Dick Cheney: A Bust?
“Mr. Bush joined Republican congressional leaders, veterans of his administration and hundreds of others on Thursday to pay tribute to Mr. Cheney as his official bust was unveiled at the Capitol.”
As reported in the NY Times and elsewhere, a marble bust of Dick Cheney was unveiled on December 8th in the U.S. Senate, as is the customary practice with those who have served as vice president. The Times also noted that “No mention was made of Mr. Cheney’s controversial positions on waterboarding and the Iraq war.” He was praised by former President George W. Bush and by the current vice president, Joe Biden.
And what if this honoring is correct? That is, what if we have created a political order and practice a kind of politics that requires that our nation and its officials torture other human beings, even those who are innocent and even to the point of death? I mean, many people not only oppose torturing other human beings but also find it despicable. And while it is true that torture is despicable, what if the success of our kind of politics requires that we do it and, more generally, do despicable things? If that were the case, then our officials ought to be despicable people, ought they not? After all, despicable people have few or no qualms about doing despicable deeds, “dastardly deeds” they might be called.
If this makes any sense, then it helps us understand the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, not to mention other presidents like Nixon, LBJ, or Bill Clinton. A politics that requires for its success the commission of despicable acts should be controlled by, governed by despicable people. And, of course, because most human beings have been unable to “learn not to be good,” as Machiavelli put it, or of approving those who have “learned not to be good,” it is best to honor the despicable by labeling them, as George W. Bush did Dick Cheney, “good [men] who love [their] country and really love [their] famil[ies].” It is in this way that success becomes the measure by which we judge public measures and persons and, perhaps, private measures and persons as well.