[This article appeared in the British journal of opinion RightNOW!, Jan/Mar 1999, p. 24, under the heading “Dispatches from America: Dwight D. Murphey Wonders What Can be Learnt from the Clinton Affair.”]
Notes from the United States
Comments on the Clinton Debacle
by Dwight D. Murphey
So much has been written about the disgraceful behavior of U. S. President Bill Clinton that it would seem there is nothing more to say. Here, however, are a few thoughts that I have as an American "classical liberal" that reflect a perspective substantially different from what is ordinarily expressed:
1. Throughout my lifetime of 64 years, American "conservatives" such as myself have been warning not only about the growth of governmental power, but also about the cultural and moral decline of the American people. Many Americans, prosperous within a life of economic abundance, have shrugged off these warnings as unnecessarily gloomy and as coming from types of people who seem to rebel against the enjoyment of life.
By now, however, the warnings are vindicated; the decadence is clear for all to see. (This is a grim vindication, indeed.) We have had a popular entertainer who has grabbed her crotch while singing the national anthem at a baseball game, a heavy-weight boxing champion who has earned deserved infamy by biting the ears of his opponent, motion pictures that feature the vulgar word for coitus about twice per sentence -- and now a president who desecrates the country's most sacred office and one of the country's most revered places, the Oval Office, by having fellatio performed on him there.
There is still much that is wonderful about life in the United States, and many fine people. But a part of every day's life is molded by the signs of the decadence -- everything from enormously loud car radios blasting past the house to the execution-type murders of convenience store clerks nearby.
2. One of the most striking facts brought to light by the Clinton scandal is the moral bifurcation of American society as it now exists. A considerable segment of the American people is not only willing to rationalize and defend indecency, but is militantly insistent on its right to exist. Such people are not backing off. These are the shameless -- like Clinton himself -- who perceive no obscenity.
When, in the face of scandal, there are many who won't acquiesce in the restoration of moral order, but rather conjure up every ground for excusing the scandal, a surprising moral crisis comes into existence dividing a people. It is, in a sense, a "crisis of legitimacy" for the social order as a whole, since there is no longer a fundamental consensus on values. In a "normal" society, such a bifurcation would hardly come into existence, since it could be expected that no one would rally around the indecency.
In addition to the people I have mentioned, there are millions of others who seem to feel no outrage about the obscenity itself or about the desecration of national honor. These prefer to think only of whether "perjury or obstruction of justice" occurred. And a great many others who might feel outrage are "cowed" into a more acquiescent reaction by the cultural and moral pressures that generally force them, today, into silent submissiveness on a great many subjects. This is the main reason there is so little anger evident anywhere, with the strongest emotion being titillated disdain.
This represents a sea-change from traditional American attitudes. My grandparents, now long gone, would have been as scandalized by the various reactions of the American public as by the salacious behavior of the President.
3. In part, the change in values reflects a revolution in American attitudes toward sexual morality. In fact, there is no longer any sexual "morality" as such, since no one speaks in those terms, except a few conservatives whose voices are barely heard. Very little that is judgmental remains about sexuality. The only exceptions are in select areas, such as child abuse or "sexual harassment," where for one reason or another the Left embraces something as a cause.
This isn't to say that a lot of couples don't stay married, as faithful partners, for a lifetime. But they no longer set the tone of the culture.
4. The Clinton scandal, in tandem with O. J. Simpson's acquittal on the murder charges a couple of years ago, would seem to indicate a basic redirection of American law. It's a redirection that reflects the type of people Americans have become. Defense attorneys are now potently aware (a) that all decisions in controversies -- whether the decisions be in the courts by juries or by judges, or in the Congress in impeachment proceedings -- are rendered by human beings; and (b) that neither law nor morality counts nearly so much as the weaknesses and prejudices of those human beings, who can readily be manipulated, almost like clay in a potter's hands. It has become clear in American society that race is very much a "card to be played"; and it has equally become clear that a great many people have no ability to discern the difference between a sound argument, rationally supported, and a purely fake one. Sophistries are run up as though they are flags, and people will be found who will salute any one of them. Lawyers are no longer an aristocracy of sorts in American life, but are mostly "hired guns" ready to fire with any argument that may appeal to the prejudices of the credulous. "Legalisms" take the place of law as something to be honored and respected.
Again, this reveals the erosion of yet another pillar of the Old Republic. In such a milieu, can there be any reason to wonder why so debilitated a population is acquiescing so submissively in its own demise, as it now is through massive Third World immigration? In a few years, the United States will be hardly recognizable. One consolation will be that there will be hardly anyone then living who will have the sensibility to regret it.
Dwight D. Murphey is one of Right NOW!'s Patrons. He is a professor of business law at Wichita State University in Kansas, and the author of several books on social and political philosophy.