How Tribal Politics Curse Us with Tribal Morality

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 28, 2017 | Go to article overview

How Tribal Politics Curse Us with Tribal Morality


Byline: Michael Gerson

How tribal politics curse us with tribal morality

America is currently cursed, not only with tribal politics, but with tribal morality. Some liberals tend to minimize or excuse offenses against a few women in the broader cause of womens rights. What is a politicians wandering hand in comparison to maintaining legal abortion? Some conservatives tend to minimize or excuse offenses against women in the cause of conservative governance. What are a few old accusations compared to cementing a conservative Supreme Court or passing tax reform?

Both sides give personal failings less weight than a compelling public good. It is not always an unserious argument, but in this case, it is a cruel and dangerous one.

This description may sound like a columnists caricature. But, on occasion, a caricature becomes incarnate. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has admitted she has "no reason to disbelieve" any of Republican Senate candidate Roy Moores accusers. Yet Ivey has announced she will vote for Moore anyway. "We need to have a Republican in the United States Senate," she explained, "to vote on the things like Supreme Court justices."

This is worth a pause. One of the accusers in this case says that in the late 1970s Moore, then a county prosecutor, offered to drive her home. Instead, she alleges, he parked behind the restaurant where she worked, touched her breasts, tried to pull off her shirt, grabbed her neck and pushed her head toward his crotch, leaving nasty bruises and a lifetime of trauma. The victim was 16 years old at the time. If Ivey truly believes this accusation, she is voting for someone who committed sexual assault on a teenage girl, in order to help secure one Senate vote on a prospective Supreme Court nominee.

This has the virtue, at least, of philosophic clarity. It is utilitarianism, unadorned. Ivey believes she is pursuing Jeremy Benthams imperative, achieving the greatest good for the greatest number of people. It is a simple, easily stated moral rule.

There are many varieties of utilitarianism, but they share some weaknesses. While the principle is easy to state, it is not easy to apply. It always involves speculative judgments about the future. What if, as a senator, Moore becomes a rolling scandal of misogyny and intolerance? What if this deepens the image of the GOP as the party of prejudice and male dominance? …

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