Between You and Me: Shame and honor…two lost words
By Leah S. Dunaief
Has anyone noticed that there seems to be a conspicuous lack of shame in our society? One could also point out, in the lacking department, the disappearance of honor. And to a great extent, of respect. Yes, and even civility, courtesy, apology and politeness.
Now I am not pointing a finger at any particular demographic, as in, “In my generation, we always stood up if we were seated, when introduced to an elderly lady,” or “Children shouldn’t talk to their teachers that way.” Members of older generations have traditionally found fault with those coming up after them, for being less ambitious, or mannerly or some such. But I would hope I am not just another cranky, older person. No, I’m referring to something else, something more sinister in our present culture.
Now I am not accusing everyone here. Just saying that these qualities seem to be a lot less evident in today’s world. I guess if you never need to tell the truth, you never have to admit that you lost a tennis match … or an election.
That loss of good sportsmanship is troubling. I like to see, for example, when the other two participants in a nightly round of “Jeopardy!” turn and applaud the winner at the end of the contest. It makes me feel that we are all together as part of a community when the ball teams each form a line and shake hands with the opposing team members, however competitive the preceding game might have been.
George Santos (R-NY3), the newly elected Congressman from Queens, is a case in point. He is merely a product of our times, if an extreme one. While he now admits to falsifying the resume he campaigned on, he seems to consider his behavior acceptable, exaggerating not lying. During Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, he unabashedly sashayed around the room, sitting in one of the most visible seats, shaking hands with many senators and the president, even taking selfies. He clearly feels no shame about his actions and no sense of consequence. What sort of culture does he come from? The answer is: one in which the lack of all the above attributes rule.
Santos is not the first such example, of course. I am reminded of the historic, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” question asked of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) by soft spoken American lawyer, Joseph Nye Welch, for the Army during the infamous Army-McCarthy hearings. Those hearings searched for Communist activities in the early 1950s on behalf of the Senate. McCarthy lied his way to power, but Welch’s immortal query, in effect, ended his career, as his Republican colleagues no longer accepted his erratic antics, censured and ostracized him.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), before Biden’s speech and noting Santos’s actions, told him he “shouldn’t have been there,” meaning front and center in the House, and had no shame. But so far, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA20) — odd repetition of names — has not publicly challenged or denounced him.
“He shouldn’t be in Congress,” Romney said, when he was questioned by the press after Biden’s speech about the testy exchange with Santos . “If he had any shame at all, he wouldn’t be there.”
Far from shame, Santos tweeted Romney, “Hey @MittRomney, just a reminder that you will NEVER be PRESIDENT!” Romney, of course, lost his presidential bid in 2012.
Perhaps in the culture of today, not only does one refrain from acknowledging wrongdoing but rather, when challenged, comes back fighting. How far we have come in our ethics evolution. Sounds a bit like Putin, doesn’t it?