In “The Prince,” Niccolo Machiavelli wrote, “In the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result.”
It’s from that passage “the end justifies the means” was birthed. Only results matter. As the now-departed Managing Partner of the Oakland Raiders Al Davis put it, “Just win, baby, just win.”
Two-and-half centuries after Machiavelli, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, hoped for a degree of civic virtue in the people but more so in their representatives. He predicated the republic’s survival on “the great republican principle, that the people will have the virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom.”
“Is there no virtue among us?” he asked. “If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks–no form of government can render us secure.”
Conservatives used to believe in Madisonian civic virtue. They also once believed it’s important to be judicious with one’s temperament given that words have meaning and hold power. New Age conservatives reject both. They prefer practicing Bannonism.
Two-plus centuries after Madison, New Right guru Steve Bannon delivered his sage advice to Trumpian conservatives. “The way to deal with [the media],” he declared, “is to flood the zone with shit.”
The flooding includes everything from creating hysteria, spreading disinformation, and trumpeting Trump’s calumny and demagoguery to name-calling, the act of degrading and dehumanizing others.
In the Age of Trump, Miss Manners codes of conduct no longer apply. Sycophants take his cue and mimic him. He has made it permissible for them to condescend.
Calling immigrants “rapists and animals,” women and minorities “horseface, low IQ, and crazy,” and those advocating for social justice “angry, pimple-faced beta males” and “equally angry, on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown girls,” characterizations unfitting for a respectable community newspaper, speaks not about the targets of the invectives but of the speakers and writers, especially those who wear Christianity on their sleeve in a vain attempt for it to serve as a mantle of moral superiority.
Such invectives demean and insult not only the intended targets but also the audience and readers upon which they are dropped. F-bombs need not contain the F-word. Sophisticated people with a sense of moral probity intuitively get that and assiduously refrain from descending to that level of hell.
Machiavelli cautions it’s “not prudent to challenge” princes. Those that have crossed Trump’s path have felt his wrath.
The Kavanaugh hearing bore out how Machiavellian the Trump Doctrine has become. The Judge, short of uncovering a male-male relationship, revelation of an abortion by Mrs. Kavanaugh, or a liberal utterance on Kavanaugh’s part, was guaranteed to be confirmed a Justice. Other than those, character and temperament were of no concern for Senator Cory Gardner, who is up for reelection in 2020, and his Senate Republican cohorts.
In the “National Journal,” Jonathan Rauch notes Trump’s reaction to Republicans’ outrageous attacks on John Kerry’s heroism in the 2004 election. “I think that could be the greatest spin I’ve ever seen,” Trump said. When asked about Dick Cheney’s assertion that a Kerry election would precipitate an attack on the United States, Trump gave insight into his Machiavellian character: “Well, it’s a terrible statement unless he gets away with it.”
Before John McCain died, Trump attempted to assassinate the war hero’s character. It didn’t matter; Republicans still adore him.
Readers of “The Great Gatsby” are taken aback by Nick’s observation about the uber-wealthy Tom and Daisy Buchanan. “They were a careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreat back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made.”
About which Trump the student would have commented, “It doesn’t matter. They won.”
With Kavanaugh, it was just win, baby, even if it meant re-victimizing, smashing up, an innocent. Collateral damage. Message delivered to women who were and will be assaulted.
Degrading and dehumanizing others indicates a weak and shallow mind, a flimsy moral character, and an insecure ego. So, why do it?
Next week: What would Jesus say?