Demenschification

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Autore: Paul Krugman, New York Times

 


“Be a mensch,” my parents told me. If your ethnic or social background was different, your parents might have told you to “man up,” be a stand-up guy, or whatever. And yes, the notion used to be gendered. But one imagines and hopes that many parents are saying something equivalent to their daughters.

Whatever the words used, the values our elders were trying to instill were clear: To be a good person — maybe even more to the point, to be a grownup — you had to be willing to take responsibility. You would do what needed to be done. You would be honest about and learn from your failures. A bit of pride in your achievements was O.K., but boasting and grandiosity weren’t. And you should never, ever whine.

Obviously few people ever lived up fully to this ideal. But many tried, and even those who didn’t at least pretended to be mensches. This was especially true of people who aspired to leadership positions. Who, after all, would follow a strutting, whining liar who wears his immaturity and insecurity on his sleeve, who boasts about imaginary successes while constantly blaming others for his very real failures?

The answer, unfortunately, seems to be a lot of Americans.

So what happened to us? How did we become the kind of society in which large numbers of people not only accept but admire Donald Trump, surely the least mensch-like person ever to occupy the White House, possibly the least mensch-like public figure in American history?

The ascendancy of the toddler-in-chief didn’t come out of nowhere. Way back in 2006 I wrote about the Bush administration’s “mensch gap,” its officials’ inability to accept responsibility for the botched occupation of Iraq, the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, and so on. Readers of a certain age may go back even further, and remember how shocking it seemed at the time when a self-centered blowhard like Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House. But with Trump the demenschification of American leadership has reached its apotheosis.

The infantilization of our politicians presumably has deeper cultural roots, although I can’t claim any special understanding of what those roots may be. What I will say is that something has gone very wrong with at least that aspect of American values — and to me, at least, this particular kind of moral collapse seems far more important than any of the things most pundits who rant about declining values like to talk about.

The good news is that this hasn’t happened to everyone in political life. In case you hadn’t realized this already, one thing made very clear by the events surrounding last week’s Trump infrastructure tantrum was that Nancy Pelosi is every bit the mensch Trump isn’t: self-possessed, disciplined, someone who is trying to do her job rather than gratify her ego. The whole disgusting tale of the doctored video purporting to show Pelosi drunk was in a way a tribute to her virtues; even to pretend to bring her down to Trump’s level the right had to engage in outright fraud.

And as far as I can tell, all the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination are also adults. I’d like to think that this will matter in the general election. But to be honest, I’m not sure that it will.

Retrieved from:
New York Times

 

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