• 66°

Leonard Pitts: Living in post-integrity America

By Leonard Pitts

Back during the scandal over his sexual exploitation of a young intern, Bill Clinton was pilloried in this space for his moral defects.

To which many liberals responded with derision. Morality? What did that matter? The economy was good, we were at peace and Clinton was hardly the first man to fool around and lie about it. As one reader put it, he was hired to be a president, not a pope.

At the time, that felt like a rationalization. A generation later, it feels like a portent. Indeed, it is often said that we are living now in Post-Fact America but truth is, we are also living in Post-Integrity America.

No, that’s not breaking news. But it’s been brought into painfully clear focus these last few days.

One watched — not with surprise anymore, the capacity for that being long lost, but surely with dread and fascination — as Donald Trump launched his post-impeachment purge of aides deemed insufficiently sycophantic. But that was just a prelude.

Last week, he pardoned or commuted the sentences of 11 people, most of them guilty of lying, fraud, corruption, tax evasion and similar crimes. In other words, the kinds of things of which Trump has often been accused.

The power to soften or wipe away criminal convictions is one of the nicer perks of the presidency, allowing compassion to be shown to those who deserve it. And in fairness, several of those who benefited last week seem to meet that standard. Crystal Munoz, for instance, had been sentenced to almost 20 years for dealing pot.

But it is worth noting that every person Trump pardoned or gave clemency came to his attention not through the normal machinery of government, but through inside connections or else, as The New York Times noted, “were promoted on Fox News.” Some were championed by aides and allies. Some had donated big money to his campaign. And again, most had breached the public trust.

Like former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who had served eight years of a 14-year sentence for trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. Trump, who has opined how unfair it is that U.S. companies are not allowed to pay bribes to do business overseas, had called that sentence “ridiculous.”

It’s no great leap to suggest that he sees himself in Blagojevich. Or in former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and financier Michael Milken, whom he pardoned for tax fraud and securities fraud, respectively. If granting clemency and pardons opens a window upon a president’s moral priorities — and it does — the view offered here suggests an unfortunate affinity for scammers and grifters, an empathy for those on the make, cutting deals, cutting corners, living the dream, until they got caught up by pesky rules designed to enforce integrity.

And if those same people happened to give him money or had their names whispered into his ear by a friend, so much the better.

That’s not how this is supposed to work. And that it is working this way right out in the open, before our very eyes, suggests — no, screams — Trump’s imperviousness to any sense of ethical affront.

During Clinton’s scandal, it was argued in this space that a president stamps himself upon an era “not simply by legislative accomplishment, but also … by dint of personal authority and moral suasion.”

Trump disproves that. He has stamped himself upon this era while ignoring the very idea of personal authority or moral suasion — and daring us to care. But we had better. By his lack of personal character, Trump threatens our national character. And he stamps this era with the signature lesson of his life:

Once you give up integrity, it’s easy to give up everything else.

Email Pitts at lpitts@miamiherald.com

Comments

BREAKING NEWS

Mason found guilty in deadly fish arcade shooting

Crime

Blotter: Men stripped, robbed en route to buy beer

Crime

Jury begins deliberations in Fishzilla murder case

Education

East Rowan culinary students feed staff who helped build new classroom

Local Events

Rowan County Fair makes pandemic return Friday with COVID-19 protocols in place

Education

Education briefs: Schultz selected to NCDPI’s Teacher Leadership Council

Education

Catawba to induct six into Blue Masque Hall of Fame

Education

Cavs After Hours: A new tutoring space at North Rowan

Education

Shoutouts

Crime

Salisbury Police: Toyota Prius is most popular target for catalytic converter thieves

News

Salisbury City Council will vote on whether to exempt Goodwill developer from setback requirements

Local

Rowan Sheriff’s Office holding fundraiser for deputy hospitalized with COVID-19

Nation/World

FDA backs Pfizer COVID-19 boosters for seniors, high-risk

Nation/World

Many migrants staying in US even as expulsion flights rise

News

NC Senate maneuvers again to keep public records bill alive

News

NC road-building costs could scale back long-term projects

Coronavirus

State reports 10 new COVID-19 deaths in Rowan County, 18 this week

Crime

Man jailed after fleeing to California, returning to Kannapolis

Granite Quarry

Granite Quarry officials will request correction to 2020 Census count

Local

Salisbury city manager describes short-term solutions for firefighter pay concerns

Education

17 rackets donated to Erwin Middle School tennis teams

Local

Spencer town hall project at Park Plaza moving along

Nation/World

‘Soul-crushing’: US COVID-19 deaths are topping 1,900 a day

Nation/World

White House faces bipartisan backlash on Haitian migrants