Many believe that the end of shame started when president George W. Bush ordered the invasion of an independent nation based on the flimsy – if not outright false – allegation that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Some believe the end of shame occurred when president Bill Clinton was “merely” impeached for a sexual affair and for lying under oath about it.
Others see the end of shame occurring when presidential candidate Donald Trump bragged about his sexual transgressions, when a dozen or more women confirmed those words when they accused him of sexual attacks and when the man was still elected president.
Less than two weeks ago, a gunman went on a rampage in a rural Northern California town. It hardly caused a ripple on the news wires because “only” four human beings were killed – not 26 in a church; not 32 at a university; not 49 in a night club and not 58 at a country music festival.
Was this the end of shame for some?
Of course, there have been other shameful moments in our nation’s history.
This article lists “18 most shameful moments in U.S. History.” Among them:
• The Indian Removal Act of 1830, resulting in the forcible eviction of Native American tribes of the Southeast: “The Trail of Tears.”
• The internment of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II
• The McCarthyism of the 1950’s
Also, the Vietnam War, the previously mentioned invasion of Iraq and, of course, slavery and “Jim Crow.”
Despite such mistakes, the United States is still a proud an exceptional nation.
But still the question arises, are these mistakes – moments of shame – occurring more and more frequently?
In her “The End of Shame,” Ruth Marcus seems to broach a similar issue.
Recalling Jonathan Swift’s observation of three centuries ago — “I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed” – Marcus notes that “it feels, more and more, that we are experiencing the end of shame.”
Marcus mentions two examples that display “our sad national trajectory.”
In my opinion, the most sad and salient recent example is the Alabama Republican Senate race, where Trump and others are helping “fuel the end of shame,” by intimating, according to Marcus, that “electing an accused child molester to the Senate is preferable to seating a Democrat.” Marcus calls this is “the epitome of shamelessness.”
The president, “for whom shamelessness has proven a potent tactic,” said initially, “I can tell you one thing for sure. We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat.” To which Marcus says, “Morality is a luxury with a 52-vote Senate majority. Shame is a millstone, or would be if Trump were capable of it.”
The other example of the “end of shame,” is, according to Marcus, the tax bill, the passage of which adviser Kellyanne Conway finds “even more important than defeating an accused child molester.”
Marcus sees as shameful parts of the tax bill — heralding “the end of shame” – not only that it is “morally deficient,” but that it is “so studded with gimmicks that the real cost is more like $2.2 trillion;” that “the Mulvaneys of the world have managed to convince themselves of supply-side gobbledygook in which tax cuts pay for themselves” and, especially, “Mulvaney’s brazen willingness to admit that the price tag is phony — specifically the notion that individual tax cuts will expire.”
Referring once more to Swift’s words, Marcus concludes, “What does it mean if we lose Swift’s capacity to wonder at the absence of shame?”
Different people will have different opinions on when, or even if, we have come to “the end of shame,” but just as we are beginning to become numbed an jaded by the frequency and horrendousness of mass shootings, we are entering a period when incidents and allegations of sexual harassment and assault – at “the highest levels” — and of other shameless acts and words by our leaders are becoming so commonplace, rationalized and “politicized” that we may eventually risk losing that great American value: learning from our mistakes.