There’s good reason why, a year after our presidential elections, millions of Americans still refuse to “get over it. “
It’s not because these ruling forces are so “conservative” in their values. Although these rulers persuaded half of America that they are righteous champions of such values, many of the rest of us can see through their pretense.
We can see that, beneath that sheep’s clothing of false righteousness, they are satisfying the wolf of their unbridled appetite for self-aggrandizement.
We can see it in their persistent effort to undermine any rules that, in the name of a greater good, would restrain their freedom of action—whether in their tearing down the rules of international order, or in their disrespect for constitutional limits on their power, or in their dismantling of environmental restraints on their pursuit of wealth.
We see it, too, in their use of bullying tactics and character assassination in dealing with political opponents. For all their pious talk, there is no sign whatever of the Golden Rule in how they conduct their politics.
We see it in the way they sow enmity—whether between Americans, whom pollsters have found more intensely polarized than ever, or between America and other nations, among whom trust in American power has reached an all-time low.
And we see it in their disdain for the truth—whether in how they “spin” virtually everything they say to us, or how they disregard or distort science, or in how they arrange to be told only what they want to hear.
America would be fine in the hands of people devoted to real conservative values. But this is something different, something dangerous. For America is now ruled by forces apparently not guided by any genuine values at all. One can look in vain for any juncture where they’ve made a decision that sacrificed any of their power or wealth in favor of some larger good.
And this is not just about this particular presidency, which should be understood as the creature of bigger forces. These forces – an alliance of the greediest part of American capitalism with the most power-hungry and imperialist of American politicians and with the most divisive and hypocritical of America’s religious leaders—have been gathering power for a generation and will doubtless seek to maintain their grip when its current public faces leave office.
Never in American history has so much power been in such ruthless hands.
The very soul of America is endangered. Yet not only did the presidential campaign of 2004 fail utterly to speak about this profound moral danger, but the political opposition remains virtually mute and effectively impotent in the face of these forces. (This silence and this impotence are signs of another part of America’s moral crisis, of that also-dangerous moral flaccidity into which too much of American liberalism has lapsed.)
It is essential, therefore, that those of us who do see this frightening reality stand up to take the struggle for America’s soul to a new stage—a “prophetic” stage of speaking moral truth to amoral power. Moral truth is our great weapon, for the power of these rulers rests on moral lies. Only by selling their false image of righteousness to good, conservative Americans could these forces gain power.
But that which depends on moral lies can be defeated with moral truth—for, if these good people can be helped to see that these emperors have no moral clothes, they will withdraw their support.
Most of those who have supported these rulers should be regarded not as our opponents but as our potential allies. For the struggle that now must urgently be waged is not that of liberal values against conservative values, but of those who really care about goodness against those in power who only pretend to.
To accomplish these worthy goals, unmasking the false righteousness of our rulers must be framed in terms of Americans’ shared values—of justice and compassion and truth and fair play—and supported by evidence drawn from our common knowledge. Framed in that way, the stories of what we’ve all seen can be told in ways that strip away the political coverings and show the dark moral reality that lies beneath the mask these rulers wear.
America is in need of an ”Emperor’s New Clothes” moment. “This emperor,” we must loudly declare, “has no moral clothes.”
By skillfully speaking the moral truth, we can help unite the good people of America, and end the polarization that our amoral leaders have worked to foster. With such “prophetic” speech, we can help America’s conservatives to remember how better to tell the difference between good and evil, and help America’s liberals to remember how absolutely vital—and real—that difference is.
Let us then speak to America, drawing strength from that ancient idea deeply embedded in the Western religious tradition: the idea that the material power of the bad ruler can be overcome by the power of moral truth boldly spoken. Let us launch, then, a “prophetic” social movement to re-establish the power of real righteousness in America.
Andrew Bard Schmookler has just launched his website –NoneSoBlind.org—devoted to understanding America’s present moral crisis and the means by which this challenge can be met. Dr. Schmookler is also the author of such books as The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution (SUNY Press) and Debating the Good Society: A Quest to Bridge America’s Moral Divide (M.I.T. Press). He also conducts regular talk-radio conversations in both red and blue states. Schmookler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.