The American crisis is, at its root, a crisis of character. Yes, many other forces and phenomena are in play: the crash of 2008; technologically driven changes to the economy; gerrymandering and sociological divisions between coast and heartland, urban and rural life; cultural clashes over the norms of marriage, drug use, and religious liberty; wars that have not gone well; the splintering of national media into vehement electronically bound communities of self-righteousness; the decay of the political parties as instruments for integrating and reconciling differences; poor national-level leadership and the accidents of personality. But it is character that remains the issue that confronts us in almost every story about national politics that one encounters daily.
Of all the elements that constitute character, courage is the essential one. Physical courage is in part innate, in part something that can be inculcated by training and experience. The courage to take responsibility emanates more naturally from ambition. What is rarer and more difficult than either is moral courage.
As historian Allan Nevins put it, “moral courage is allied with the other traits that make up character: honesty, deep seriousness, a firm sense of principle, candor, resolution.” And of moral courage there is an unquestioned deficit today—in the halls of Congress where the Republican Party has yielded what once were its values to an adventurer in the White House; in a White House presided over by a bully and a braggart who infects even upright generals with his breathtaking dishonesty; in universities where administrators and faculty yield to student mobs baying to be protected from uncomfortable ideas and unpopular individuals, and elsewhere.