This past weekend you might have heard the last agonal breaths of American decency as we processed the Congressional hearings for the nominee to run the CIA. Ms. Haspel was unapologetic about her role in torturing prisoners and denied responsibility for the destruction of the evidence of the tortures that she controlled. Perhaps the essence of the inquiry was encapsulated in her refusal to condemn the savage torture of human beings as immoral, while at the same time stating that her “moral compass” was strong. Some of the few remaining voices of decency remaining in politics voiced their outrage at the lack of moral decency from the person who will be the face of the CIA to the world. The Trump Administration’s response was to mock one of those moral voices as irrelevant because he was going to die anyway. McCain’s voice had more than principle to deliver – John McCain experienced torture from the hands of North Vietnamese, and refused to bow to the torture. The disabilities resulting from his beatings and other forms of torture still cause him suffering. (A Vietnamese General who was one of the commandants of a POW camp recently said that McCain was revered among Vietnamese because of his honor during that time).
Our national history is pockmarked with shameful episodes of immoral, indecent behavior, but we have always followed these epochs by a national repudiation. During the McCarthy hearings, guided by a lawyer named Roy Cohen, our government lied, smeared and publicly ruined the careers of many Americans under the false pretense of national security. Their methods were more of a threat to our national security than the communist infiltrators they sought out. They were unapologetic and ruthless. At one key moment another attorney representing the U.S. Army, Joe Welch, finally stuck a moral (and mortal) wound to the McCarthy/Cohen reign of terror when he asked “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”. It was an indignant question that finally shook our country out of it’s moral stupor and ended the disgraceful campaign.
We already know the answer to the question as to whether or not the Trump Administration has any sense of decency, but they also apparently lack a sense of shame as well and refuse to condemn their mocking the suffering and imminent death of a real American war hero. Trump once asked where his Roy Cohen was at the Justice Department to sabotage the investigation into the Russia-Trump campaign collusion. Trump was mentored by the very same Roy Cohen, and is just as ruthless and unapologetic as Joe McCarthy. The difference between our response to Welch’s question then and the lack of significant response now, may be even more troubling: perhaps we have become a society that, as a whole lacks decency.