Our lead­er­ship void

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Kathryn Lopez Colum­nist Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, editor-at­large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at klopez@ na­tion­al­re­view.com.

Wis­dom seems a pre­cious and rare com­mod­ity these days. And yet, we have a her­itage, to para­phrase the late Wil­liam F. Buck­ley, the founder of Na­tional Re­view, to call upon. Even, as it hap­pens, in news­pa­per col­umns.

The year was 1976. An in­cum­bent con­gress­man in Utah had “com­mit­ted po­lit­i­cal sui­cide,” as one Salt Lake City at­tor­ney de­scribed it, hav­ing ap­proached two women with the hopes of so­lic­it­ing sex from them. Turned out they were po­lice of­fi­cers with record­ing de­vices.

Buck­ley’s commentary on the Mor­mon re­sponse — ex­pect­ing the con­gress­man to step down — should prod the con­sciences of re­li­gious Trump sur­ro­gates of all de­nom­i­na­tions and creeds.

“The Mor­mons, like other Chris­tians, be­lieve in for­giv­ing a sin­ner,” Buck­ley wrote. “But their ex­pe­ri­ence in for­give­ness has not caused them to lose the very idea of wrong­do­ing.”

Speak­ing of another politi­cian brought low by a sex scan­dal, Buck­ley re­counted how “In what we choose to call the more cos­mopoli­tan cen­ters of Amer­ica, ev­ery­one rushed for­ward to say ... that (the disgraced politi­cian’s) ‘pri­vate’ life was en­tirely his own af­fair, that it mat­tered only whether he was us­ing the tax­pay­ers’ money to ap­pease his lu­bric­ity.”

“The Mor­mon idea is that the po­lit­i­cal leader is also some­thing of a moral leader,” Buck­ley went on to say. “That praise­wor­thy men should be elected to po­si­tions of power.” But this wasn’t — isn’t — an idea ex­clu­sive to Mor­mons. The no­tion that lead­ers should be paragons of their so­ci­ety’s virtues and be­liefs goes back to an­cient times.

So what about a “pri­vate life”? Is there re­ally such a thing for in­te­grated per­sons in a healthy so­ci­ety? As Buck­ley put it: “It is one thing to say that no one should be per­mit­ted to peer into a man’s home. Another to say that a public should be un­con­cerned as to what in fact goes on there.”

The word “pri­vacy” has been butchered by ide­o­logues in all branches of gov­ern­ment, used as a blud­geon to as­sert a new moral­ity of tol­er­ance that is, in fact, a grave and tyran­ni­cal degra­da­tion of hu­man­ity.

Re­cent days have been a flurry of shame­ful ac­cu­sa­tions and, of course, in­dig­nant tweets — made pos­si­ble by the ar­chives of “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” and Howard Stern. The furor may have been an op­por­tu­nity for the Repub­li­can party to do what it should have done all along and re­pu­di­ated Don­ald Trump both as a can­di­date and as a man. But that also begs the ques­tion: Who are we as Amer­i­cans, and who do we want to be? Hil­lary Clin­ton sure doesn’t re­flect the an­swers to those ques­tions.

Speak­ing of Mor­mons, the other day I saw in my of­fice a copy of a book from 10 or so years back about Mitt Rom­ney and the prospect of “A Mor­mon in the White House.” If only.

Buck­ley ended his col­umn: “We may have had no busi­ness know­ing” the sor­did de­tails of a public of­fi­cial mired in a pri­vate scan­dal. “But if it tran­spires that (it) af­fronts the public ideal, then surely there is a Chris­tian rec­on­cil­i­a­tion: Af­firm the ideal by dis­miss­ing the (of­fi­cial). And then for­give the (of­fi­cial) his trans­gres­sion — while in­sist­ing that that is what it was.”

I’m not sure Amer­ica is ever go­ing to be great again un­less Amer­i­cans want to be de­cent again. How do we get there? Restor­ing a sense of politics as a no­ble call­ing and ser­vice, rather than a re­al­ity show that votes any­one with a whiff of the es­tab­lish­ment — which in some cases means ex­pe­ri­ence and learned wis­dom — off the is­land would help. But that’s go­ing to re­quire some hu­mil­ity and ad­mis­sion of sins to come. Right now, we’re see­ing a lot of dou­bling down to get to a vic­tory that may only lead to another cy­cle of de­nial and dis­trac­tion, as our bet­ter an­gels are sac­ri­ficed for a dan­ger­ous power play by a strong­man.

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