As a child I marveled at the beauty on display in the Miss America Pageant. But my father cautioned me: “Beauty is as beauty does.” Similarly, the true test of moral virtue is not opinions or passions, but actions.
That old-fashioned wisdom comes to mind as the nation is convulsed by the preening moral righteousness of Americans who are unhappy with the electoral success of the Republican Party and of Donald Trump in particular. What is most telling of the hypocrisy is the profession of compassion, tolerance and even love by persons filled with callousness, intolerance and hatred.
In George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” an all-powerful government compelled its subjects not only to utter what they were commanded to but even to accept complete falsehood, as in the regime’s slogans: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
In order to bring the recalcitrant Winston to heel, an Oceana official holds up four fingers and demands that his captive say that there are five. Those who inhabit the modern totalitarian state must lie.
Fortunately, 1984 passed without our nation becoming a tyranny, but as Alexis de Tocqueville warned in his classic work “Democracy in America” (1835), public opinion can be as tyrannical as the government. Today, angry mobs in our nation’s largest cities (aka “sanctuary cities”) form in the streets intimidating their fellow citizens with mindless chants with the object of overturning the recently recorded consent of the governed.
Millions of heretofore trusting citizens have not failed to notice that the behavior of these mobs is the exact opposite of what they shout out to the world. They profess to care about the poor, racial minorities and “undocumented” (illegal) immigrants, but they are in fact endorsing a party line which treats these classes of people as cannon fodder for their campaign against our Constitution and laws. Anyone in those sainted groups who dares to dissent is cast off with even more contempt than those in the hated middle-class, white or legal majority.
More than any other term, “tolerance” is professed by the unhappy electoral losers. But there are two difficulties. First, they show precious little tolerance for anyone who disagrees with them. Scandalous incidents recently at the University of California at Berkeley and New York University (though hardly untypical) in which howling mobs made it practically impossible for invited conservatives to speak demonstrate just how “tolerant” they are.
Second, as much as we deplore the intolerance of those who profess tolerance, let us admit that even in a free republic like ours, not everything can be tolerated, neither mob rule nor the “politically correct” tyranny that has gripped many people in all facets of our national life. As we affirm the constitutional status and real virtue of freedom of speech, so we must condemn all efforts, whether overt or covert, to suppress our public discussion.
Likewise for compassion and love. We have a right to know whether professions of these attributes or feelings are well directed. We must have compassion for real victims of oppression, not their oppressors. We love those close to us but we cannot love all of humanity or even major portions of it.
What is needed most of all, and which alone can direct our moral sentiments, is prudence. Those who admire tyrants like Fidel Castro are neither compassionate nor loving but betray a desire to emulate the unlamented Cuban caudillo. Equally, those who are indifferent to the plight of those subjected to tyranny are lacking in real virtue.
The question in our politics should not be whether we should be tolerant but what in fact we should tolerate. When I was a young man presumably sane people actually said that it didn’t matter if someone is a communist because one’s political views are protected by the Constitution. That was nonsense because our Constitution is dedicated to protecting human liberty, not slavery.
Today the descendants of those tolerant of communism now proclaim that we must be tolerant of even the most extreme adherents of a religion which treats women and homosexuals not with love but with unbridled cruelty. So as not to give offense to the millions of Muslims who have shied away from violence, progressives refuse to admit the truth about Islamic terrorism.
The true test of tolerance is not what unprincipled people proclaim their willingness to accept but what is compatible with human freedom. America has done more than any other nation to discredit and defeat everything from absolute monarchy to Soviet communism. It should continue in this great tradition by ridding the world of radical Islam.
The longer term goal is to dispatch the false doctrine that teaches its minions to hate and defy the Constitution.
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow Community College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org