Cruelty is not New
"This week's events," in the opinion of William Germano, "tells us what we've always known, that compassion and truth are our rights and our obligations" (Chronicle of Higher Education online, January 23, 2017). Have we always known compassion to be an obligation and truth to be a right? If we grew up African American in Mississippi in the 1950s, we always knew truth was a desirable option and compassion was a virtue that Christians said they practiced. The logic of Jim Crow did not certify that they were rights or entitlements.
This week's events send me a message that is contrary to the one Germano heard. I am hearing that the new ethics of living American obligates me to be selectively cruel and to tell strategic lies. Otherwise, I will be tried and convicted in the courts of neo-fascist opinion of being anti-American. It is criminal to be kind. Telling a truth is a felony.
It is cruel that Germano, Dean of Humanities and a Professor of English at Cooper Union, should remind us that once upon a time civic behaviors in the USA fell short of the business standards ordained by "The Apprentice," reality television, and our new Commander in Chief. As our nation progressively marches toward greatness, our leaders demand that we embrace Machiavellian wisdom with the same alacrity they have demonstrated. They know that being compassionate rather than being cruel is evidence of virtue but law and order, the greater good, obligates them to be "indifferent to the charge of cruelty if [they are] to keep [citizens] loyal and united" (The Prince, Chapter XVII).
I thank Professor Germano for quoting line 163 of John Milton's monody Lycidas at the beginning of his blog "The New Cruelty" --- "Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth:" --- , because I now feel it is right to be ruthless, and to use Milton's The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1648/1649) as a symbolic weapon in our sustained efforts to rescue democracy from tyranny. We have always known that cultural memory and cultural literacy could be of service in a needful time.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. January 24, 2017