Does moral leadership lost under Trump matter?
Donald Trump has (seemingly easily) discarded many longtime norms and one of them is the Oval Office and America seen by many as symbols of moral leadership. Does this matter? Martin Longman gives this take:
As things have taken a darker and darker turn in our country, and really throughout the world, in the last two decades, I’ve come to see moral leadership as more and more important. I don’t think human beings are basically good or fundamentally bad, but they’re highly malleable. How they behave, even what they feel, can be influenced by whether they’re asked to be generous or resentful, welcoming or defensive, optimistic or angry.
Fox News definitely seeks to make many “bucks” by catering to people’s worst instincts, and it actually transforms people. It makes people fearful and furious. A liberal who spends all day watching MSNBC will have reasons to be anxious and upset, too, but they’ll also be receiving constant messages about the value of tolerance, inclusiveness, and care for the vulnerable. For the most part, the moral instruction is consistent with what you might hear Pope Francis say about the poor and with Martin Luther King Jr.’s aspiration that we judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
Fox News has such a broad reach in our culture that it is measurably damaging people’s morals and conscience. It’s turning good people into bad people, much the way that civil or sectarian conflicts harden populations against each other, sometimes for centuries. But it’s still just a news outlet. It’s influence is nothing compared to the influence of Donald Trump who has transformed one of American’s two major political parties into smoldering heap of dung.
I sometimes rolled my eyes when President Obama exhorted us with moral language and insisted that America was fundamentally good, and far better than how it was presenting itself. But, just by making that effort, he incrementally made us better people. Sometimes we are blessed with the right leaders at the right time, and sometimes we seem to be plagued by poor leadership. Right now, the West seems to be lacking competent leaders, and it’s having a crippling effect here at home and also in Europe. But we’re also suffering from outright bad moral leadership in some cases.
I began my adult life as a secular-minded philosophy student, impatient with moral arguments and suspicious of leaders who spoke in moral terms. My initial problem with the Bush administration was that their reckless disregard for the truth prevented people from having reality-based conversations. I no longer see this as the primary threat we face. What I see now is a daily devolution of the basic goodness and generosity of our people. Every day this gets worse, the path back gets longer, and the prospect of societal breakdown grows.
Our next president will hopefully bring as much of the country together as possible, but what they absolutely must do is exert moral leadership to stem and reverse this tide. If they can.