July 15, 2020


The Venezuelafication of American Politics (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, July 14, 2020, National Review)

Some of our friends on the right were just real, real, real big on virtue a few years back. Bill Bennett, you may recall, built for himself a splendid little virtue empire: The Book of Virtues, The Children's Book of Virtues, The Children's Treasury of Virtues, The Book of Virtues for Boys and Girls, The Book of Virtues for Young People, The Book of Virtues Cookbook: Now You're Cookin' with Virtue!, Moral Compass: Stories for a Life's Journey, The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family, Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism.

(I made up the cookbook.)

Conservatives started talking a whole lot about virtue during the Clinton years, when they were outraged (Bennett gave us The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals) by the president's hound-dogging and endless lying, and about the fact that so many of our Democrat friends seemed to enjoy being lied to, provided they were skillfully lied to, which was Bill Clinton's specialty: "Slick Willie," unlike "Tricky Dick," wasn't an entirely condemnatory epithet. That really stuck in a lot of Republican craws, it rankled and it vexed, and at the turn of the century every third Republican pundit was writing and talking as though he were Cato the Elder (Cato Censorius, ho, ho!), if not Cincinnatus. That, in turn, was hard to take for much of the general public -- and a hell of a lot harder to take for the people who knew them. Not because these men had the ordinary and common moral failings (Bennett was mocked for being a gambler, Newt Gingrich for being Newt Gingrich) that we all have in varying degrees, but because so much of that virtue entrepreneurship was so obviously insincere.

And then came 2016, when the CEO of Virtue Inc. linked arms with Generalissimo Grab 'Em By the P***y. Bill Bennett sniffed that we should get off our "high horse" and get on board with Trump. Trump critics, Bennett insisted, "suffer from a terrible case of moral superiority and put their own vanity and taste above the interest of the country." Suddenly, all that old-fashioned virtue stuff was effete, namby-pamby, and effeminate. It was -- surprise -- a deficiency in virtue! It was only virtue-signaling, a simulacrum of virtue, lacking in the authentic manly virtues supposedly embodied by Donald Trump. The commissars of virtue insisted that criticism of Trump's character was only a shallow and snobbish revulsion at his etiquette and his style, a girlish squeal at his manful and virtuous flouting of manners, convention, and other "elitist" niceties. His dishonesty was, they insisted, only a kind of pragmatic showmanship, and confounding only to those unschooled in the realities of the rough-and-tumble world of business.

Bennett suggested that Trump's critics were only put off by his being "crude." This line of criticism almost always and everywhere is dishonest, and obviously dishonest: Agree with the critics or not, the rap on Trump has always been about his actual character, the sort of man he is, not merely his etiquette, his accent, or how he ties his tie. But as a matter of cheap rhetoric, it is easy to shed a few crocodile tears over "the tweets" and the vulgarity while defending the program.

We talk about virtue as though it were some otherworldly thing, of little interest -- or a positive hindrance -- to people whose main concern is "winning" in this world rather than judgment in the next. But that gets it all wrong. As the Romans and the American founders understood, the cultivation of republican virtues is eminently practical -- it is very difficult to maintain a free society without those virtues.

...is the way the Trumpbots dismiss virtue as "signaling".  They prefer vice signaling now.  

Posted by at July 15, 2020 12:00 AM