Now that the election is over, I find it very interesting how many people derive their virtue from who they voted for. It is such a toxic view toward our civic responsibility. People believe taking certain political positions prove they are more caring, more loving, more philanthropic than other people, that they are better people. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but no one is more virtuous on the merits of who they voted for. We do not get our virtue from our politics. We do not. No one gets elevated to Mother Theresa-status because they voted for a certain candidate. No one. So, stop pretending that it does. It looks foolish.
Politics is a very dirty game. All politicians in one way or the other are compromised. They spin. They slant. They shade the truth. Is there virtue in that? Most of their decisions are paying off their political donors who funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into their campaigns expecting a political payback. Is there virtue in that? The entire process of politics is so corrupting that even the most wide-eyed pure person going into politics does not come out with their soul, their virtue intact. So, we are determining our virtue based on our stances in the most in-virtuous parts of our society? Does that make any sense?
James Madison recognized that there are “no angels” in government, that’s why it was necessary to put controls on those who governed. Thomas Paine wrote, “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” So, voting and your political stances are always choosing the lesser of two evils. And there is never virtue in choosing evil, even if it’s staving off a greater evil.
But when virtue is politicized, the culture becomes destroyed. Everything in our society, from corporate America, to sports teams, to Hollywood, has become politicized, so every choice we make becomes a litmus test for our perceived virtue. What fast food restaurant we eat at, which sports team we root for, what movie we go see, have all becomes a tacit support or disapproval of some political issue tied it, and all the moral fallout that comes with it.
Family holiday dinners are destroyed if everyone doesn’t share the same political views. The conversations have become so hostile that family members can’t stand to be in same room with each other. We can’t just say, ‘I disagree with you, or I’m voting for the other guy, and leave it at that?’ No. One side becomes Adolph Hitler, and the other side becomes Martin Luther King Jr. Politics dirties everything it touches, even family and virtue.
But you are not a better person than someone else, more moral based on which box you checked on your ballot. Your political opinions even if proven right do not make you more virtuous, do not make you a better person than others. It does not. And if you are arguing with that statement in your head, you are merely underscoring the point.
Virtue comes pretty cheap these days. It comes from the right tweet, a certain Facebook post, repeating a slogan, a t-shirt or bumper sticker. It takes infinitely more than that to claim virtue. Virtue comes from your ability to love others, to sacrifice for others, to forgive, to have compassion, to understand someone different than you, to see the world through their eyes, to validate others by validating their point of view, to bring out their humanity by connecting with them on a human level. That’s real virtue, and that’s in short supply these days.
Real virtue comes from true sacrifice, true courage. It is found in firefighters, police officers, military personnel, volunteers, healthcare workers making sacrifices, risking their lives every day for others. These people have real virtue, not the people sitting in the comfort of their home firing off tweets villainizing others because they think differently from them. Their arrogance is not virtuous. Their dismissiveness is not virtuous. Shouting people down, canceling people is not virtuous.
But people like this who love to signal their virtue tend not to be very virtuous in their lives at all. They believe because they voted for the right person, they are more virtuous regardless of how greedy, selfish and mean-spirited they are. Virtue is not walking around with your nose in the air, sneering at the unwashed masses who are not as enlightened as you, dismissing their points of view and diminishing their humanity. This goes on far too often in our society, and it rears its ugly head from all over the political spectrum. It’s better that we do away with this moral snobbery anyway; people thinking they are better or more virtuous for any reason. That type of thinking or attitude in and of itself negates the virtue these people tacitly claim for themselves.
How and why did we get to this place? For the last 40-50 years, religion in our country has been under a constant assault. And the forces at work have done a thorough job of if not destroying it, marginalizing it in our culture. There are many people who lack anything in the form of traditional spirituality. So, our political beliefs, our stances on political issues have become a true test for our virtue, our morality. This is a very treacherous road to go down. It creates a very dangerous dichotomy in which every political debate is framed by pitting us vs them, good vs evil which in turn shuts down debate because there is no talking to evil. Do we really believe that the person on the other side of the debate is evil?
We used to be a society where if we disagreed with someone politically, we thought they were wrong and we were right, shook hands and went about our business. Political positions were practical decisions more than moral dilemmas. But when you derive your virtue from your politics, it will cause you to pick positions that are presented as more virtuous but not necessarily what is best or right. This is the very reason why certain politicians and political ideologies want to diminish or do away with religion. They believe if they can harness the untapped religious fervor inside of us, and the virtue and morality attached to it, and direct it toward them and their ideology, it will solidify their power they have over the people. This is why ideologies hostile to religion like Socialism and Communism have become more popular recently. In theory, these ideologies appear more virtuous, even though in practice they are destructive and evil. While capitalism has fallen into disfavor because in theory, it sounds mean and selfish, even though it is the most empowering and widely-beneficial economic systems there is.
The greatness and virtue of America is not in who we vote for, but how we vote for them. The free and fair processes of our politics are what keeps America great. Who gets elected and what policies are enacted are less important than preserving our systems of government; our Constitution, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, our fair and legal elections. The countries that are in the most-dire straits are the ones that have rigged elections and selectively enforce their constitutional principles. It’s strange how those in our society who are constantly grasping for more and more virtue have forgotten where the real virtue resides in this country.
We are all humans capable tremendous acts of kindness and generosity as well as horrendous acts of hatred and cruelty. There are few truly virtuous people in the world, and fewer who are so virtuous that they have the standing to cancel or look down on other people. And the truly virtuous would never think to cancel or diminish another human being. Cancelling is incompatible with virtue. Virtuous people try to connect. If you have ever cancelled anyone for their politics, then you are not virtuous. You are the exact opposite of virtuous. Virtuous people do not elevate themselves over others to diminish or discredit, they lower themselves to others to help and heal. And that’s why there is no virtue in politics.
Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He is a frequent contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.