Moral Equivalence is Camouflage for Moral Cowardice

One party stands for life, freedom, and unalienable rights. The other stands for raw power.

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

NRO’s Jim Geraghty in his daily column indulged one of the NeverTrump favorite rhetorical devices: That the president is just as bad for the Republic as the radical Democrats, and neither side “wants to solve real problems.” Apart from the common mistaken notion that the Founders created our political order “to solve problems” rather than protect the liberty of states, towns, civic society, families, and individuals, this tic often obscures an unwillingness to identify clearly those guilty of creating conflict and disorder by equally apportioning guilt to both sides.

Moral equivalence becomes the camouflage for moral cowardice, a fear to assign responsibility where it is due.

During his discussion of the Democrats’ dilemma over how to spin the ongoing riots, Geraghty can’t help sniping at Trump:

But we all know that Donald Trump’s view on how to deal with an angry and potentially destructive mob is dramatically different from that of Portland mayor Ted Wheeler, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, or New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. Trump’s administration sent U.S. Park Police into Lafayette Park, using “smoke canisters, irritants, explosive devices, batons and horses.” Quite a few observers contended the tactics used more force than necessary or that was justified by the situation. But we know Trump’s instincts are to overreact to the threat of mob violence, not underreact.

The Dem blue-state mayors underreact, but Trump overreacts because of his “instincts” rather than a sober and judicious analysis of the crisis. The two responses are morally equivalent. Hence in Lafayette Park, near the storied church “peaceful protestors” had set on fire, and swarming with violent thugs know for using bricks, rocks, commercial fireworks, frozen water bottles, skateboards, and other weapons against the police, Trump overreacted by using “smoke canisters, irritants, explosive devices, batons and horses.” In other words, standard non-lethal methods for dispersing a violent mob set on injuring others.

But there is no moral equivalence here, no perfect balance of two opposing tactics for stopping violent riots. First and most obvious, the rioters are lawbreakers, wantonly disregarding not just the law, but the Constitutional rights of ordinary people to be secure in their persons and belongings as they go about their business in the public square. As the Chief Executive overseeing the federal law enforcement agencies, it is Trump’s duty to prevent lawbreakers from further mayhem. And yes, as an American citizen, Trump has the Constitutional right to appear before the media and make sure that his, the Park Police’s, and the Secret Service agents’ lives are not endangered. To do otherwise is to grant the lawless thugs a veto over the people’s and the president’s exercising of their rights

Next, the non-lethal mob-control tactics Geraghty mentions have for four months failed to stop the rioting, which has recently taken a more dangerous turn with fatalities and widespread fires in Kenosha, a Trump supporter gunned down in Portland, and a sitting U.S. senator, Ron Paul, and his wife being jostled and cursed on a public street, for much of the time with only two brave policemen to protect them from a thousand “peaceful” protestors as they ran the gauntlet back to their hotel. We’ve had four months to figure out that the non-lethal methods can’t even contain the rioting, arson, and looting, let alone make it all stop. So given that repeated failure of carefully calibrated responses to the “situation,” what does anyone suggest is a response that will be more effective but still not be “more force than is necessary”?

Moreover, we all know why blue-state mayors favor a light touch in confronting the rioters, even if innocent people are killed and maimed, thousands of police are injured, and even more businesses are destroyed. They have been marinated in the progressive lies that America is an oppressive, racist country, and that its shock-troops comprise local police. Add some adolescent revolutionary romance and glamour, and these public officials charged with upholding the law and keeping their communities safe find it easy to make their police stand down while their cities burn. It is a massive act of virtue-signaling, with the added benefit that their appeasement will buy them votes and exemption from the mob’s fury––especially Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is facing a challenge for reelection with the weight of demands from five progressive and civil rights groups that he resign.

Of course, like all appeasement, it only feeds the alligator that will eventually devour the appeaser. Just ask Mayor Ted Wheeler, a blue-blood progressive––son of a Fortune 500 company top executive, and a Stanford graduate––who has indulged the protestors and given them moral support, inviting them to “rise up.” Just recently, he rejected Trump’s offer to redeploy federal officers by writing him, “We don't need your politics of division and demagoguery.” Yet protestors still occupied the lobby of his apartment building, and sent Wheeler a letter calling him a “true embodiment of white supremacy,” and demanding a “complete abolition of the Portland Police Bureau by 2022.”

The other motive of blue-state mayors is blatantly political on the national level. Like the lockdowns, which are not based on science, indulging the riots provides non-stop visuals of mayhem and disorder that the Dem mayors think they can blame on Trump. Wheeler again is an example of this transparent tactic. After a Trump supporter was fatally shot in Portland, Wheeler publicly blamed the president:

“Do you seriously wonder, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence?” he asked. “It’s you who have created the hate and the division. And now you want me to stop the violence that you helped create. What America needs is for you to be stopped so that Americans can come together.”

That’s some world-class hubris, to blame violence intensified by your own appeasing tactics and solidarity with the rioters, on a president whom federalism limits in how much he can do at the state and municipal levels.

But Wheeler, in addition to shifting blame for his feckless leadership onto Trump, is parroting the Democrat campaign talking points on the riots, since dropping polls have compelled them to notice the death and destruction they have so far studiously ignored. So with no policy program other than the hard-left one of Bernie Sanders and Congressman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, the Dems have to blame Trump for the riots and the Wuhan virus. Earlier this week, Biden said in Pittsburgh that Trump is “stoking violence in our cities,” and that Trump “can’t stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it,” doubling down on his smear last week that “He’s rooting for more violence, not less.” The Dems’ tactic reminds me of the old cynical ploy of anti-American international leaders: “When all else fails, blame the Americans.” For Democrats, when collusion and quid-pro-quo fail, blame Donald Trump.

The contrast between Donald Trump and the Democrats is as stark as the differences in tone and substance between the two conventions. Nor is there any equivalence moral or otherwise between the two parties’ policy programs and governing philosophies. The Democrats and their media flunkeys, addled by bitter disappointment over losing to a political tyro, have spent four years on unhinged harassment of the president, stooping so low as to suborn intelligence agencies into confecting false charges of collusion with Russia, and issuing preposterous articles of impeachment that based on imaginary crimes, everyone knew would die in the Senate.

Those ploys having failed, now they have tried to blame Trump for the pandemic, another blatant lie and transparently hypocritical given the media’s slavish praise of New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who in fact is responsible for ordering vulnerable people into rest homes where thousands of them died. They’re blaming Trump for the recession, which in fact mostly blue-state draconian lockdowns created and currently are continuing. And now they’re blaming him for violent riots. But the fact is, the disorder and violence have been stoked by blue-state mayors who ordered police to stand down, expressed enabling solidarity with the rioters and looters, and catered to the instigators, Black Lives Matter­­––a Marxist outfit that cynically exploits the deaths of a few black men killed by police in order to rake in corporate and private donations, and gain more political leverage.

And Donald Trump? We are all familiar with his achievements in creating a historically booming economy at home, renewing respect for American power abroad, enhancing our national security and interests, and standing athwart the decades-long attempt to dismantle the Constitutional order and replace it with a progressive technocracy that insidiously limits individual freedom and rights.

Finally, the progressives are in the main responsible for the ills that have damaged our country, from appeasement abroad to the assaults on faith, tradition, and common sense at home. There is no moral equivalence between the two parties. One stands for life, freedom, and unalienable rights bestowed by “nature and nature’s god.” The other stands for raw power: the power to control our lives, to use violence and “cancel culture” to control our thoughts and limit their expression, and to replace our democratic republic with an oligarchy of “experts” who think they know better than citizens what is good for them.

Only moral cowardice can keep people from acknowledging these transparent truths by asserting the moral equivalence of two such radically different political and social philosophies.


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