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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

The alarming morality vacuum

February 9, 2024 |

Moral leadership, moral clarity and moral scruples are centerpieces of civilization, eclipsing economic statistics or military power.

All empires preceding the American Empire expired from moral rot. King Alaric and the Visigoths who sacked Rome in 410 A.D. entered without superior weapons or financial sinews.

The American Empire should learn from the example of Rome.

The United States began on a positive footing. President George Washington’s first inaugural address emphasized, “[T]he foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality.” President Washington’s farewell address added, “And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

President John Adams similarly noted in 1798, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

A keen sense of morality fueled President Abraham Lincoln’s opposition to slavery culminating in the 13th Amendment. Mr. Lincoln elaborated in his second inaugural address:

“Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

Harriet Tubman was Mr. Lincoln’s moral equal in fearlessly driving the Underground Railroad to deliver slaves from their bondage.

Autodidact Frederick Douglass preached that “One and God make a majority.”

As the American Empire has mushroomed, moral leadership and moral clarity have receded. One looks in vain for political leaders who have set moral standards to which the wise and honest may repair.

Moral leadership and clarity can partially be described by what it is not. It is not cheating on spouses. It is not telling lies for ulterior political motives. It is not a hedonistic attitude of eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

It is not judging by the color of a person’s skin rather than by the content of his or her character. It is not the bad man’s view of the law, which is a calculation of the likelihood of detection and punishment for a violation. It is not narcissism, misogyny, egotism, megalomania, jealousy, avarice, pride, hubris or idleness.

This is what morality or moral leadership is. It is exhibiting every benevolent instinct of the human heart. It is striving to honor the Sermon on the Mount. It is honesty, industry and selflessness. It is always doing the right thing even if no one is watching. It is celebrating the thinker over the armored, King Arthur over Sir Launcelot.

Moral leadership is not passive. It is laboring against injustice notwithstanding the risks or futility. It is influencing others through moral suasion not through money or raw power.

Moral clarity is Huckleberry Finn, refusing to return Jim, a slave, to his master, Miss Watson, even if it meant going to hell as Huck’s religious upbringing had taught.

Moral clarity is Tank Man in Tiananmen Square daring a Chinese tank to roll over him to protest the mass killings of Chinese civilians craving freedom.

The Holy Koran exhibits moral clarity in enjoining zakat or philanthropy and worship of God alone unsoiled by idolatry.

Survey the spectrum of American leaders on social media who command hundreds of millions. if not billions. of followers. Their names are household words. But none could hold a candle to the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or even Huck Finn in exemplifying the finest hours of moral leadership. Our contemporary leaders inspire indulgence, not the grandeur of sacrifice and selflessness.

Moral clarity must be institutionalized. It must be inculcated in the home, in the classroom and in the pulpit.

The American Empire has met the enemy. It is not China. It is not Russia. It is not Iran. It is a perfect vacuum of morality in all its moods and tenses.

Armstrong Williams (; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun. This column is part of a weekly series written from “The Owner’s Box.”


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