Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate, died Sunday at the age of 98. The media was filled with praise, which was understandable even to those who opposed much of what he stood for.
It’s not just that he was a war hero, or that he reminds us of a time when both sides were ready to work together in the national interest. Her life story also reminds us of a time when public figures were expected to show a certain sense of responsibility – possessing basic decency, admitting mistakes when they made them, even putting their lives in danger. time of war. Human nature being what it is, many people who claimed to have these virtues were hypocrites. But at least it was ideal, and being an obvious con artist, liar, or coward was politically disqualifying.
As it turns out, Dole’s death came just days after we learned what Donald Trump did after testing positive for the coronavirus last year. He not only hid the result, but also proceeded to set hundreds of people at risk by continuing normal activities while refusing to wear a mask or practice social distancing. And when he came across a potentially fatal case of Covid, he suggested he might have caught it from Gold Star families whom he had met after his positive test, that is, he blamed the people he himself had mercilessly endangered himself.
On some level, no one is surprised; we knew Trump was smart to a degree never before seen in high office. But what about the state of modern America that no one expects to pay the price for this revelation? The loyalty of his base will not be shaken; he’s still the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Nor has he paid the price for other character flaws that would once have been considered overwhelming. A generation or two ago, could a national politician have gotten away with constantly feeling self-pity, complaining about how he is treated badly? Couldn’t he have paid any penalties for always refusing to admit a mistake, even if the cover-up required modifying the weather charts with what appears to have been a Sharpie?
And Trump appears to have set the standard for many of his followers. Many rioters who tried to annul the January 6 election appear to be very sorry – to themselves. Kyle Rittenhouse cry on the witness stand, not because he felt remorse for having killed people, but because he had suffered from being tried. The Crumbleys, who gave their son the gun with which he shot down his Michigan school and killed four students, also appeared very angry – after being arrested.
All this from a movement obsessed with the idea of masculinity. Weren’t real men traditionally meant to be strong, silent types who took responsibility for their actions and accepted burdens without complaint? Of course, these are human virtues, not specifically masculine; Yet, they were qualities that we expected and admired.
It didn’t start with Trump. We have been following this path for a long time. In 2006, in the aftermath of the false pretense invasion of Iraq and the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, I wrote about the ‘mensch gap’ – the reluctance of those in charge of the country to accept the responsibility for their own failures, their eagerness to blame others when things go wrong. Later, during the Obama era, it is striking how many right-wing critics refused to acknowledge the error when their predictions of galloping inflation or the dismal failure of Obamacare failed to come true.
But now the transformation of American conservatism – the same movement that complains about liberal “snowflakes” – into a collection of clever whiners seems to have reached apotheosis. Yes, there are also hypocrites who pity on their left; but they don’t dominate like Trump and Trump-like figures dominate the right.
I don’t know exactly why this happened; the degradation probably started decades ago, perhaps as early as the Vietnam years. But there is no doubt that it has happened. At this point, there are no more adults on one side of the political aisle.
Remember the truth about inflation?
Also real unemployment rates.
And Covid Auditors.