“The ends do not justify the means.”
While the Catholic Church is far from the only world religion or philosophy that espouses this virtue, having been thoroughly immersed in the Church’s teachings growing up, the Catechism was one of the first places I encountered this precept: “A good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means…On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good.“ It is repeated with a different twist several lines later “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention” (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means.”
These two lines very succinctly summarize the push and pull in the age-old debate between Consequentialism and Deontological ethics. Without delving further into a philosophical quagmire, we’re left with a widely agreed upon pair of statements that most modern societies adhere to: 1) Intentions are not everything; 2) Consequences are not everything.
So where does that leave us when it comes to what currently stands as the exclamation point to the worst Presidency of my lifetime and quite probably since the Pierce/Buchanan/Johnson trifecta in the years surrounding the Civil War? Wherever you may fall on the spectrum of intentions vs. consequences, it can be inferred that accomplishing a goal (the ends) is better done through actions that are more, rather than less, virtuous; that is, if you are not someone who falls into the camp of being an absolutist on the Consequentialism end of the spectrum, you’d agree that accomplishing a goal with more intrinsically just actions is better than the alternative.
This is not where we are in America and it has not been where avid Trump supporters nor the zeitgeist of the Republican Party has been for quite some time now. I’ve run into countless justifications for supporting the outgoing President such as, “He got us the judges,” “He cut my taxes,” or “he made the military stronger,” (but maybe not as bigly as others). Those are the ends. I’ll get to the means momentarily, but first look back at the debate stage at the 2016 Republican primaries. Which of these men could not have appointed the judges (hint: It wasn’t Trump’s expert knowledge of the judicial bench in America that got hundreds of judges appointed), cut taxes (second hint: none of these men were proposing tax increases), or made the military stronger (third hint: since Eisenhower warned of the danger of the Military Industrial Complex, no Republican since Richard Nixon, albeit dealing with a heavily Democratic Congress, has ever decreased military spending, not in peace-time, not in war-time, not in times in between where Congress ceded powers to declare war to the Executive Branch)? In case the hints didn’t resonate, the answer is none. None of these men were incapable of delivering these desired things, and one could reasonably argue that many were eminently more qualified to deliver upon even more of their promises.
Now, what was the price? Democratic Majority Rule. How are those judges working out for the Die-Hard Always-Trumpers who can’t seem to fathom that they won’t hand Trump cases on a silver platter; or, that believe it or not, even the most conservative judges took an oath to uphold the Constitution, but not to promote his or her own ideology or prove loyalty to a demagogue?
Now, the means. In the latest line of unethical acts that pave Trump’s road of bad intentions, he threw the rioters that he incited under the bus. He riled up an angry mob that he and his sycophants spent weeks feeding bullshit-line after bullshit-line about the election he legitimately lost, and then pretending that “people are just concerned,” not unlike a mafia racketeering outfit that insists people are concerned about the vandalism in the neighborhood that’s taking place because the store owners aren’t paying up. Tony Soprano has nothing on Donald Trump.
Brad Raffensberger voted for Trump, and upheld his Constitutional oath to oversee a free and fair election in the state of Georgia. What did Trump do? Fed him to the wolves. These are just the last two instances, we need not recount the numerous other people Don the Con has dismissed from his circle for insufficient loyalty.
For four long years, the means have been “Deny, divert, discredit.” For those who followed Trump’s rise to fame, we know this tactic has gone on for far longer, mentored by the Chief Counsel to Joseph McCarthy and mob lawyer extraordinaire, Roy Cohn. Cohn was the first in a long line of cartoonish thugs to grace Trump’s inner circle, an expert propagandist, brilliant (even if he used this brilliance towards the wrong ends) lawyer, and pre-eminent fast-talker. Remind you of anyone, brilliant lawyer aside? If it doesn’t, maybe you’ve fallen prey to Trump’s long con as well.
Books can be written (and, boy have they ever) about these topics and many others surrounding the life of Donald Trump, but to close out I’ll focus on some of the subjective fallout of this man’s Presidency that I’ve experienced.
From the time I registered to vote in 1998 until early 2020, I remained unaffiliated with any political party. One of the lessons I remember (when I wasn’t sleeping due to class starting at 7:30 AM) from my 11th grade High School teacher were the words from George Washington’s Farewell Address:
However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
If you find yourself prone to pareidolia, you may be tempted to attribute Washington with soothsaying abilities. In this case, the likely reality is that he was an astute observer of the human race making a keen observation about human nature. The lesser well known part of his quote to which the bracketized “political parties” refers to is the preceding description of their nature, which includes:
They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.
I can think of no better description for the hard-core Trumpists and their agenda, an agenda fully driven by the desires of a narcissistic demagogue who only wishes to use people to his own self-promotional ends (there’s that pesky problem again), a trait that is perhaps innocuous in the realm of reality television, but toxic to liberal democracy when self-promotion is the means and adulation is the desired end.
Over the last four years, I’ve had some lifelong and nearly-lifelong relationships with friends and family members end in no small part due to “ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction,” seemingly reasonable people who appear to have exchanged their personal relationships for fellating a wannabe dictator. I highlighted some of these problems in my post Why I Left FB. In addition to these experiences, I was once called a supporter of eugenics because I fact-checked a claim that Planned Parenthood traffics in aborted fetal body parts, I was called a Nazi because I dared say that while I support the efforts of Antifa supporters rescuing injured civilians in the Charlottesville Rally, I will not endorse Antifa’s philosophy of free speech suppression and violence, I’ve been called a Communist for daring to propose that health care should not be contingent upon one’s wealth or ability to work; and as a more amusing insult, an Ivory Tower elitist who votes for people based upon their looks…One day, I may write about how I came to be a Nazi Communist Liberal Free Speech Advocate, but at the moment the right combination of words escape me.
For the record, I live in a Cape Cod style house in a blue collar neighborhood, still have student loan debt, and pay more than my fair share in taxes, especially after the poorly planned tax cuts mentioned earlier. These same people, from whom I never received so much as an acknowledgment that they’d publicly misrepresented my views (with the sole exception one of the multiple Nazi allegations were removed at threat of lawsuit and a trip to HR–yes–this person was at the time a coworker), much less an apology, continue to litter Facebook with the typical ad hominem attacks, straw men, insults, and whataboutery (ironic given its origins).
Allegiance to a man above principles, allegiance to a cult of personality over ideas, and allegiance to a man who would not hesitate to abandon them when they are no longer useful to him, all for what? Run-of-the-mill Republican policy wins in exchange for burning down trust in Government, trust in each other, and the effective function of our Government?
To all the die-hard supporters of this man, especially the religious hypocrites who exchanged their embrace of moral character in leaders for rank opportunism–are the damaged relationships, the riots in the streets, the hundreds of thousands dead of a virus we handled worse than just about every country on earth, the dead civilians and cops at Capitol Hill, the thrill of adrenaline in “owning a lib” all worth it?
Did the ends justify the means?