Bob Schwartz

Tag: morality

The Infestation

Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2018

 

Note: The image above, and many of the recent photos you have seen in the news, are by John Moore, a staff special correspondent for Getty Images. Moore has covered many global events and crises, and since 2010 has also focused on immigration issues throughout the United States. He has won many awards, including a Pulitzer Prize, and will win more for his coverage of this American humanitarian crisis. His work is a reminder, in a time of infinite content, of the power of an artist and photojournalist to tell a story with just one image.

 

 

God and the H-Bomb

God and the H-Bomb

The Hydrogen Bomb is in the news, thanks to North Korea’s questionable claim that they have one and have tested it.

In the years following World War 2, the H-Bomb was big news. Big, just like The Bomb. The world had seen the destructive power of the A-Bomb used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The H-Bomb made the A-Bomb look like a stick of dynamite. Where once there was the power to destroy cities, we could now destroy the world. And ourselves. We were as gods, at least in our punishing might.

In 1961, a book called God and the H-Bomb was published. It’s not in print, but you might find a copy used or in a library, as I did a few years ago. The cover carries this question: “What counsel do our spiritual leaders offer in response to mankind’s greatest challenge?”

The roster of contributors is an impressive list of thinkers, some of whom are still recognized names, some less familiar. Paul Tillich, Martin Buber, Pope Pius XII, and so on.

We don’t see many—any—religious and spiritual leaders interviewed about the North Korean test, about the Iran deal, or about any Bomb related stories. Except for those religious and spiritual leaders with political strategy in mind or a political axe to grind.

That’s not what this 55-year-old book is about. It is about the moral and spiritual dimensions of the H-Bomb. That is reflected in the titles of the pieces. The power of self-destruction. War and Christian conscience. Fifteen years in hell is enough. Thy neighbor as thyself. The road of sanity.

The foreword is by Steve Allen, who is a little remembered as a significant television personality, but less as one of the most entertaining and brilliant public intellectuals of the middle twentieth century. Here’s what he writes:

That our nation is in the throes of moral collapse of serious dimensions is, apparently, no longer a debatable conclusion. Liberal and conservative spokesmen vie to see who shall express the conviction most vigorously. Churchmen and secularists, too, agree that we have fallen upon evil days. These various groups naturally differ as to the reasons for the situation, but that it exists no one seems to doubt….

Will our nation be guided in this dread hour by the moral code it professes to honor?

Will it?

What Are Donald Trump’s Moral Obligations?

Donald Trump has indirectly raised an interesting question: What exactly are his moral obligations?

Trump’s failure to correct a supporter’s mistaken and vituperative views about President Obama have been at the center of a controversy.

After a few attempts to answer criticism, Trump tried again today:

Washington (CNN) Donald Trump on Saturday said it is not his job to correct supporters’ claims about the President, defending his decision not to take issue with a man who disparaged Muslims and said President Barack Obama is not an American.

Trump did not dispute the man’s allegations made at a town hall event this week, and added that if someone criticized him to Obama, there would be “no chance” the President would come to his defense.

“Am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don’t think so!” he tweeted Saturday morning.

Am I morally obligated to defend the president every time somebody says something bad or controversial about him? I don’t think so!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2015

Now that we know one of the things that is not Trump’s moral obligation, it begs the question: What does he consider his moral obligations to be?

I wish and hope that somebody—maybe a member of the press—would ask him.

Torture Report: Who Is We and Who We Are

Senate Intelligence Committee Report

In the wake of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, so much hand wringing, finger pointing, and finger wagging. So much righteousness and defensiveness. So many opportunities to forget for a few days our current troubles and focus, justifiably but still obsessively, on the past.

“This is not who we are.” You have heard this and it will continue to be earnestly said. But within that are two questions that need asking and answering—even if the answers are difficult.

Who Is We

Harry Truman famously kept a sign on his presidential desk that said, “The Buck Stops Here.” As a leader that is a responsible position to take. But it is not the whole story. In a democracy, it is complicated. Whether we voted for a particular official or not, or whether we voted or not, the buck—the responsibility—stops with us. We can make noises disclaiming a President, a Vice President, the CIA, and any policy we find objectionable or abhorrent. But if along the way—that is in real time—we didn’t take it on ourselves to do something/anything to counter what we knew or should have known, our fingerprints may be on this. It’s not about getting a license to criticize and moralize because you didn’t vote for that guy or you thought it was wrongheaded. It is about the reality of where the buck actually stops, no matter how perfidious and mendacious these perps are. They are we. Them is us.

Who We Are

This phrase is meant to point to our moral high ground. But in practice, many of us are involved in bits of moral relativism, or at least moral confusion. The problem isn’t whether moral absolutes exist; the problem is that we don’t much want to consider and discuss them when it comes to our personal, social, or political lives. The discussion is hard, and if you establish those absolutes, keeping to them is, as a practical matter, even harder. This isn’t about good or bad, or good or evil. This is about being human and building and operating human institutions. If, for example, everything in the report happened but the demonstrable outcome was prevention of some dark catastrophe (which it didn’t), many would relent in their critique because the good done outweighed the evil perpetrated.

And maybe that is a morally supportable perspective. And maybe not. But until we actually have that debate—about who is the “we” and who we are, it seems that we are shouting something either noble or scurrilous, but maybe, as Shakespeare wrote, “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

George Zimmerman: Not Guilty. Responsible? Sorry?

George Zimmerman
It’s easy to see how we’ve come to confuse the legal and the moral. Here and everywhere, laws are put in place that offend a general or specific sense of what is right, so we tend to connect the two. We’re also so used to seeing the legal system in media that it occupies a lot of our thinking. Even though those movies and shows try to include moral dilemmas for lawyers and clients, it’s the law that intrigues and entertains us. We have not yet had a hit television show featuring a team of super-attractive philosophers hammering out the fine points of moral right and wrong.

George Zimmerman is not guilty, at least of the crimes charged in Florida. We are awaiting possible federal civil rights charges or a wrongful death civil lawsuit. But we have no official moral court, and so we can consider where he might stand before that bench.

Every minute, people around the world, people you know, maybe even you, cross some pretty bright moral lines, and we don’t put them in jail. Not that they don’t deserve to somehow be punished, but the legal system doesn’t fit the deed, and anyway, our prison overcrowding would be exponentially more critical.

There are lots of killings we allow or sanction, including self-defense, war and capital punishment. (It would be disingenuous and dishonest not to include abortion—not because it is or isn’t killing, but because from the moral perspective of some, it is killing that we legally allow, and we can’t have the already underserved moral discussion without at least mentioning it.)

George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. It is an unrefuted, admitted fact. The legal system, in its first but maybe not last swipe at the situation, has found him not guilty of a particular crime. For the record, for those who think the justice system failed, be aware that it was never enough for the jury to believe that Zimmerman was a liar and that his version of the scenario made no sense at all. The jury could only convict on the basis of another, more damning scenario—a scenario many of us could easily imagine, but a scenario the prosecution could never paint from the evidence they had to work with. The jury is allowed to draw inferences but can’t just use their imagination the way we can.

George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, and many of us have come to the reasonable, non-legal conclusion about how it happened. People who reach that conclusion want him to be punished, not just for retribution, but to prevent something like this every happening again. Even if further legal proceedings don’t end up punishing him, many have the clear sense that he crossed a moral line and he was very wrong. That’s something that gets lost in all the fascinating legal discussion. You don’t have to be guilty to be wrong. And ever if there isn’t some sort of moral jail, that is still a big deal.

Which brings us to the apology. Even giving credit to the Zimmerman account, the killing happened, he did it, and all the legal exoneration can’t take it back or make it better. Apologies have gotten an increasingly bad name; just look at how the Republicans used it as pejorative in describing President Obama’s early “apology tour” of the world. (It does make you wonder what home life is like for some of those politicians, who in the face of expected apology refuse, not wanting to seem weak or ineffectual. Marriage counseling alert.)

George Zimmerman should apologize to Trayvon Martin’s family. Fully and sincerely. In legal terms, he can’t, of course, since there are still proceedings possible or likely. In moral terms, though, experts say that the need to confess is the best friend of police and prosecutors, because truth is a heavy weight that needs lifting. He is actually half-way to a confession anyway, since we know he shot Trayvon Martin. He doesn’t even have to detail the circumstances in any way different than he has, even if it’s not true.

All he has to say is this: I shot him I killed him. Whatever the law says, I was wrong. I’m sorry.