The Ethical Divide

I don’t know why, but, I listen to the speeches that President Trump gives to gatherings with a moral tint to them. (I’d like to think it is an unbiased interest, but, I think it is somewhat colored by the unqualified support some religious leaders have given him). This started with his speech at Liberty University last year, and I have found his unpolished and unfiltered style refreshing and revolting all at once. It is refreshing to hear a leader like President Trump not change his tone or talking points in front of religious organizations. Many would pick up the ethical mantle and try to clothe themselves in the values of the group they are addressing, President Trump cannot (he tries sometimes, but, unsuccessfully). This is also what is unsettling about him.  In one of his latest speeches, I found myself hurt by the code of ethics he displayed for a group with a religious background.  While he spun his words around a spool of “ethical conduct” his code of ethics was vastly different from those espoused by his target audience.

President Trump recently spoke at the National Boy Scout jamboree, a crowd known for their moral fiber. President Trump praised the group’s work ethic and moral convictions. He spoke glowingly of scout leaders who worked hard to teach scouts right from wrong, he even endorsed this as thoroughly American. Here is the problem, and while he is easily identifiable with the problem the problem transcends him. The problem is that the ethics he identified in his speech contradict the ethics of the scouts. Even though the Boy Scouts of America are disattending themselves from any particular religious creed they still remain committed to some basic morals.

President Trump praised an ethical system which measures success and failure by how much affluence one has and who one’s friends are. For most religious systems as well as the Boy Scouts this is anathema. A person is not successful because he or she has wealth and famous friends, nor is one a failure because of a bankruptcy. We should not celebrate a life of leisure and hedonism as a “good life” and we certainly should not teach our kids this. The President’s ideas of success and failure are warped, there is no room for generosity in a mode of thinking that says wealth is success. The Boy Scouts are taught generosity and selflessness, these do not square with the picture of success the President painted. As a side note He praised the Boy Scouts service to others and particularly public service projects, yet, his budget would minimize many similar projects at the national level in favor of building up military reserves. These cannot be a true priority for him if he does not apportion money for them.

Likewise, we should not strive to be feared for our strength. Strength should be something that benefits others, not something which seeks conflict. The President commented that enemies would fear our weapons; however, a truly moral person would recognize that it is we who must truly fear our weapons. We must fear how easy it is to destroy lives with our weapons of war, not our enemies. If we do not fear our weapons we will not fear destroying people with them. Note the real difference, I am not saying we should reject the military, nor weapons, nor oppose military service. I am talking about one’s attitude toward these things, do we boast and brag about these things as a strength or are they necessary entities for dealing with evil. Some things might be necessary, but, are not points of moral achievement. The Boy Scouts are taught courage, courage is not having the biggest weapon and waving it at everyone else demanding they surrender. Courage is knowing how to lay aside a weapon, when to extend the olive branch, and the ability to judiciously use weapons. President Trump’s arrogance about a large and well-equipped military defies the courage taught in Boy Scouts.

Lastly, Mr. Trump implied that Congress could learn a lesson in loyalty from the Boy Scouts. I do not doubt this is a true statement; however, he seems to imply that loyalty to himself should trump all other obligations and loyalties. This raises an interesting concept, what should our highest loyalties be. In the Boy Scout motto, the highest loyalty is God (however defined by the scout). Whatever Mr. Trump was implying, surely, he missed this point. Here I do not want to single Mr. Trump out because many in politics will imply the same thing he does even if they use different language. His implication seemed to be that the best thing for congress is that the party’s agenda gets passed, and his party’s agenda is defined by him. But, what the Boy Scouts teach and what religious people affirm is that the agenda of morals is driven by God and our loyalty is defined by our loyalty to God. There is a significant gulf here. The Boy Scout in Congress should think that his loyalty is to God and through that loyalty to humanity as God’s children, then to his country, then to his constituency, then to a locality, but certainly not to a party. I know that part of the reason I take exception to Mr. Trump’s speeches is because of the unconditional support individuals like Franklin Graham have given him. Part is his un–political nature meaning he bluntly says what he thinks. I use him as an example to show what a larger contingent of the population thinks about morality. Some might agree with my post because they disagree with the President, but, much of what he believes transcends him and infects the population as a whole, but, is expressed differently by the “left”.

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