After the horrors of Charlottesville, and President Trump’s morally ambiguous initial statement, pundits, politicians and citizens complained that we weren’t getting the moral leadership we need.
I have one question: Why do we need moral leadership?
Moral leadership probably made sense in pre-Internet days. But today we get rapid moral clarity from social media, whether we want it or not. That doesn’t mean every person agrees. But social media usually produces a dominant moral opinion, and rapidly. No need for our “moral leaders” to get involved. We got this.
Do you know anyone who watched the news about Charlottesville and thought the White Supremacists might be the ones on the right side of this issue? Well, maybe, but those people would be white supremacists, and not likely to change because a president gave a tearful speech full of moral leadership.
So why did we need moral leadership when no one in the country wanted to be led anywhere? We all had our moral opinions and they weren’t going to change because of anyone’s moral leadership. And no one suggested that one group or another should be exempt from the law. We were all on the same page on that.
It seems to me that people didn’t really need moral leadership after Charlottesville. They just wanted it. What they really wanted was a cry-point. They wanted a leader to share the emotions they were feeling and to put a voice to their concerns. But only because it would feel good, in the same way people inexplicably enjoy sad movies that make you cry. Obviously we want to know our leader is on our side. But that just takes a simple statement.
In 2017, social media is all the moral leadership society needs. It’s messy and brutal, but it generally gets the right answer, and quickly. I have literally never heard anyone ask for moral guidance on events in the news. Most of us recognize evil when we see it. And those who can’t recognize evil on their own will not be cured by a leader who shares a good cry with us.
It is entirely fair to wonder if your leader shares your priorities. And we certainly want to know our leaders view all of us as equal under the law. But we don’t really need a leader to tell us Nazis are bad. Social media has that covered.
President Trump never promised us moral leadership when he ran for office, and he has been consistent in avoiding it. For example, he prefers leaving abortion decisions to the states. He is anti-drug, but he doesn’t lecture us about it. He says he owns a Bible, but he doesn’t wave it in our faces. He told us he was “no angel,” and the evidence supported him. President Trump’s moral leadership seems to be limited to creating jobs, keeping citizens safe, and other practical matters. We’re on our own for the philosophical determinations of good and evil.
Is that a good thing?
I remind you again that Charlottesville was a weirdly unifying event. No serious person on the left or the right disagreed on the moral dimension. Political opportunists on the left tried to frame mainstream Republicans as soft on Nazis, but that was nothing but transparent political manipulation, and clearly immoral. (See how easy it was to spot immorality? No leadership required!)
When critics of President Trump say he did not provide moral leadership on Charlottesville, I agree. His initial statement was tone deaf and politically radioactive. But ask yourself who needed moral clarity on Nazis. You don’t need a leader to take you where you already are.
I won’t go so far as to say social media is the best moral conscience for the country. I’m simply saying it is our moral conscience, and no future politician is likely to take its job. You can demand moral leadership from your president, but what you are asking for is no longer a thing. We already took moral responsibility from our leaders and invested it in social media. If the unified condemnation of Nazis and other racists in Charlottesville is any guide, we’re in good hands.
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