This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
I am constantly surprised by the vulgarity of Donald Trump. By vulgar I mean not only Trump's rude behavior and tasteless language but also his pompous statements and bloated self-regard.
How much vulgarity can a nation take from its president before being irreparably harmed? The lack of grace and decency in Trump's character is infecting the character of our nation and agitating the pathologies of anger, hate, and resentment in certain segments of our population.
Not only moral decency, but the truth are victims of Trump's habit of mistaking his distorted worldview as reality; where he ignores evidence in favor of his impulses; where he attacks legitimate news as fake and promotes fake news as legitimate; where he takes credit for nonexistent achievements and blames others for his own failures. He is quickly destabilizing the safeguards that protect us against the abuses of power. With each passing day, he is dismantling the credibility of the presidency and destroying our country's moral stature in the world.
We need to be able to project upon our president, as the personification of our nation's identity, our noblest aspirations and moral ideals. This is impossible with Trump given his moral vacuity; his blatant dishonesty; and his willful boorishness. His neurotic narcissism reminds us more of a maladjusted 2-year-old rather than a grown man. The humiliation and conflict that characterize Trump's way of interacting with others, his juvenile taunting and name-calling is an embarrassment to a nation that has produced noble and gracious leaders like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.
The biggest challenge to any civilized country is knowing how to respond to a person who has no ethical compass; who will say and do anything without regard for the consequences. A leader like Trump, without moral principles, can wreak havoc on people guided by morality. Yet, without violence or malice, we must consistently proclaim the truth and stand for what's right.
As Edmund Burke said, "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent." Our heroic free press must refuse to be humiliated or intimated, but continue standing up to the bully, refusing to let Trump's untruth pass as truth or his immoral behavior pass without condemnation.
The rest of us must back them up! We cannot normalize the tastelessness of Trump's rhetoric and the crudeness of his assault on our language, or we rob our children of the possibility of a government that works, and of the lesson that words do matter.
The Irish poet Yeats once wrote, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." This thought seems to capture our present moment perfectly. The fact that there is still a portion of our fellow citizens who adore Trump, and that others feed his egotism and enable his indecency, should remind us that the rise of authoritarian and undemocratic government is always a possibility, if we are not vigilant. People of good conscience cannot remain silent when the truth is butchered and common decency defiled, as is done on a daily basis by Trump and the persons enabling him in the White House.
Over 200 years ago, our founding generation began an experiment in self-government to see if the American people were wise and good enough to govern themselves. Today, I think the answer is we are not. If this were a test, we would be receiving a failing grade. The only question is whether there is still time to prove that we are capable. I hope it is not too late to grow and become the best we are capable of becoming. It is time we all begin to act as the wise and morally decent citizens our founding generation hoped we'd be.
Jeffrey Nielsen, is a philosophy instructor at Utah Valley University and Westminster College.