Taboos — traditional ones, at any rate — were the ballast that kept us on an even keel. Increasingly that is no longer the case, as White House Chief of Staff General John F. Kelly so eloquently reminded the Washington press corps. Instead, policy and discourse is shaped by the sensibilities of jackals
If you didn’t catch White House Chief of Staff, General John F. Kelly, talking to the press about the politicisation of President Trump’s condolences to the wife of a fallen marine, Sgt La David Johnson, you should. This is part of what he said.
You know when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with honour. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life – the dignity of life – is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the [Democrat] convention over the summer. But I just thought – the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.
Though clearly emotional at times it is amazing that he was able to speak with such composure. General Kelly lost his son, Second Lt. Robert Kelly, to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2010.
It goes without saying that the action of Democrat congresswoman Frederica Wilson in raising the matter as she did was beyond despicable. It can be made sense of only in a world of seriously declining standards of common decency. This is not about glimpse of a woman’s stocking no longer being shocking. It is about not assuming the worst of each other. I don’t know what Trump said. I believe I know what he meant to say. He meant to say what General Kelly suggested he might say.
He was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining…He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war… and when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this earth; his friends.
Maybe it didn’t come out quite right. I don’t know. I know from experience that trying to remember what you are supposed to say in pressurised and emotional situations can get you into more trouble than extemporising. If he mangled it in any way, a quiet word might have had him making amends in one way or another. But, hey, that would have been the decent thing to do.
Theresa May was mocked because she developed a nagging cough during a speech to the ‘faithful’ at the Conservative Party’s recent conference. Who hasn’t had a coughing fit? How in the world does that reflect on her ability as prime minister? Sympathy and understanding would have been the decent response. Instead jackals spotted weakness and pounced.
Recall Tony Abbott when opposition leader making his overheard and immediately-reported comment “shit happens” in 2011. This followed a firefight in Afghanistan in which an Australian soldier, Lance Corporal Jared McKinney, was killed. It was absolutely clear, in context, that Abbott’s comment was not disrespectful.
His comment was aimed, in a comradely manner, at the things that had gone wrong. It was a complete beat-up by some reporters lacking even the rudiments of common decency who took his remarks out of context and tried to make political capital out of a soldier’s death. They were the disrespectful ones.
Personally, I can understand Abbott’s widely derided reaction when pressed by a snot-nosed reporter. He could say nothing that he hadn’t said. Staying silent, for however long, was the more discreet course than bopping the snot-nose on his snot nose, which is precisely what he deserved. Where’s John Wayne when you need him?
I want to go back to General Kelly. It seems to me there may be a causal connection between the decline of Christianity in the life of society and the way in which women are treated and life is valued. Powerful men of immoral disposition have always preyed on vulnerable young women. But taboos make a difference. That’s why well-ordered households and societies have them.
Abortions have always gone on. But how about over a million abortions a year in the US alone, with unborn-baby body parts being sold for profit. Just maybe something has gone seriously wrong with our society. Again, to repeat, because it bears repeating, taboos are there to help to curb the worst aspects and excesses of human nature.
Christianity is full of well-made taboos. It doesn’t stop at ‘thou shalt not kill’; though that is particularly appropriate in respect of abortions on demand. You’re obliged to honour your mother and father; to honour your wife. You’re obliged not to sleep around. You’re obliged to treat other people as you would be treated. To wit, decently.
If I were a typical climate scientist observing the contemporaneous collapse of Christianity and common decency, I would draw a settled conclusion that the two are causally related. However, most of us are not so simple-minded. I can’t say for sure that the decline of Christianity in the West is responsible for the rise of indecency. But, based on current trends, it’s worth asking what a society built on Christian taboos would eventually look like if its foundational inspiration were to go on crumbling. Nothing pretty is my guess.