Saturday, March 05, 2016

Losing the Moral High Ground

Friday afternoon (yesterday) I was as disappointed in a person an a populace as it is possible to be.

Bob McLain, the afternoon drive-time host on WORD 106.3 talk radio, was entertaining calls from Trump supporters, all of whom were calling to face Mitt Romney's criticism with their metaphorical fingers in their ears and a loudly shouted "Lalalalalalala...".

Most of these complaints can be summarily dismissed. They didn't vote for Mitt, and therefore blame Mitt for not having won the Presidency in 2012. Brilliant reasoning, that. For the record, here's what Romney said:
Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants, he calls for the use of torture and for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit first amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.
-- transcript via
As a reminder, this isn't an "interpretation" of Trump's intent. It is a plain reading of "I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding," and "you have to take out their families." And all the ridiculing-of-the-messenger in the world won't change the fact that his message is spot-on.

But what struck me hard was what Bob McLain himself stated in the midst of this discussion. McLain condoned the statements using the same reasoning that Trump himself did when proposing them... by using relativist morality to argue that we're not as bad as they are. In short, the argument is that since Muslims behead Christians and perform other atrocities, it's OK for the United States to commit atrocities in response. McLain proclaimed, "In my estimation there is no debate about who has the moral high ground between us and ISIS. Are you kidding me?  With the horrific, seventh-century kind of tactics but they're using on civilians. Not on terrorists. Not on uniformed military personnel. On civilians. So don't talk to me about the moral high ground in the war on Islamic terrorists."


I certainly will talk to you about the moral high ground, Bob. Somebody needs to, Christian to Christian, as more than a few very pertinent Sunday School lessons apply.

Trump's premise is that since ISIS kills civilians, it's OK for the United States do the same. So long as we don't behead Muslims, it's ok to bomb Arab villages filled with noncombatants and watch women and children burn, their flesh crisping away from their muscle, their fat fueling the flames. THAT is the moral high ground, according to each and every individual Trump supporter who defended Trump's bullshit statements.

Of course it's bullshit. One's war crimes can not excused by the 'evilness' of his enemy. They are determined by objective standards of Right and Wrong. An atrocity is an atrocity regardless of why you did it. This is a principle that Christians should particularly hold sacred, and more especially public-facing high-profile Christians who host radio programs. I don't care how righteous you think you are... that kind of attitude isn't a sign that you're saved, but that you're fatally deceived.

Apparently, in the King Trump version of the Bible, Jesus Christ is quoted as saying, "But I say unto you, Screweth over evil: and whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, take out his family." -- Matthew 5:39 (KTV)

That's stated very differently in the original text. And while the Bible does contain a lot of descriptions of atrocities, unlike the Quran, which holds them out as a model for continued behavior, the Bible depicts atrocities as such, with consequences. In the Old Testament, when Israel sins, Israel is punished by exile, slavery, invasion, and persecution. In Deuteronomy, "an eye for an eye" replaces older practices of unjust retaliation with the principle of limited punishment befitting the crime. For the record, my Bible leaves no ambiguity on the matter, "Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin." (Deuteronomy 24:16)

I'm afraid many of the self-professed Christians of this radio audience couldn't handle the actual text of Matthew 5:38 and the following verses. You think you have a better theological angle than Jesus on this one, Bob? If so, tell me about that moral pedestal that God put us on, because I can't find one word about it in the literature I have.

Here on Planet Earth. we have to be very careful about proclamations that God is on our side. It's exactly what the enemy does, and if you don't believe it of them despite their undeniable deep and unwavering faith, you shouldn't allow your own deep and unwavering faith to lead you into actions that you know would be evil if perpetrated by anyone but yourself. Faith alone can mislead. You don't know its source. That's why you have the written word. Our job is to seek guidance with humility and to attempt as best we can to follow it.

NOT EVEN TRUMP could defend Trump's statements. After having been called out in the debate about it, his campaign issued a revised statement (or "flip-flop", if you will):
“I will use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies. ” the statement issued by his campaign said. “I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters. I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”
--via the New York Post

The sad, sad thing is that the Trumpoholics[1] didn't call for that revision themselves. They will accept and support anything the man says, no matter how stupid, no matter how antithetic it is to their own values, to the point of endorsing war crimes. That should scare the living shit out of you, Bob, because you got caught up in it yourself. By doing that, you don't get to stake out the 'moral high ground' and put on holier-than-thou airs. You just don't. I invite you to see the error of the statement and get a retraction on the air. Think about what you're saying, and don't play the hypocrite.

UPDATE: Bob McLain Responds:

Thanks for your opinion. When we are fighting a group of people who approve of marrying 6 year olds then raping them to death I find little basis for comparison.I'm not talking about carpet bombing civilians, I'm talking about giving our military rules of engagement that allow them to win.
Best regards 

My take: Bob's making my point. He once again engages in comparison while simultaneously saying there's little basis for comparison. I say there's NO basis for comparison. War crimes are not determined by whether they incrementally less horrific than the crimes the other side is committing. Reasonable people should be able to agree that ISIS is evil AND that we don't have to do evil things to beat them. Why is this difficult?

And while Bob says he's not talking about carpet bombing civilians, that's exactly what Trump was talking about. Everybody can agree that rules of engagement should allow a win. That particular straw man is not even contended. But that's business-as-usual for Trump supporters:
  1. listen to something horrible he said
  2. substitute stuff that you think is acceptable for him to mean, and 
  3. pretend that the acceptable stuff is what he said. 
Well, it isn't. Trump flatly said the horrible stuff. Trump is the one running for office. So why in the world should we ignore what he plainly said? Listen to his actual words. I doubt you actually agree. In face-to-face discussion, when pressed to stick to what was said, I haven't found one person who does. It's always, "Yeah, but..." and the usual waffling peppered with "at least..." and "he tells it like it is," which itself is an objectively provable lie.

[1] "Trumpoholics", because I have yet to hear one argument from any one of them that doesn't sound like it was made under the influence of a half-bottle of Mad Dog 20/20.

Photo of the "Door to Hell" in Durweze by Stephan Krasowski, modified by Dave Leigh using the GIMP.

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