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August 17, 2021 · OPINION

Stops Along the Way: Does political morality matter?

Winston Churchill (1874-1965).
By Don Bachmann

Not too long ago, I was making a rather tiring drive through several Southern states. It was late, and I turned on the radio to help me stay awake. I tuned into a local talk station and listened to a discussion on political morality.

An argument was being made that just because an individual was personally immoral, it didn’t mean he/she couldn’t act morally in public life. Little in the way of an opposing argument was expressed, and all the participants seemed to be in agreement.

The moderator then quoted a poll of evangelicals in which a majority of them also believed this to be true. It got my attention. I thought that this was a dangerous detour from America’s moral path as it justifies deviation in the name of some greater political good.

As I look at America’s moral path since its inception as a republic, I can’t help but note that we have diverged from our founders’ chartered course on numerous occasions. This, in itself, is not historically unusual as rapid change and circumstance sometimes bring out the worst in society. To name a few missteps: We have denied equal protection under the law, inflicted mob justice, condoned genocide in the name of manifest destiny and didn’t always tolerate divergent religions. The list is rather extensive.

But, when a majority of us finally realized that these abuses were in conflict with the principles set forth in our founding documents, we fought to correct them. We have not always been completely successful, but we didn’t give up.

Rev. Theodore Parker, a 19th-century American theologian said, “The arc of the moral universe may be long, but it bends towards justice.” He was outspoken against the evil of slavery but still managed to believe in the intrinsic goodness of man. He recognized the moral struggle within men to do the right thing.

That struggle still continues today because at our core we are a nation that believes in justice. It might take us a while to rise up but, eventually, enough of us do and an injustice is righted. Winston Churchill once said, “You can always rely upon the Americans to do the right thing … after they try everything else.”

That insight seems especially apropos today as we struggle to find our moral center amid a populist culture of misdirection, distortion and untruths.

I am tired of political hypocrites who show no remorse for their immoral deeds, offer no apologies and hide behind the flag and/or the Bible. They prey upon our patriotism and our beliefs to further their own ends rather than the common good.

Now, I believe in forgiveness, even for politicians, and that upon contrition and atonement a person can obtain redemption. After all, we have all stumbled along the way. But in the absence of contrition and atonement, what salvation can there be?

It would be nice if we just automatically did the right thing simply because it was the right thing. I believe most of us would probably agree with this. If so, then why is it that we put up with a lack of moral accountability in the political arena? I believe the answer is a simple one.

We have become a nation deliberately divided. We have been herded into opposition camps by political parties and political wannabes. They want to turn us into political cultists – cultists who become so inflamed that our tribal political biases take precedent over our personal morality. And, all the while, they justify their own immorality by saying that the opposition acts so much worse.

This is nonsense.

Even in politics, there is only one true authority. It is moral authority, and it is the same for all of us. It shouldn’t matter whether we are conservatives, moderates or liberals; we are Americans first and share the same basic ideals.

Moral fiber mattered to our founders, and it should matter to us. We must demand it in our political leaders and shun those who do not possess it.

The columnist lives near Orlean.
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