Machiavelli’s Disciple

princePresident Trump is a textbook case of the old philosophical debate: If the outcome is good, does it matter if the means to achieve it are immoral? If anyone seems to embody Machiavelli’s maxim, “Men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you,” it is our current president. His administration’s persistent and pernicious lack of transparency makes his means to achieve his goals even harder to discern and publicize. His denigration of the free press only serves to keep his means secret from the public.

And that’s just for the outcomes that are good or desirable for the nation. He is just as malevolent when it comes to achieving immoral goals or promoting his own self-interest.

Should we care? Are there consequences to achieving worthwhile goals through any means, moral or not? If you are religious and believe in the divine—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, etc.—it should. Because there are severe spiritual penalties for such behavior. If you are secular humanist, and a believer in social justice, you know that outcomes can be tainted by the fruit of the poison tree. The pragmatist and/or political realist knows that ultimately there is a deadly price to pay for demeaning or abandoning one group to appease another.

I cannot think of one great leader that is still “held in reverence” who abandoned moral means to achieve his or her ends. The key here is held in reverence. History records the despot, but humanity reveres the honorable.

When is enough enough? When do we stand up and say, “No more!”? If we stay silent, are we not complicit?

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