and every charge, each and every quote in Wolff's 336-page work is rock-solidly irrefutable.  With works of this sort, nothing is ever 100% verifiable. However, the welter of tell-all impressions and quotes backs up the certain knowledge that '45 is a man-child in the promised land; an illiterate naif floundering in a sea of lethal omnivores. 

What '45 does not know or understand about realpolitik - whether local, national or (gasp!) international - imperils both the nation and the planet. The fact that he possesses few - if any - core beliefs, leaves him totally vulnerable to the last voice he's heard or last telecast he's viewed. According to author Wolff, '45 is a man who neither reads nor listens; a man who is far far more concerned with being lionized than solving problems; a man who, like the Platte River, is six inches deep and a mile wide the mouth. (n.b. This bon mot is not mine; it was originally used to describe William Jennings Bryan the "Boy Orator of the Platte" back in the late 19th century.) How else can one understand '45's obsessive  push to undermine or overturn virtually everything enacted by his predecessor for no other reason than the former president's having trolled and gently poked fun at him during a White House Corespondents' dinner in 2015? Never mind that the man(child) President Obama was punking had been at the forefront of the whole "birther" cannard. To '45, inconsistency means far less then impropriety. How else to explain that while neither '45 nor his official spokespeople have yet to deny any of writer Wolff's specific charges (other to call the book a hatchet job), he has nonetheless (unsuccessfully) threatened to sue the author and his publisher for libel?  Although not an expert in constitutional law, I'm reasonably certain that there is no tortious liability stemming from definition of character; neither author Wolff nor his publisher are tortfeasors. As the world's most public figure, '45 cannot sue for libel, much less demand prior restraint.

Both sadly and predictably, none of Wolff's revelations will cause "45's most ardent defenders to change their opinion of the man, his motives or his character. Furthermore, for most Americans, the nonstop media unveiling of Michael Wolff's revealing juggernaut (it rose to #1 on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble's websites even before a single volume was sold) will be widely discussed but largely unread and produce, at best, a couple of week's worth of rapturous public entertainment . . . nothing more, nothing less.  Those who were against '45 before its publication will now have even more fodder for their opposition; most of those who were firmly and enthusiastically part of '45's hallowed "base" prior to publication and revelation will find within its pages nothing but noxious "fake news," and will continue to believe him a president as great as - if not greater than - Abraham Lincoln. 

Most regrettably, Wolff's book will, in the long-run be yet another example of moral disgrace as public entertainment - a bit more kiss-and-tell in a society far more addicted to the salacious than the salubrious.  How terribly sad.  But what can one expect from a culture in which the average John or Mary can provide line and verse on at least 3 Kardashians yet have no idea how many branches of government there are . . . let alone name them? Despite the fact - as mentioned above - that not everything in Fire and Fury in the Trump White House - is necessarily true, it does present a president and an administration which is rapidly destroying the very fabric of the American body politic, scaring the daylights out of our allies, and giving our enemies reasons to be both bold and brave.

In the long-run, public entertainment does not - indeed cannot - pave a path for our future.  Trump must go.  Pence and Ryan, who would succeed him - must never be permitted top occupy the Oval Office.  We must find a way to replace them with leaders who, although perhaps not nearly so entertaining, are at least capable of working 24-7 to restore integrity, intelligence and maturity to the body politic. For to be POTUS requires far more than being a mere celebrity; it requires being a thoroughly accomplished actor on the world's largest state.

350 days down, 1,108 days two go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone