The fading of ethics

Sam Smith – Watching the House investigation into the Ukrainian situation has led me to feel that I was seeing two vastly different species of human beings. On the one hand, many of the foreign service officers were precise, fact based, honest, and non-judgemental in their descriptions of what had happened. Meanwhile, their Republican questioners chose to create false or mythical conflicts, exaggerate or distort, and, in general, sound like third rate attorneys for Donald Trump. In searching for a precedent, I thought of the years that Dixiecrats fought civil rights in Congress.

It also reminded me of how the moral in our society  – whether offered by teachers, ministers, public servants or activists – has been increasingly downplayed by a media in favor of serving power that is clever or entertaining, but indifferent to ethical content. Even in religion the mainstream news prefers to quote noisy faux Christian evangelicals more often than real Christians who lack the hype that the media wants to project at every opportunity.

And nobody talks about it. It’s just a given. As I thought about this topic, however, I had to confess that even I contribute to the problem. I ride my recumbent bike daily watching TV shows like The Office, Parks & Recreation, Mad Men and Rake – all programs that feature people cleverly manipulating  their roles without much concern for honesty or ethics. But then, from a theatrical point of view, moral values are sort of dull. So I save them for my news reporting, but not my bike riding. And, in my defense, Steve Carell is certainly more decent than Rep. Jim Jordan.

And yet our politics have increasingly become a form of entertainment. Go back before television and it would have seemed really strange to nominate an actor like Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump for president. Our understanding of a congressional  hearing would have been based on the reporting of print journalists rather than treated as another mid-day online contest.  

How to deal with this irony – in  which political news has become a battle between alternative fantasies – is hard to tell. But if we don’t want to live the rest of our lives with politicians like Trump we better start talking and doing something about it.

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