Can Politics Be Moral?

Brandon Stanton’s Open Letter

Brandon Stanton, in an open letter to Donald Trump says:

“I’ve come to realize that opposing you is no longer a political decision. It is a moral one.”

Brandon Stanton

Photo by Alex Welsh for The New York Times

Mr. Stanton is the man behind the popular photo blog Humans of New York. He sees it as his mission to let his subjects speak for themselves through words and images, without imposing his own political or moral judgements on them. In a recent Facebook post, he made an exception, and called out Presidential hopeful Donald Trump for his campaign of lies, fear and hatred:

“You are a man who has encouraged prejudice and violence in the pursuit of personal power.”

His open letter is brief (about 300 words) and worth your time to read. His main point is that Donald Trump fails the test of basic human morality, and is therefore not fit to be President of the most powerful nation in the world. You may recall Pope Francis making a similar observation about Mr. Trump.

Politics Is About Morality

Regardless of whether you agree with Mr. Stanton’s assessment of Donald Trump’s moral fitness to be President, the way he arrived at that assessment is spot on. Politics — especially election politics — is all about morality. It is about how we decide what kind of country we want to be. It is where we tell our leaders how we want our country to respond to the national and international issues of our time, issues that are more often than not moral issues.

For example, how we treat the environment is a profoundly moral issue. How we treat the unborn is a profoundly moral issue. How we treat people caught up in our criminal justice system is a profoundly moral issue. How we deal with income inequity is a profoundly moral issue. How we decide whether to go to war or not is a profoundly moral issue. How we deal with poverty is a profoundly moral issue. How we respond to the ever-increasing waves of immigrants fleeing their homes and seeking refuge in our country, this is one hundred percent a moral issue.

We sometimes try to pretend that these are not moral issues. We talk instead about the need to control our national borders, or the impracticality of eliminating poverty inside our national borders, or the need to maintain a military force stronger than the next ten nations combined, or the unacceptable cost of guaranteeing everyone access to affordable health care. These are dishonest conversations. We use them to deflect the difficult moral questions that we should be asking.

God’s Morality

It turns out that God has a good deal to say about all of these issues. To pretend that he doesn’t is to admit that we don’t really take God very seriously; that we would prefer he restrict his opinions to Sunday morning services, and generally stay out of politics. As an evangelical Christian, I try to take God’s morality seriously. I try to evaluate political candidates and political positions through the lens of God’s morality. I’m not sure I’m always right, but I do try.

You may draw from the well of a different faith than I do, or from no faith at all, but you undoubtedly have a personal moral belief system, and that means that you too must decide how to bring your personal morality to bear on your evaluation of political candidates and political positions.

Politics is all about morality. Brandon Stanton watched and listened to a man who wants to be President of the most powerful nation the world has ever seen, and he concluded that that man comes up short when measured against the test of basic human morality. Whether you agree with his assessment of Mr. Trump is not the point. The point is that he is making his assessment the right way. The moral way.

Can politics be moral? Politics can’t be anything but moral.

What Do You Think?

Do you agree? Disagree? Look at it differently? Let me know; I’d like to hear from you. And thanks for taking the time to read the post.


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