After WWI ended, the phrase "I was just following orders" was rightfully discarded as a valid excuse for following leaders you knew to be immoral. In some ways, making that choice was ethically worse than being a person who committed evil acts without having the self-awareness to be understand the consequences. There is a special place in hell for people who select expedience over conscience.
There are rare moments in life when you are confronted with a clear moral choice. Do you follow the path of least resistance, knowing the consequences mean damage to the greater good? Do you follow the party line, no matter what the costs to your soul? Is being powerful and wealthy more important than doing what you know is right? Do you have the moral certitude to publicly be counted when doing so might lessen your fame?
These are choices many in the Conservative media will be facing in the coming weeks as the Donald Trump presidency continues to rip apart the cultural fabric that holds this country together. Everyone from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on down will have to peer deep in their hearts and ask themselves the core questions that will define their legacy. "Is my heart filled with nothing but hatred for the Left? Am I willing to follow the Trump Administration to the brink of chaos just to retain my power and fame with Conservatives? Is there nothing Donald Trump and his administration can do that will even briefly cause me to question my decision to pour my unrestrained ambition into the battle against his foes?"
If you listen to very much Conservative talk radio, you frequently hear several common arguments in support of whatever political news story is dominating the conversation that day. The Left hates America. President Obama is heading up a shadow government that seeks to destroy Donald Trump. The news media is corrupt and in bed with the Democrats. Any federal worker not approved by the new president is suspect. You can't trust scientists. Every aspect of America is politicized, from academia to Hollywood.
Everyone is wrong but us. But not just wrong. Evil and corrupt.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent had a good piece yesterday about the Trump Administration's decision to just act as if facts didn't matter. It's not just saying one thing and doing another. It's a seemingly endless string of decisions to willfully lie in order to retain power:
There is Conway’s off-the-wall depiction above of the purpose of congressional investigations. Meanwhile, when Trump got called out for the lie that he won the popular vote but for millions who voted illegally, the White House threatened an investigation to prove it true, using the vow of probes as a tool to obfuscate efforts to hold him accountable. On Friday, Sean Spicer greeted the good February jobs report by claiming that the numbers “may have been phony in the past” — when they reflected job growth during the Obama presidency that Trump derided as fictional — but now they’re “very real.” Government data is real only when Trump says it is. Everyone had a good laugh over this, but at the risk of being very earnest, government data is supposed to inform policymaking.
Much has been made in the professional political press about the Trump Administration's willingness to lie in order to stay on the right side of an issue. But what's drawn less attention is the willingness of so many in the Conservative media to repeat the insane claims and then double-down by arguing that anyone who disputes the stories are liars and frauds. It's the Conservative movement's equivalent of the jealous boyfriend who tries to dominate the very soul his love even when he's caught cheating. "Are you going to believe me, or what you can see with your own eyes?"
It would easy to attack Sean Hannity, who has evolved in recent weeks into the Tokyo Rose of the Trump Administration. He hates the press, he attacks the Left, he repeats every outrageous claim from the White House as if his life depended on you believing it. His unwillingness to acknowledge even the slightest mistake by Donald Trump is both impressive and sad. I pity Sean Hannity. Because I believe he has no real moral compass at this point and truly believes every word he says. And in the end, it's that lack of self-awareness that will doom him. It's difficult to hear him rant about the "snowflakes" without recalling that scene from the movie "Network," in which a marginalized Howard Beale is left screaming out his rage to an audience who doesn't care anymore.
Rush Limbaugh's role in this circus is much darker, because it's clear at least some of the time that he's just doing a sophisticated radio version of trolling. Yes, he wants to see Trump succeed and he might even agree with some of the policies. But his ultimate success has always come from using his impressive broadcast skills to rile up the other side. It's cynical and dark and it's an approach that ultimately will leave him a soulless shell of a man. But he seems willing to pay that cost and his cynical decision to support Trump because it's good for business elevates his immorality to a unique level.
I don't care at all about the pack of smug, trolling young Conservatives who have found themselves increasingly popular in a Trump Administration. These people worry less about politics and ethics than about having some fun at the expense of their opponents. If this were the Revolutionary War, these sad clowns would be writing missives criticizing the grammar of James Madison or laughing about the clumsiness of Benjamin Franklin. These folks are gadflys, without any real political beliefs beyond what they need to say in public in order to continue hovering close to the limelight.
I started this piece writing about the choices some Conservatives will have to make. Some of the ones who will have to search deep down in their souls are the mid-level talk show hosts. The Conservative members of the political commentariat and Republican politicians of all levels. What will they do as they are faced with an increasingly erratic Administration? Is protecting the framework of the United States more important than their careers?
Ten years from now, we will all have to ask ourselves what we were willing to give up to confront this madness. All of us on the Left have our demons to battle and costs to pay to make things right.
But maybe THE question of the next two years for Conservatives will be a simple one. Were you willing to stand up for what is right for the country? No matter what the personal costs?