We’ve been through this before with Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Anthony Weiner, Roger Ailes and others. Is anyone surprised that Donald Trump is joining the bi-partisan rogue’s gallery of creeps and philanderers?
This is a culture of ubiquitous pornography. Erectile dysfunction commercials flood the airwaves. Date rape is a problem on college campuses.
The dots are easy to connect, and the solution is clear: Men need to grow up and behave themselves.
Mature men build sincere and lasting relationships with women. Moral men don’t brag about sexual misbehavior, cheat on their wives or grab women’s crotches. Moral men have a sense of decorum. They understand the importance of promising fidelity. They know how to control themselves. And they don’t enable other men to do shameful things.
When Donald Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals, Billy Bush egged him on. Howard Stern is another enabler. On Stern’s program, Trump bragged about sexual stuff, including walking in on nude women at beauty pageants he ran. Trump’s defenders imply that this is normal “locker room talk” and boys-being-boys behavior.
Maybe it is normal in the locker room at the Playboy mansion. But even then, so what? Bad deeds are not excusable simply because a lot of jerks do it. And in the real world, young men don’t get a free pass on groping girls or gawking at nude beauty queens.
Moral men outgrow naughty sex talk. Mature adults don’t brag about their sexual lives. Sex is fun. But it is a private pleasure of shared intimacy. Adults keep these things to themselves.
It is shameful to brag about something that should remain private. People should feel ashamed to do private things in public. That missing sense of decorum is part of what is troubling about Bill Clinton’s Oval Office escapades and Anthony Weiner’s shameless selfies.
Aristotle suggested that the best people would do nothing to be ashamed of. But since no one is perfect, the next best thing is to feel shame when you do something shameful. The worst possibility is to lack a sense of shame.
Without shame there is no room for remorse, regret or moral growth. Shameless people don’t feel guilty. They view fidelity and other moral constraints as external impositions. Rather than holding themselves accountable, the shameless blame others when they get caught.
Sometimes shame can be pathological. Some prudish people cannot enjoy sex or the other pleasures of the body. The sexual liberation movement of the Playboy generation broke free of pathological shame. Hurray for birth control, female orgasms and healthy sexuality. But the pendulum has swung too far toward shamelessness.
Like shame, privacy is another value that has been warped by a pornographic culture in which sex is constantly on display. Like shame, privacy can be excessive. Sometimes privacy can be used to hide terrible things. Absurd claims about privacy in the family were once used to shield investigations into domestic abuse.
But a proper sense of privacy is an important moral achievement. The ability to control your body until you find a private place to fulfill its needs is the first step in human development. Privacy provides a refuge in which spiritual development occurs. Privacy allows us the freedom to explore ideas and create intimate relationships.
Our capacity for reflection, choice and control is the source of human liberty, rationality and moral development. Animals excrete and copulate without shame in public. Human beings control our animal urges and do these things in private. Our sense of shame and our sense of privacy provide the key to human dignity.
Shameless behavior and public lewdness expose a significant character flaw. Shameless philanderers lack self-control. They lie, cheat and manipulate. It is difficult to trust a man who can’t keep his pants or his mouth zipped.
At a recent lecture at Fresno State, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin pointed out that past presidents had sexual affairs. Back then, the media respected their privacy. Those were the bad old days, when privacy also protected men who beat their wives.
It is better that misogyny and infidelity are out of the closet. But it would be even better if men respected women, politicians kept their pants on, and everyone kept their hands to themselves.