I believe we should avoid moralism in politics — making moral judgments of people who just disagree with us — but that doesn’t mean we should abandon morality. And understanding the insurrection of Jan. 6 and what led up to it, and what’s still happening now, requires understanding that it was a moral collapse.
Anyone who excuses the insurrection, and the people who provoked and led it, has abandoned the fundamental moral values that make democracy possible.
We knew that many Trump supporters were deluded. He’s good at only one thing, but he may be the best ever at that one thing: being a con man.
And we wanted to believe that supporters who saw through the con were just gritting their teeth, waiting for him to be gone, calculating the trade-off in lower taxes or more conservative judges. Cynical, but at least recognizing that right might be better than wrong.
We didn’t expect outright sedition.
But it turns out many Trump supporters liked everything about him. Now that he’s gone, they want him back.
And they not only still like Trump, they like morally bankrupt insurrectionists like Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Sean Hannity, and they miss Rush Limbaugh.
They don’t condemn Cruz’s abandonment of his post for Cancun, they celebrate it.
They seem to have confused freedom with raw selfishness, as if it means freedom from any limits on getting what you want.
No ideological definition of freedom, conservative or liberal, has ever asserted that.
But the immoral one does. Many of the people who fancy themselves as libertarians are in fact libertines: just selfish. And as moral conservatives and liberals have always understood, that is not freedom but a form of slavery, to one’s own desires.
Power promises release, but in fact the tyrant is “the most miserable of men,” as Socrates said (in Plato’s Republic):
Having so many evils, will not the most miserable of men be still more miserable in a public station? Master of others when he is not master of himself; like a sick man who is compelled to be an athlete, the meanest of slaves and the most abject of flatterers, wanting all things, and never able to satisfy his desires; always in fear and distraction, like the State of which he is the representative. His jealous, hateful, faithless temper grows worse with command; is more and more faithless, envious, and unrighteous — the most wretched of men, a misery to himself and to others.
Remind you of anyone?
Beyond a certain point, continuing to believe in Trump, and his enablers in politics and media, isn’t a case of simply being misled, it’s choosing to be misled. Truth is just a Google search away, but desire is endlessly tantalizing* and distracting.
Beyond a certain point, people believe in Trump, or Cruz, or the others not because they want persuasion, but because they want permission.
It’s not an ideological choice, but a moral one.
And after the near-overthrow of democracy, it should be more than clear that it’s the wrong one.
*A word we inherit from the Greek mythological figure Tantalus, who was condemned to spend eternity reaching for low-hanging fruit and fresh water, only to find they were always just beyond his grasp.