Thursday, August 23, 2018

Shame, Shame, Shame

I am not the first to say this, I think, but I have to admit I am surprised that having a sense of shame seems to be necessary for democracies to operate.  There has always been hypocrisy, there have always been people who are underhanded.  But I seem to remember that politicians tried to avoid being embarassed--that they didn't want to be seen as flip-flopping, of waffling, of being associated with flaming racists or criminals or the like.

These days, in the US and the UK, politicians are literally unashamed.  They don't mind being called hypocrites.  The GOP can try to rush through a Supreme Court nominee two months before an election after saying that Obama should not have his nominee go through the Senate eight or so months before the next election.

The UK Brexit mess should be deeply embarrassing for everyone involved. The folks who pushed for it lied about the costs.  The folks who should be opposing it are doing so very lamely.  There has been plenty of time for the leaders to avoid driving their country over a cliff, and yet they refuse to do so. 

I used to think institutions mattered so much that we didn't have to care that much about norms.  That the institutions provide incentives, and once we understand those, we can figure everything out.  But it turns out American democracy depends on critical norms that operate via shame:
  • that parties should govern as they would want to be governed. Instead, the GOP both nationally and in places like North Carolina are writing rules that are aimed at keeping themselves in power.  The NC GOP is particularly shameless, changing the powers of the governor since they lost that spot, not to mention trying to disenfranchise those likely to vote democratic.
  • that seeking to disenfranchise people should be shameful.  If you can't win votes from various because, well, you suck as a party, then suppressing their vote is an act of desperation, a shameful act that should embarrass those doing it.  What the Georgian Republicans are doing--closing voting stations in predominantly African-American communities--is deeply shameful... if one could feel shame.
  • the moves by Trump defenders from no evidence of any crimes to no evidence of collusion to, well, collusion is not a crime to any crimes that aren't collusion don't count... these folks are utterly without shame.
  • Which gets us to Ryan and McConnell--that they have no capacity to feel any shame for the destruction they are committing, for betraying their institutions for tax cuts for the rich and court seats and for fear of alienating an increasingly rabid base.
The Clintons did some shameful things--Bill's pardons stick annoy me--but what is going on today is of an entirely different magnitude.  Trump is the epitome of this--watch him talk about paying off those with whom he committed adultery--but he is not alone.

I never thought shame was the key to democracy, but I guess it is.

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