I keep seeing memes making fun of how much winning our country isn’t doing. They come, of course, from my fellow liberals .
What’s weird about this is that the way a lot of my friends cheer for the Eagles (Penn State/ the Sixers / even that one guy who likes the Patriots) is to proclaim how awesome it is that “we” are winning. And I’m thinking, “Yay, but WE aren’t winning football games, the Eagles are.” WE are showing up or tuning in and cheering while eating Old Bay Fries from Chickie and Pete’s; THEY are achieving landmark yardage. Is America winning? Trump, the financial Masters of the Universe and the GOP sure are.
And that’s what his genius is – at least here in the States, if your team is winning, YOU are winning. It’s the cult of charismatic presidency. In the same way that so many liberals felt that we were winning when we had a well spoken, handsome, classy, intelligent leader in President Obama, those who rejected all of that feel like this latest tax bill, regardless of personal outcome, is a massive win for them. Because their TEAM won. Their GUY won. He wins? They win.
Here’s the challenge we face: the Right doesn’t care how they win, they just care that they win. While we on the Left are stuck in the swamps of morality.
There’s a divide – culture verses society. Culture says, “Winning doesn’t matter if you cheat.” I’m Gen-X, so I know that if you “Sweep the leg,” not only are you a bad guy, in the end, you’re going to lose the match. Because Mr. Miyagi is going to do his crazy handwarmer thing, and I’ll align all of the lessons I’ve learned with a true sense of justice, and I’ll defeat you with my magical swan kick.
I used to think that morals and ethics were the same thing. Not only was I wrong from a dictionary standpoint, I was also setting myself up for some serious disappointment. In real life, Daniel usually loses.
Morals are an internal code – some say they require a religious basis to exist, but I believe we all have a moral compass. We all know that, fundamentally, kicking someone where they’re already hurt while violating the rules of the game, is morally wrong. Ethics, however, are the values of your society. Society says that if you can still win the game (in spite of a small penalty), then you damned well better sweep that leg. In a just society, the ethics are aligned with the prevailing morality. Not here, not today, maybe not ever.
America’s highest ethical value is success; after all the “American Dream” is that you’ll capitalize on the chance that your existence in this country is supposed to afford you. If you do it right, you’ll come out with the house, the family, the steady income and the opportunity to leave your kids something better than the one you had. Unfortunately, in this ethos, winning trumps everything else. Of all of the people I heard from about the American Dream (and I was a part of interviewing about 150 people for a project on the topic), only one woman talked about it including caring for your neighbors or watching out for those weaker than you. For all the others? It was about that success. And we’ve all learned by now that if you rise by breaking all the other ethical guidelines, that’s an acceptable win in our society. Ethically, absolution is given in exchange for success, not remorse.
Culture says otherwise (from “All My Sons” through “Luke Cage”), but society? Society rewards winners regardless of their behaviors. Isn’t that right, Harvey?
At this point (at least for the near Right, far Right, Neo Nazis and traditional conservatives) winning is all that matters. Did the guy who is going to help you win sexually assault teenage girls? Well, that’s not great, but is he going to help keep your chosen leader in office, and help him achieve his goals? Then get him a seat in the Senate! The rest is negotiable. Of course, those who violate society’s other ethics (everything below winning) AND oppose your leader or don’t succeed – they should certainly be punished. Why? Because they’re not part of the winning team… If Moore loses, they’ll throw him to the hounds, because he violated our ethical code, got caught, and then lost. His candidacy will have hurt the winning team. But if he wins, he’s good to go until the next election. Winning matters most. And, to be honest – I have friends to the left of me who feel like we did the same thing under Obama – we accepted his moral failings (in his case using drones, not his penis) as excusable within the bigger picture of his success. We certainly did it with President Clinton.
Look, I’m not going to stop teaching my kid that winning isn’t everything. That working hard, playing fair, winning when you earn it and losing gracefully when you don’t, is the right way to navigate society. In sports, at work, in anything where there are perceived winners and losers, an amoral win is really a loss.
But – try and look at it from another point of view – imagine that you’re desperate for work, and all out of hope, and the only chance your industry has of coming back is if your country violates its agreements, renegs on its obligations to the environment, keeps other away from access to the dream, and undoes its whole constitution – what would you do? If you believe in the cult of victory, then it doesn’t matter how you get there. Just as long as you get there.
The real question that we who reject this ethical path have to answer is: is there a road to victory that allows us to retain our moral compass? And, if not, is this society worth saving? Can it be saved? All is know is – if we don’t start winning soon, we’re about to become a vast population of cultural martyrs – standing for our principals, while those who care only about the win carry on reshaping society to suit themselves.