In the orgy of virtue signaling that now constitutes so much of our political discourse, there is one kind that is more disingenuous and dishonorable—if we still understood what dishonor meant—than the rest. This is the kind that consists of ostentatiously criticizing those whom the reader might be expected to consider as belonging to one’s own side in the political wars for the purpose of calling attention to oneself as a man of conscience and independent thought—unlike those contemptible party hacks who are one’s erstwhile friends and who never have a bad word to say against their political allies. The latest example is Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, whose aristocratic (not to say royal) suffix is only one reason why people might suppose him to be one of nature’s Republicans.
Writing in The Washington Post yesterday, he confirms that “for the first 85 percent of my adult life, I was a registered Republican,” and, though he doesn’t say so, one is obviously meant to infer that he is a registered Republican no longer. This is just one of the many, many things in the article which he chooses to say by inference only—presumably so as not to sully his reputation as the modest, soft-spoken hero whose high standards, including but not limited to modesty and soft-spokenness, today’s Republican party so signally fails to live up to, in his view.
This is not the language of heroism but typical journalistic “you know what I mean” stuff.
Just in case you don’t get the message about his modesty and soft-spokenness, the article helpfully provides some additional examples. It is headed, “We saved 155 lives on the Hudson. Now let’s vote for leaders who’ll protect us all” (emphasis added). The “we” there could be meant to include his copilot Jeff Skiles or, as I would like to think, the Airbus A320 he was flying at the time, which I have always thought didn’t get enough of the credit for not breaking up and sinking. Either way, no one could suppose that he was bragging about having done it all by himself. Not he! Similarly, his thumbnail bio in the Post identifies him only as “a safety expert, author and speaker on leadership and culture.” But don’t worry. The only thing he’s known for in the eyes of the general public appears as the centerpiece of the article itself, along with a mention of his military service—thus hitting a common left-wing meme in order to contrast himself with a certain person who remains nameless in the article but who never served.
When I volunteered for military service during wartime [writes Mr. Sullenberger], I took an oath that is similar to the one our elected officials take: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” I vowed to uphold this oath at the cost of my life, if necessary. We must expect no less from our elected officials. And we must hold accountable those who fail to defend our nation and all our people.
So who is he talking about here who must be held “accountable” for their failure to defend the Constitution and “all enemies foreign and domestic”? Isn’t it just a little less than heroic of him not to spell out his innuendo, giving chapter and verse to such failures, here only darkly alleged with no specifics? This is not the language of heroism but typical journalistic “you know what I mean” stuff—easy to get away with when you assume that all your readers think as you do—by which that unnamed person mentioned above may be routinely accused of “white supremacism” or worse without revealing the incredibly flimsy grounds on which such accusations are based.
And he continues:
After Flight 1549, I realized that because of the sudden worldwide fame, I had been given a greater voice. I knew I could not walk away but had an obligation to use this bully pulpit for good and as an advocate for the safety of the traveling public. I feel that I now have yet another mission, as a defender of our democracy.
Here is yet another humble brag, meant to proclaim his own moral superiority and the inferiority of those domestic enemies whom, presumptively, he is defending “our democracy” against and who, by clear implication, are all on only one side of the political aisle. He continues:
Today, tragically, too many people in power are projecting the worst. Many are cowardly, complicit enablers, acting against the interests of the United States, our allies and democracy; encouraging extremists at home and emboldening our adversaries abroad; and threatening the livability of our planet. Many do not respect the offices they hold; they lack—or disregard—a basic knowledge of history, science, and leadership; and they act impulsively, worsening a toxic political environment.
As a result, we are in a struggle for who and what we are as a people. We have lost what in the military we call unit cohesion. The fabric of our nation is under attack, while shame—a timeless beacon of right and wrong—seems dead.
Clearly, the people he disagrees with politically are a loathsome lot, aren’t they? You might almost call them “deplorable”—though not naming them could be construed by some as “cowardly, complicit enabling” on his own part. Isn’t this kind of insulting language itself an example of the “absence of civic virtues” which, as he says elsewhere in the article we must not allow to become “normal”? But what is that compared to the self-satisfaction of cleverly calling attention to your own virtues while ostensibly writing—more in sorrow than in anger, no doubt—about the virtue-deficiency of others? Those for whom the timeless beacon of shame is still alive will know the answers.