The novel “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov is considered by aficionados to be one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written. It is also one of my favorite books. There is a character in the book named Salvor Hardin who is known for, among other things, his epigrams. One of these sayings is “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”, which I wholeheartedly agree with. Another is “Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right”. This, on the other hand, has always troubled me. I believe in doing what’s right, but I’ve always feared that if we abandon our respective canons of morals and ethics, we risk becoming a society under the rule of men, as opposed to the rule of law, which ultimately could lead to despotism and possibly dictatorship. After all, whom do we trust to always know what is “right”? Certainly not our president-elect; he would seem to be just what I always was afraid of: the leader with no rules, ethics or morals, who thinks he knows everything and is always right, and is therefore free to do whatever he wants. And yet, despite these reservations, recent events have left me wondering if maybe there is something valuable to be learned by Hardin’s bromide after all.
Over the past few years, the Republican party has jettisoned any pretense of moral/ethical behavior to sate its lust for power. (And yes, these are the same people who claim to be the “Moral Majority, but as the old bumper sticker said and as the popular vote in the recent election proves, they are neither). They shut down the government, causing hardship to millions, in a naked power grab. They refused to even hold hearings on any Supreme Court nominee put forth by President Obama, leaving the Supreme Court short one member for what will wind up being over a year (and threatened to do the same for the entire four years or more of a theoretical Clinton administration), in order to ensure that whoever got the seat would be someone willing to do their bidding. And of course, apart from a few tut tuts here and there, they have essentially been okay with all of Trump’s outrages, ranging from racism, sexism and xenophobia, to his open invitation to his “fellow- traveler” Vladimir Putin to meddle in our election. After losing the governor’s race in North Carolina, Republicans first challenged the outcome with baseless allegations of voter fraud. When that didn’t work, they called an emergency session of the state legislature which they used to strip away many of the powers theretofore invested in the state’s governor, because the incoming governor is, you know, a Democrat. No problem; if and when a Republican regains the governor’s chair, they’ll just put the powers back. Very moral, don’t you think?
Which brings us to the Democrats and President Obama. A headline in the December 15 edition of the New York Times reads “Afraid to Politicize Intelligence, Obama Delayed Blaming Russia for Hack”. Now I am very fond of President Obama, and overall I think he did an excellent job as president, especially given the circumstances. But reading this headline, I couldn’t help but wish that he had a little more Salvor Hardin in him. While of course Trump, F.B.I. Director James Comey and their fellow Republicans where happy to have Putin meddle in our election in the Donald’s favor, Obama’s adherence to what he believed to be moral behavior prevented him from publicly calling out the Russians for their email hacks, lest doing so “influence” the election, never mind the influence the hacks themselves (and Comey’s shameless partisanship) were having on the election for the other side. And so Trump becomes president, and we are stuck with all the damage that he and his fellow Republicans will no doubt do. As just one example, now the Affordable Care Act will be repealed, millions will lose their health insurance, and as sure as day follows night thousands will die because they lack access to health care. But President Obama will still have his moral stature intact, so it’s okay. “When they go low, we go high” my ass. “Never let you sense or morals prevent you from doing what is right” is sounding better and better by the day.