It should have been depressing for any American to observe Senator Chuck Schumer’s recent two-day display of horrific ethics, beginning with his threatening two Supreme Court Justices if they refused to do his bidding–Chuck doesn’t get that “separation of powers” thingy, unless it can muzzle the other party’s President—and concluding with a record-setting rationalization orgy on the Senate floor as he tried to weasel out of accountability for his outrageous and dangerous abuse of position and decency.
In some ways, his second outburst was worse than his first. Rationalizations are lies, essentially, and a U.S. Senator who resorts to them to defend himself is insulting the intelligence and character of the American public as well as deceiving and corrupting them. Unfortunately, rationalizations are how our culture, in the absence of a competent educational system, tends to teach most people how to reason when ethics are on the line. Since rationalizations are all lazy, dishonest, flawed and damaging ways to approach decision-making, for a U.S. Senator like Schumer to parade them so shamelessly rots more than just the principles of logic.
There is good news, though! In his frenzy to try to babble his way out of the Senate censure he had earned, Schumer revealed a new rationalization for the list that somehow Ethics Alarms had missed. Chuck’s exhaustive collection of justifications included this lament, “I feel so passionately about this issue and I feel so deeply the anger of women all across America!” Oh! Then we completely understand why you would threaten two Supreme Court justices and said they wouldn’t know what hit them if they displeased you, Senator! No problem, then. Carry on!
I think this is the 101st entry on the Rationalizations list. As we get farther and farther down our categorizing the wide variety of lies we tell ourselves and others to make it seem like doing wrong is doing right, there is a danger of slicing them too thin. I am persuaded, however, that The Romantic’s Excuse is, indeed, a necessary addition, so here it is:
Rationalization 25C, The Romantic’s Excuse, Or “I care so much!”
We all admire great passion. Patriots, artists, activists, scientists, explorers, lovers…heroes and heroines of literature, movies, TV and popular culture….they are all frequently driven by passion that allows them to overcome pain, failure, great obstacles, frustration and overwhelming odds for admirable ends, often for the benefit of society and even civilization. Those who use The Romantic’s Excuse are playing with the cognitive dissonance scale…
…trying to elevate unethical conduct out of negative territory into positive because it is linked to what most of us see as a virtue: passion, which is the ethical virtue of Caring (# 5 among the Six Pillars of Character) carried to an extreme.
In this respect 25C has kinship with 19 B. Murkowski’s Lament, or “It was a difficult decision, which attempts to use sympathy, pity and the suggestion of courage to duck accountability. Passion, like courage, fortitude, valor, and sacrifice among others, can enable and facilitate both ethical and unethical objectives. The ethical human being understands that , and certainly doesn’t think that the employment of one of the “enabling virtues” can sanctify wrongful conduct.
Passion is especially a double-edged sword: it has sparked murder, mayhem, terrorism and too many crimes to list. A responsible citizen, a responsible human being, must learn to control passions and channel them into productive and benign conduct. When a wrongdoer resorts to The Romantic’s Excuse, what he or she is really confessing is a lack of self-control.