“If I lose my honor,” said Shakespeare, “I lose myself.”
What Shakespeare said of the individual human being applies also to the nation, a collectivity of human beings. When a nation loses its honor — its moral integrity — or, worse, as with Trumpian America, when it loses it not through defeat to an overpowering opponent but by its own heedlessness — when a nation in effect gives away its honor, prizing it so little — the loss feels just as grievous, perhaps even more so.
This is not to say America the Beautiful has not acted in un-beautiful ways before (see: slavery, the Iraq war, torture). But two recent instances of honor-depletion — Ukraine and Syria — occurring within just days of each other, have struck deep with conscientious Americans and leaves fresh hurt. The conscientious, by definition, are ones who prize things like honor and feel things like shame.
The Ukraine and Syria stories, dominating the news for weeks now, are quickly grasped in their shameful essence.
With Ukraine — when president Donald Trump asked “a favor” of the new Ukrainian president: that he investigate Trump’s rival Joe Biden, in exchange for badly needed military aid (nearly $400 million) for Ukraine’s fight with Russia — the public can see the quid pro quo. As House Democrats put it in their fact sheet for their impeachment inquiry, there was the “shakedown,” “the pressure campaign,” and “the cover up.”
All of which is, in a word, corruption. Meanwhile, the White House chief of staff insists that people should “get over it,” that foreign aid is leveraged this [corrupt] way all the time.
With Syria, the shame is even sharper: abandoning an ally on the battlefield to possible genocide. In a phone call with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and without consulting his own military, Trump acceded to Erdogan’s plan to invade northern Syria and quash the “terrorist” Kurds, for the ostensible purpose of creating a buffer zone. Again, as the import impinged, the American public could see the shadow this move cast over America: that we sacrificed a stalwart ally, the Kurds, who fought alongside us — and died in far larger numbers (over 11,000) than Americans (fewer than 10) — in the battle to defeat ISIS, which battle let it be remembered was then successful.
There is a damning word for this act: treachery. Roger Cohen, columnist for The New York Times…