National Commentary

The Pandemic & Immorality

The biggest cheating scandal ever to hit West Point, the U.S. Military Academy there, this month comes as a fitting exclamation point to 2020, not that we’re over this most extraordinary of years quite yet.

The massive cheating scandal involving over 70 cadets at this most esteemed of institutions, dedicated to turning out the most responsible cadres of leaders upon whom the security and stability of our nation is supposed to rest, rivals if not in the same immediate global consequentiality as a pathological liar and traitor in the White House, then at least as an exemplary signal of the depth of the nation’s moral rot.

Perhaps by extension it explains Trump, how he was ever enabled to escape the wrath of the U.S. criminal justice system as a two-bit mafioso thug in New York to instead become president of the U.S., and to still enjoy, at least for the time being, the support of 60 million Americans.

The monument marking the entrance to West Point reads simply, “A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.” The importance of this honor code cannot be overstated. It would be nice if the entire nation were held to such a standard, and for a democracy to work, that pretty much has to be the assumption.

But of course, it is not the cheating cadets who’ve reminded us how decadent our once-proud nation has become. It is the behavior of all too many police officers around the U.S. who have come under so much added scrutiny in this year of Black Lives Matter in the wake of the deadly public suffocation by a police officer of George Floyd and other brutal cases which the proliferation of cell phone cameras have brought to light.

And, as journalist Sarah Jones has stipulated in a New York Magazine article this week, “Weddings to Die For,” immoral behavior runs the gamut of American culture in these times.

Yes, going maskless and ignoring social distancing at large, sweaty gatherings, such as marriage parties she herself witnessed, ignoring the Covid-19 “super spreader” consequences of such behavior, is the height of selfishness and immortality for everyone involved.

There is simply no excuse, no plaintiff insistence that precautions were observed, no anger at being judged in an unfavorable light, that can wash away the stain of moral turpitude that one carries having participated in such a violation.

It is more than any risk a participant personally might be willing to accept responsibility for. We all know that the deadly virus will go beyond any one healthy person to seek out others who are not, and that a wedding party attendee can carry it asymptomatically for days, bringing it home to jump onto grandma, or any other unsuspecting but vulnerable victim.

How do you think well over 300,000 Americans have died from this virus already? It has been, and continues to be, by the exact form of transmission that wedding party goers represent to the rest of us.

An amazing number of people remain in denial about this, talking one moment about the spread of the pandemic, and in the next moment about how they’re planning to travel and get together with inlaws over the holidays.

No wonder even as vaccines are beginning to be rolled out across our land, projections are that the death toll from Covid-19 could go well over half a million this winter before the arrival of spring.

People don’t consider themselves selfish pigs for ignoring the health safety guidelines like this, but they are. Denial doesn’t explain it. Immorality does.

Selfish self-interest has become the dominant theme in our culture. The lines of demarcation between good and bad in our society may not be best described as between capital and labor, or Republican or Democrat, but as between virtue and inconsiderate selfishness. That’s how they thought of it in Renaissance times.

It takes courage, after all, to stand up for what’s right, not just in repelling bullies on a playground, but in holding one’s own selfish impulses in check to advance the good and right.

Enjoy the holidays, virtuous citizens!