Several of WC’s readers have written to ask what a good citizen should do when the government is bad. WC is frankly astonished that anyone would ask him. WC, after all, is a tree-hugging, retired lawyer. But as must be obvious, not shy about his opinions.
How bad has Trump gotten? George Will, the closest thing to an intellectual left in the sordid crap heap of the Republican Party, has called for his readers to vote for Democrats in November, to defang Trump’s dreadful laws. George Will, the arch-conservative. Because, he says, the Republican Party under Donald Trump has betrayed everything it ever stood for.
Will, in that recent essay, quoted Robert Bolt, the playwright author of A Man for All Seasons, in his screed against Paul Ryan. Thomas More, the protagonist of the play, faces death because of the perjury of a friend, Richard Rich. Rich’s perjury was suborned by the promise he would be made attorney general of Wales. More reacts:
“For Wales? Why Richard, it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. . . but for Wales!”
George Will finds House Speaker Paul Ryan’s conduct analogous, and points out Paul Ryan traded his political soul for . . . a tax cut.
It’s a nice shot. Intellectual, historical and sharp.
But it also illustrates the perils of taking a quotation out of context, because A Man for All Seasons is about what a man of conscience – Thomas More – should do at a time when his leaders have no conscience. And the answer, the answer for which More gives his life, is to do what your conscience requires. It’s a point that George Will fails to make. It’s a lesson for our times.
We have leaders with no conscience. No principles, or, rather principles that change with the weather. Quoting Bolt again:
More: Will, I’d trust you with my life. But not your principles. You see, we speak of being anchored to our principles. But if the weather turns nasty you up with an anchor and let it down where there’s less wind, and the fishing’s better. And “Look,” we say, “look, I’m anchored! To my principles!”
WC’s advice is that you should be as Thomas More: be firm in your principles and follow the dictates of your conscience. Your conscience should require you to vote, and vote for Democrats. Just this once, follow George Will’s advice. Your conscience, to the extent your finances allow, should require you to support candidates who will do better than the Republicans. Your conscience, to the extent your time permits, should require you to work as a volunteer for the candidates you support.
There’s more (sorry). WC is a lawyer. And there is another course of action, because there is another branch of government: the courts. The law. Another scene from A Man for All Seasons:
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More (roused and excited): Oh? (Advances on Roper.) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (Leaves him.) This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast – Man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly.) Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”
Yes, Trump and the Republicans are trying to pack the courts, but they haven’t yet and aren’t likely to before November. Trust Article III, trust the Judicial Branch. Because much of what Trump has done is egregiously, outrageously illegal. To the extent your finances permit, support the lawyers who are fighting Trump in court. The ACLU. Advocates for the West. Natural Resources Defense Council. Trustees for Alaska. They are all doing good work and can all use your support.
Finally, your conscience may lead you to the tedious, difficult task of calling out lies, misstatements and distortions, by both Republicans and Democrats. If we are to recover our government, our culture, we must return to reliance of facts, on data. Logic, not fallacies. Progressives do that cause a disservice if they adopt Trumpian tactics. You won’t change the minds of any true believers, but maybe you can change the attitudes of those who have not yet gotten involved. And get them to follow their consciences, too.
Your conscience. Follow it where it leads you. George Will may have missed the point. You don’t have to. Oh, and read A Man for All Seasons. It’s a play for our times.