152 Republican Congressmen Have a Strong Moral Code and I Won’t Hear Otherwise
Disputes surrounding the 2020 election once again show a consistent ethical core at the heart of the GOP
Senator Ted Cruz is leading a group of 12 GOP senators planning to vote against certifying the Electoral College vote of December 14th and instead demand an “Electoral Commission…to consider and resolve the disputed returns.”
In the House, an estimated 140 Republican Republicans plan to vote against the certification of the Electoral College vote.
Senator Cruz, along with many others in the groups identified above, are predictably taking a lot of heat on social media regarding their stance. A quick search on twitter revealed hundreds of tweets decrying him as a ‘traitor’ amongst other similar terms. Perhaps that is to be expected in today's polarized political climate. Perhaps.
I see the actions of Senator Cruz, Hawley and others as indicative of a strong moral code that has underpinned their political careers for many years. It’s an ethical position unconnected to a specific religious creed or political color. You won’t find it expounded by Bentham, Mill, Kant, Aristotle or anywhere else in the traditional canon of Western morality. Despite this, it’s a school of thought ancient in origin and found anew in each generation.
The 152 Republicans are ethical egoists.
What is ethical egoism and what has it got to do with the GOP?
What is the right thing to do in any given situation? It’s a staple question of any introductory philosophy class. Utilitarians argue to maximize good consequences and minimize the bad. Kantians aim to abide by the categorical imperative, and Christians might consult the Bible or apply St Aquinas’s principles of Natural Law.
By contrast, the ethical egoists have a moral compass centered firmly on themselves. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy expresses the basic position as follows:
Ethical egoism claims that I morally ought to perform some action if and only if, and because, performing that action maximizes my self-interest.
From the outside, an ethical egoist may appear to be holding shifting or contradictory positions. For instance, when blocking a supreme court nomination before an election on the grounds of impropriety then merrily pushing through a different pre-election nomination just four years later.
It is a mistake to view changes in stance such as these as hypocrisy. They are doggedly consistent. They demonstrate a determination to root all decision making in whatever is best for oneself.
It’s not ethical egoism — it’s just politics
It could be argued that I’m being unfair. Maybe the actions of the 152 are merely symptomatic of the kinds of moral ambiguities required to participate in top-tier politics. It’s not like the Democrats are immune from accusations of hypocrisy.
In his press release, Senator Cruz purports to have very sound reasons for blocking the Electoral College confirmation. The key passage puts the argument as follows:
The most direct precedent on this question arose in 1877, following serious allegations of fraud and illegal conduct in the Hayes-Tilden presidential race. Specifically, the elections in three states-Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina-were alleged to have been conducted illegally.
In 1877, Congress did not ignore those allegations, nor did the media simply dismiss those raising them as radicals trying to undermine democracy. Instead, Congress appointed an Electoral Commission-consisting of five Senators, five House Members, and five Supreme Court Justices-to consider and resolve the disputed returns.
We should follow that precedent. To wit, Congress should immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states.
Could it be the case that the 152 are not acting out of self-interest, but are instead selflessly protecting democracy and the constitution, exposing themselves to fierce criticism in the process?
I don’t think so, and here’s why.
Beware of Trojans bearing gifts
A foundation stone of modern, Western democratic states is a commitment to the rule of law. When politicians put themselves above the law, bad things happen, from failed states to totalitarian regimes.
Thus, even in a nation that values a plurality of belief and political orientation, the rule of law is a red line marking the boundary of what is and is not acceptable in our politicians.
So it is that the rule of law gives us a simple measure to identify ethical egoism.
When there is a choice between personal gain and commitment to the rule of law, it ought to be a straightforward expectation that our politicians choose to side with the rule of law. Without this simple rule, there can be no constitutions and no democracy, for it could not be expected that those public office abide by commonly agreed rules. Power would derive from those with the levers of control, rather than from the people.
So here is our test. In opposing the Electoral College decision, are the 152 acting in alignment with the rule of law? I do not believe they are.
I suggest that at this time, January 2020, to attempt to undermine the US electoral result is to attempt to undermine the rule of law.
This is not a debatable point. It was debatable six weeks ago. However, since then constitutional and legal mechanisms have been exercised to determine whether the 2020 was freely and fairly contested. It was.
In more than 60 court cases, the integrity of the US electoral system has been placed under severe scrutiny, and in judgement after judgment the answer has been the same; the 2020 election was contested freely and fairly, and the outcome is appropriately reflected in the Electoral College vote of December 14th.
The suggestion, made by Senator Cruz and his 11 GOP colleagues, that an ‘Electoral Commission’ ought to be convened cannot be justified in fact or law. It is trying to place an unconstitutional roadblock in the path of a constitutional process. It is a Trojan horse; an outwardly benign suggestion designed to smuggle a wrecking crew into the electoral system.
At this stage the law is clear. The Electoral College vote ought to be confirmed, clearing the path for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to be inaugurated on January 20th. The validity of this statement has been put before the courts and settled.
As such, where politicians would try to undermine this process, I suggest they are putting their own interests, whatever they may be, above a commitment to the constitution and the rule of law. This is the mark of the ethical egoist.
The last word
We might question what Senator Cruz and the rest of the 152 have to gain from trying to wreck the electoral process. Maybe they genuinely hope to succeed and accrue favor with President Trump in a second term? Maybe they see the political landscape in turmoil and seek to benefit from Trump’s base in the wake of his departure? Who knows? I don’t.
What I do know is that it is worth being able to identify an ethical egoist when they present themselves.
It’s about seeing things for what they really are.