“Democrats surrendered this standard in their defense of President Bill Clinton. Republicans are abandoning this standard in their defense of President Trump. There is apparently no remaining constituency for the belief that high office should involve moral leadership.”

These are the powerful words of conservative Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, who calls for a return in America of politicians who occupy the high moral ground.

Michael Gerson

“But while it is true that politicians are not called to be pastors, something has been lost in abandoning the ideal of rectitude. Clinton did not just conduct a quiet affair. He exploited an unequal power relationship for sexual favors. He expanded the boundaries of acceptable exploitation. Trump did not just (allegedly) have a fling. He bragged about sexual assault and dismissed it as locker-room talk. He expanded the boundaries of acceptable misogyny.”

— Michael Gerson

“It mattered when President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House,” Gerson writes in his May 31 column. “It helped break an oppressive social convention against the social mixing of blacks and whites. It mattered when Clinton began the tradition of celebrating Eid al-Fitr at the White House. It sent the signal that American public traditions reach beyond Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism. It also mattered when Trump in 2017 discontinued the White House Eid celebration.”

A Country Where 1 in 7 People Once Were Slaves

Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, also opines:

“A significant factor in Trump’s appeal has been the argument that ‘political correctness’ has gone too far. There are college campuses — yes, you, Evergreen State College — where consciousness has been raised into the stratosphere of silliness and boorishness. But Trump’s political use of this idea has had little to do with academic freedom and disruptive student protests. It has had everything to do with testing the limits of prejudiced public language against migrants (particularly Mexicans) as potential rapists and Muslims (particularly refugees) as potential terrorists.

“There are many drawbacks to being ignorant of and indifferent to history. But one of the worst is a failure to appreciate the depth of U.S. racism and the heroism of the long struggle against it. We are a country in which 1 out of 7 people was owned by another. We had an American version of apartheid within living memory. It was a hard-won lesson that racism is a form of oppression that destroys the soul of the oppressor as well. We honor that lesson, not out of tender sensibilities, but because of long, difficult experience. Much of what is attacked as political correctness in politics (as opposed to on campus) is really politeness, respect and historical memory.”

Clinton Expanded the Boundaries of Bad Behavior

Gerson again emphasizes that Trump doesn’t stand alone.

“But while it is true that politicians are not called to be pastors, something has been lost in abandoning the ideal of rectitude. Clinton did not just conduct a quiet affair. He exploited an unequal power relationship for sexual favors. He expanded the boundaries of acceptable exploitation. Trump did not just (allegedly) have a fling. He bragged about sexual assault and dismissed it as locker-room talk. He expanded the boundaries of acceptable misogyny.”

Voters Are the Only Ones Who Can Fix It

Gerson doesn’t provide a solution.

But the fix isn’t shrouded in mystery.

We, the people, hold the power. All that is required is elevating to the presidency only those candidates who are moral exemplars and understand the role of character in public life.

You can read Gerson’s column at this link.

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