THE POWER OF IMMORAL CLARITY*
Sheparding, 46.5" x 36", Oil on Canvas, 1999, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust. Sheparding is tribute to Matthew Shepard who will be interred at the Washington National Cathedral. Please see Postscript.**
“The only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat.”
No, this was not someone purposefully describing Mr. Trump’s personal and business codes of conduct or the GOP’s now-complete personification of Mr. Trump. This was Ronald Reagan describing leaders in the former Soviet Union. In a stunning display of irony, Secretary Pompeo employed this quotation in his recent op-ed to describe Iran, under the heading “THE POWER OF MORAL CLARITY.” The op-ed was published around the time Mr. Pompeo was meeting with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and thereafter imploring Mr. Trump to give the Saudis just a few more days to come up with something . . . anything . . . to satiate the “world’s captured imagination.” Sitting with members of the military industrial complex, Mr. Trump characterized the Saudi’s laughable gaslighting as a “credible explanation” for the murder and dismemberment of a progressive Saudi citizen and permanent United States resident who was critical of the repressive sharia regime. Mr. Pompeo’s op-ed was meant, at least in part, to justify on moral grounds Mr. Trump’s foreign and geopolitical policy toward Iran and, to a lesser extent, North Korea. “President Trump’s actions in confronting outlaw regimes stem from the belief that moral confrontation leads to diplomatic conciliation.” I will allow you, dear readers, to dissect that sentence for yourselves, except to say this use of the words “belief” and “moral” in the same sentence with “Trump” constitutes etymological malpractice of the highest order. Mr. Pompeo’s full op-ed is linked below.
The GOP has devolved into the personification of Mr. Trump. So has evangelism in most quarters. In a colloquy on 60 Minutes last week, Lesley Stahl elicited from Mr. Trump a succinct reveal of his and the GOP’s moral and political philosophy, which is indistinguishable from Mr. Reagan’s description of former Soviet leaders: “The only morality [we] recognize is what will further [our] cause, meaning [we] reserve unto [our]selves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat.”
President Trump at a rally in Mississippi: I had one beer. Well, you think it was, nope! It was one beer. Oh good. How did you get home? I don’t remember. How did you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know… I don’t know…
Lesley Stahl: And you mimicked Professor Blasey Ford. You mimicked her.
President Donald Trump: Had I not made that speech, we would not have won. I was just saying she didn’t seem to know anything. . . .
Lesley Stahl: Why did you have to make fun of her?
President Donald Trump: I didn’t really make fun of her.
Lesley Stahl: Well, they were laughing.
President Donald Trump: What I said the person that we’re talking about didn’t know the year, the time, the place.
Lesley Stahl: Professor Blasey Ford got before the Senate and — and was asked what’s the worst moment. And she said, “When the two boys laughed at me, at my expense.”
President Donald Trump: Ok, fine.
Lesley Stahl: And then I watched you mimic her and thousands of people were laughing at her.
President Donald Trump: They can do what they — I — I will tell you this. The way now Justice Kavanaugh was treated has become a big factor in the midterms. Have you seen what’s gone on with the polls?
Lesley Stahl: But did you have to —
President Donald Trump: Well, I think she was treated with great respect, I’ll — I’ll — . . . .
Lesley Stahl: but do you think — you treated her with —
President Donald Trump: There are those that think she shouldn’t have —
Lesley Stahl: Do you think you treated her with respect?
President Donald Trump: I think so, yeah. I did.
Lesley Stahl: But you seem to be saying that she lied.
President Donald Trump: W — you know what? I’m not gonna get into it because we won. It doesn’t matter. We won.
Separate from and in addition to gerrymandering districts, the GOP knows the only way it can succeed in maintaining power and therefore control through the 2018 midterms is to undermine the democratic process they swore to protect, (Georgia, Texas, North Dakota, Kansas), to cheat, to rig the system (using laughable “legal” pretexts, baits-and-switches) and to create physical obstacles and outright barriers to make it difficult if not impossible for certain demographics to vote. The Trump-majority court is now on board. “I’m not gonna get into it because . . . [i]t doesn’t matter . . . [if w]e w[i]n.” “The only morality [we] recognize is what will further [our] cause, meaning [we] reserve unto [our]selves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat.”
In trumpian logic, because I have a daughter who is a social worker, I must have a natural instinct for the social sciences. She has very good genes. The best genes. The begged question is, what will be the impact of the Trump presidency on the morality of the next generation of Americans . . . and the next . . . ? Or is this simply who we are? We elected him, after all, unless 2016 was not a legitimate exercise of American sovereignty. “W — you know what? I’m not gonna get into it because we won. It doesn’t matter. We won.”
Social scientists, historians, psychologists, and myriad others are attempting to dissect and explain this period in American and world history. “Trump is a symptom.” Yeah, I’ve heard that sh!t. We must be pretty f#cking sick. And yes, the venal Trump virus will infect us for years to come. I suspect many of those parsing our descent are developing models to study the legal, psychological, social and moral impact of the Trump presidency on future generations. Possessing said natural instincts for the social sciences, I believe the GOP’s wholesale frenzied endorsement of Mr. Trump will stunt America’s moral development for decades: uninhibited complicity in his corruption, deception, racism, human and civil rights abuses and violations, religious discrimination, nepotism, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, obstruction, fraud, tax evasion, mocking the disabled, shaming and mocking victims of sexual abuse, praising and currying favor with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, praising dictators and authoritarians, insulting allies, lining pockets with government resources, using the Office of the President to profit from foreign interests intent on currying favor, empaneling a cabinet of incompetent misfits who use their positions to effect regulatory change for personal gain, and aligning himself closely with the best people, felons now many of them.
Yes, Republicans. Yes, Evangelicals. Your children can grow up to be president.
Today’s New York Times reports the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back protections for transgender Americans.
On October 6, 1998, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson beat, tortured and left for dead Matthew Shepard. Sheparding, the painting displayed above, is a haunting piece which I choose to believe comments on the horrific ignorance and over-againstness that define most hate groups, particularly the religiously inspired, some of which take the form of government bodies gerrymandered into power by a similarly inspired electorate. This ilk has found sanctuary and encouragement in today’s national political climate. Should it surprise anyone that official marginalization does little to discourage and much to encourage unofficial physical, emotional and social violence against the marginalized? Matthew’s parents had not interred his ashes because they wisely understood that the hate and ignorance that caused his death would continue to bully and haunt him by desecrating his final resting place. Peace.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in lastamendment.com