Thursday, November 3, 2016

Contemplating the Worth of Values

Following is an op-ed piece I wrote for the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung that it ran on November 3 as "Finding the 'values' in this election." It is somewhat longer than what the newspaper normally accepts and the editors there had to tighten it up a bit and, in doing so, wisely toned down some of my more inflammatory verbiage. Hope you enjoy it or, at least, are prompted to reflect upon the issues it addresses. 

Never before the current election cycle have I been so grateful to be almost entirely bereft of values and to have had to limp through life guided by almost nothing but ideals. Likewise, never before have I so pitied the many “values voters” who have contorted themselves to cite their fundamental beliefs as the basis for defending candidate Donald Trump and the many loathsome and disturbing things he has personally uttered and admitted to. 

Certainly there are not many good choices in the current presidential election and, as I am wholly unable to defend or promote Hillary Clinton, I cannot in good conscience reproach anyone for even misguidedly choosing Donald Trump as the lesser of two evils. What baffles me, however, are the many convoluted and grotesque attempts to invoke moral values on behalf of Donald Trump that we have seen recently. 

Perhaps my problem getting my mind around this apparent disconnect is my own lack of values and subsequent failure to comprehend them, and so I am attempting to understand the difference between them and ideals. 

To me, ideals are forward-looking and represent hopes and aspirations. One of my ideals, for example, is that “I want to live in a country where women don’t have to fear sexual violence and where those who admit to such crimes are held accountable for them.” 

Values are harder for me to get my mind around but I have identified a number of common characteristics many of them share. One is that they are applied to the conduct of others at least as much, and often more so, than to one’s own behavior. Another is that they can be invoked as the standard of behavior in a fictitious golden age that existed before our current era of moral decline. Yet another is that they tend to claim as their moral authority verses from the Bible. In that the contents of the Bible are meaningless to the more than one-third of Americans who are not members of Christian congregations — and, as far as I can tell, that it is not actually comprehensively read by most Christians anyway — this last trait really does seem like an odd basis for anything one might want everyone to get on board with. 

Having recognized these attributes, however, I decided to watch people purporting to have values on the news, on social media, and in person, and to see if by doing so I could formulate some of my own and come to a better understanding of them. Here are some of my initial results and conclusions about them: 

“Bill Clinton is a rapist.” 

Hmmm, strangely, I hear this get invoked a lot as a direct answer to questions about Donald Trump’s conduct, but that technically makes it what we used to call a non sequitur, rather than a value. 


Nope, that is not a value, just a city in the Middle East. 


No, that’s the date of a historical event, not actually a value. 

“Make America great again.” 

OK, sure, at first this sounds like a value, but is obviously predicated on the idea that America is not in fact a great nation today. This is the kind of assertion that might have gotten hippies, blacks, or other troublemakers pretty badly beaten by conservatives in earlier eras, so it is kind of funny that it has been co-opted by rightwing “patriots” today. I would postulate that, by definition, a statement that demeans the United States cannot be characterized as a legitimate American value. And aren’t the people saying this now the same ones who coined “Love it or leave it” back in the day? 

“My Christian faith does not allow me to judge others.” 

Hahahaha! Oh, good grief. OK, so this really does meet all the tests for being a value. What makes it ridiculously laughable as a defense for Trump, however, is that we have all routinely seen many of the people who are invoking it today — from individuals we know to prominent religious leaders — actively judge and condemn others as a matter of course. Withholding judgement only when it applies to someone a person has already decided to vote for does seem like a bit of a double standard. 

“People who have more money and power than me have the right to demean and use women, including ones I care about, as they see fit.” 

Yes! This one actually hits all the marks and can be regarded as a genuine value. In Genesis 20, for example, we see Abraham willingly give his wife to Abimelek, king of Gerar — and read that she is returned to him only because of direct intervention by God — so it meets the test for being supported by obscure sacred texts. And it echoes the disturbing medieval practice of primae noctis, in which a feudal lord could exert the right to sleep with a new bride ahead of her husband, thereby hearkening back to a golden age when everyone knew their place. And, most critically, adherence to this value allows one to support Donald Trump not just despite the most loathsome things he has openly admitted to but even because of them. It would be a humiliatingly shameful thing for any American to say out loud, of course, but for months now we have seen any number of them implicitly promoting this idea as their reality. 

My initial success at formulating a value notwithstanding, this is probably pretty clearly something that does not come naturally to me, and moving ahead I am likely simply going to have to remain value-free and continue to stick just with ideals. And, if the only use for values is to show that black is white, that evil is good, that ugliness is beautiful, then I really don’t have much use for them anyway. 

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