Thursday, July 7, 2016

Character, The Presidency, And The Patriot’s Quandary

     Mark Tapson at Acculturated deposeth and sayeth:

     No one expects perfection from any candidate. We are all flawed human beings. None of us could survive the sort of relentless media scrutiny applied to most presidential candidates without embarrassing revelations or worse coming to light. But that is no excuse for minimizing or rejecting the importance of character altogether. We expect the highest professionalism and morality from our police officers, judges, doctors, teachers, etc., and we are rightly judgmental of those authority figures when they are found guilty of moral failure. Why should we not hold our political leaders, particularly the person we elect to the highest office in the land, to those same ethical standards?...

     If we do not hold our ground when our principles are tested, then by definition we are not principled. Anytime we choose to set our principles aside in order to buy time or survival, we are making a deal with the Devil, and what will we do when the payment is due?

     All true – and a continuing quandary for men of good will who understand that power doesn’t merely corrupt; it attracts the corruptible and the already corrupted. The compounding nature of a quasi-democratic process for elevating men to public offices ensures that those who seek such elevation will grow ever more thoroughly corrupt as time passes.

     But is it a compromise of one’s principles to accept, when there are no practical alternatives, rule by “the lesser of two evils?”

     This is not an easy question to answer.

     A great part of many moral-ethical decisions depends on the distribution of consequences over time, and the ability to foresee ways of coping with them.

     When there is no alternative to a given, distasteful path forward, the man of good will peers into the future. What evils are likely to come of this? he asks. What might I and others do to mitigate their impact? Such questions are among the most important in all political decision making.

     The late Tom Clancy gave an example in his novel Debt of Honor. This scenario arises after a cyberattack has taken down the entire American financial system:

     “The economic problem,” President Durling said, much to SecDef’s relief.
     “The hard part is the banks. They’re going to be running scared until we rectify the DTC situation. So many banks now make trades that they don’t know what their own reserves are. People are going to try to cash in their mutual-fund holdings controlled by those banks. The Fed Chairman has already started jawboning them.”
     “Saying what?” Jack asked.
     Saying they had an unlimited line of credit. Saying that the money supply will be enough for their needs. Saying that they can loan all the money they want.”
     “Inflationary,” van Damm observed. “That’s very dangerous.”
     “Not really,” Ryan said. “In the short term inflation is like a bad cold, you take aspirin and chicken soup for it. What happened Friday is like a heart attack. You treat that first. If the banks don’t open for business as usual...Confidence is the big issue. Buzz is right.”

     The cyberattack had brought about a state of affairs that many of us today fear: by destroying all record of the values of all the equities traded for dollars, it had ripped the confidence out from under the financial system and made a worldwide run on the dollar imminent. The only way to allow confidence to seep back into the markets was to allow the money supply to grow as large as needed. The inflationary impact, while unfortunate, was preferable to the collapse of the entire American financial system. The Administration would cope with the burst of inflation after it had restored the records that had been destroyed by foreign duplicity.

     That is a defensible attitude to take toward a “necessary evil.”

     This coming Election Day, Americans will choose either a Boor or a Felon to be their next president. It’s not a pleasant choice to contemplate – and yes, there are theoretical alternatives, including the two former governors running on the Libertarian Party ticket. But history tells us how unlikely it is that one of the theoretical alternatives will command a sufficient number of electoral votes to deny the White House to both the Democrat and the Republican nominees.

     I have no brief for either of the major-party candidates. If voting were made legally mandatory, I’d hold my nose and vote for Donald Trump. But in all candor, this is one of those elections when one sincerely wishes that both the major-party candidates would lose. That that’s essentially impossible is the quandary facing the man of good will this year.

     However, to vote for either Trump or Clinton does not compromise one’s personal principles or moral standing. That could only come about through the voter’s exploitation of the winner’s low character for the voter’s personal gain. What one does sacrifice in registering such a vote is one’s sense of cleanliness: the personal preference not to be involved with anything so tawdry or venal as politics in this year of Our Lord 2016.

     Evil intentions – what the law calls mens rea – matter here. If you don’t have them, you cannot commit a sin; you can only make a mistake. Mistakes can be ameliorated or redressed.

     Vote your conscience...if you vote at all.


Malatrope said...

Fran, I understand the ethical dilemma presented here, but you don't have to feel that you have compromised your principles if you vote for the lesser of two evils. Engineering provides the answer: don't apply power based on controlling position, but apply it to the velocity. Vote for the second derivative. Make decisions based on whether the you can accelerate the velocity closer to the vector you want to see in a perfect world. Accept that you may not be able to stop the huge boulder from rolling downhill, but you can bend its direction back towards where you want it go go. If enough people push, we can even roll it back uphill.

The current absolute position of the boulder may be firmly in Evil territory, but you can work to point it back home. No-one should feel bad about supporting the lesser of two evils. Next time around the circuit, you again support the lesser of two evils, less evil than last time, and so forth. Eventually, you cross the threshold into supporting a Good, in which environment you will be supporting the better of two Goods. Where the line is between Good and Evil isn't as important as whether you are moving in the right direction.

In all cases, the force you are applying is toward Good. It matters not if all the choices at any given juncture are bad – that's the nature of living in terrible times. But if no one ever pushes the boulder back towards Good, the state of Evil is where you will stay. You are not "supporting evil" by voting for the lesser in a binary choice.

Vote the second derivative of principled position, and don't be fooled by where the amplitude sits. It matters not.
Forgive me if this seems incoherent, I haven't had coffee yet this morning.

Anonymous said...

Voting, for anyone, anywhere, anytime, is evil. Claiming there are no plausible alternatives to voting/democracy/rulers is evil. Government is a religion, based on faith and circular arguments rather than observed fact.

Anonymous said...

Boor - an unrefined, ill-mannered person.

I know you realize how many refined, well-mannered demons are already in office.
Trump is a boorish saint!

Give me a break. Stop being an egocentric snob and vote for the guy that agrees with 80% of what you have written over the last 10 years.


Anonymous said...

I must disagree with what Malatrope wrote. Voting for the lesser of two evils never moves "the boulder" closer to good. It always moves it further in the evil direction. The engineer believes that by adding negative three (-3) instead of -5, and following by adding -6 instead of -8 [the same -3 vs -5 choice with -3 as your new starting point], that one will soon find oneself in positive territory.

"[I]s it a compromise of one’s principles to accept, when there are no practical alternatives, rule by “the lesser of two evils?” "

"This is not an easy question to answer."

Sure it is. There are always alternatives. There is always a choice. There is always the choice between one's principles and NOT one's principles. Compromising principles and NOT compromising them.

The question you've posed is two-fold:
1. Is the consequence of standing by your principles worse than the consequence of compromising them, and by how much? That is a choice each individual must make.

2. Whether standing on principle is practical or not is a separate question. That, in turn depends on what your definition of "practical" is, AND what circumstances lead to the choice of "the lesser of two evils". As far as I can see, there are two possibilities for why you or I are faced with a choice of "the lesser of two evils". The first is that the majority of others voting (in primaries and the general election) do not share your or my principles. The second is that they do share our principles, but are -- for some reason -- readily willing (almost eager at times) to compromise their principles.

I don't judge too harshly if one decides to support "the lesser of two evils", but I have decided not to play that game anymore.

On the other hand, there are those individuals who agressively argue that I should either compromise my principles, or support "the lesser of two evils". Such individuals ... well, I'd better not say.

Linda Fox said...

I disagree with Anonymous, both as a citizen, and as a physics teacher. If you apply negative force, you will counteract the opposing force - just not sufficiently to reverse direction. However, you will NOT contribute to the current velocity; you will instead reduce the velocity.

If that enough?

No. But, it isn't intended to be. It is intended to slow down the encroaching danger, and give you time before it hits the target. With luck, and because many people only act once someone else does, you may attract other opposers, who will lend their effort, as well.

To be boorish isn't evil. You are merely allying yourself with one whose stated goals are closer to what you would want, and who is opposed by the "right people" - which is always a good indicator.

Remember Henry's speech:

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

Francis W. Porretto said...

A couple of folks here have need of remedial reading courses. A couple of others make assertions I find dubious. I'll leave it at that.

Malatrope said...

To all, if you apply a force in the opposite direction to a rolling boulder, it will eventually move the other way (not just go to zero). It might take awhile, and in our case time is of the essence, but the term "lesser" is a vector in the direction of the opposite.

In all things, it is the direction you are pushing that defines your principles, not where you find yourself standing due to forces outside your control.

Tim Turner said...

Forgetting physics for a moment, and just thinking of the way politics (particularlly Congress and the courts) work lately:

It seems to me much more likely that a Democratic majority and Republican minority in Congress - OR VICE-VERSA - will reign in Trump's over-reach than either would be willing or able to reign in Hillary's.

Think about it. If you're gonna have one of two jerks as President, which is the more likely to be reigned in by the media and other pressure?

Trump isn't only the "lesser of two evils." He is the less powerful by virtue of our media and culture. That doesn't make him good.

It makes him less capable of f***ing America over.

That may seem like a poor choice. But for all the folks who want to sit out the election on principal, I ask, why didn't you go on a general strike at the Kelso decision? Or the Roberts Obamacare decision? Or the failure to indict Jamie Dimon. . . or anyone involved with 2008? Or the repeal of Glass-Steagle? Or the ongoing monopoly and illegal manipulations of the health-care industry (see Karl Denninger)? Or Comey's exoneration of Hillary?

Are Trump's perceived deficiencies and possible future actions (which WILL be fought, tooth and nail, by the press, democrats and many others) any worse than any of those?

Finally, for those who say, "Yeah, but I didn't VOTE for any of those." Yes, you did. I did. We did. We didn't stand up and say, "No, that's too far. And I won't pay ny taxes, or work at my job, or do everything I can to tell WHATEVER is in charge that the thing you just did is wrong."

But you're willing to sit out now because Trump is worse than all that?

Eskyman said...

"Vote your conscience...if you vote at all."

Sort of hard to make that sound like a rousing call to fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way. Sounds more like you're ready to take the Long Nap.

It's unfortunate that virtually every election requires "voting for the lesser of two evils." I suppose you would have had the same dilemma if your choice were Jefferson vs. Hamilton; each had their points, and each was for freedom, but what a gulf between them!

In Trump vs. Clinton I find no dilemma at all: a sucessful businessman, with a proven track record and a loving devoted family, who wants to return this country to greatness; vs. a lying, conniving, treacherous felon who has sold our country's secret information to enrich herself and her equally treacherous scumbag of a husband, and who will do and say anything at all to get the power she craves.

For you to find this a "lesser of two evils" doesn't reflect well upon you, Fran. Maybe I expect too much, but this isn't the quality of thought I've come to expect from you.

Or do you just not care to have a United States of America any more, as it doesn't come up to your high standards? If so, then of course don't sully yourself by bothering to vote, and you'll keep your hands clean; you won't even have to wash them afterward.

"The Patriot's Quandary" isn't a quandary for patriots.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Esky, in the usual case I delete comments insulting to me – and yours is insulting. It’s also a good demonstration of how we tend to see what we’re looking for while contriving to ignore what displeases us.

You wrote:

-- [Trump is] a sucessful [sic] businessman, with a proven track record and a loving devoted family, who wants to return this country to greatness... –

...which is true to a point. Trump has had several business failures. He has “a loving devoted family” for the moment. But here’s what goes alongside that:
-- Three wives, two divorces, and an unknown number of adulteries in the process;
-- The use of unjust laws in the attempt to force persons without his clout out of their homes, so that he could have their property;
-- An extremely boorish mode of expression and a tendency to throw his weight around that I find offensive;
-- A tendency to over-promise which is sometimes dialed back afterward;
-- A tendency to minimize his failures and emphasize his successes.

My longstanding rule is that I won’t vote for anyone I wouldn’t be willing to have at my dinner table. (The “dinner table test” is not confined merely to politicians; many persons I know quite well would fail it. However, they’re not running for office...yet.) Donald Trump teeters on the razor’s edge of that criterion, for the reasons you and I have given. So I haven’t made up my mind.

All that having been said, you have been warned: Don’t insult me a second time.