There’s an interesting issue of distinguishing good consequences from good people. Good people can make bad decisions leading to bad consequences. My favorite example of that is apostle Reed Smoot who was made a Senator in 1902. I take it for granted that he was a good man. However he sponsored the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1930 which many think led to a deeper and longer depression than was necessary. I think the opposite is true as well. Bad people can do good things. Two examples from the past are Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. I think the moral failings of both are well known but it’s easy to point to important policies they led the way on that many feel were extremely good. Often importantly so.
Recently the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault have come up. Many see the personal actions of our current President in this regard as deeply problematic at best and horrific at worst. It’s an interesting question though whether the current focus on sexual harassment and assault would have happened without him. I’m not arguing he intended this social change. Far from it. Yet would people have written about Harvey Weinstein with the associated actions had there been no Trump as President? It’s hard to know for sure, but given the past it’s unlikely.
As I write more traditional attempts to avoid consequences from sexual scandal are ongoing in the Alabama election but also in the Senate with two major Senators facing accusations thus far. Likewise I suspect that the list of members of Congress and the Senate who required millions in payouts for sexual harassment will be made public. Again just a guess, but the current public mood seems different than in the past. For one it’s not breaking along normal party lines. Yes there are the expected partisan support of Al Franken, John Conyers and most egregiously Roy Moore. However many – arguably most – of both parties oppose these actions and want there to be serious consequences.
I raise all of this just to note that while times may look bad often what we’re seeing are the breaking of waves. The consequences can be good. That’s not to say we shouldn’t have worries about the moral situation in the world. We most definitely should. However often the very things we focus in on with the media’s myopia actually demonstrate that society has changed for the better. The very fact such things get such attention show not how vile society is but that society has changed enough that such things are news. I’m not sure a few decades ago they would have been. That’s a change for the better.
1. To be fair many economists think the effect of Smoot-Hawley is exaggerated. I don’t want to get into the economics debate since I’m not really qualified to make those sorts of arguments. Even if it wasn’t a principal cause it wasn’t good. The point is more about how consequences aren’t tied to how good a person is.
2. Again I’m not trying to get into a political debate about the past here. I know not everyone thinks the Great Society was good – or at least thinks there were negative unintended consequences. Likewise not everyone thinks Nixon’s reproachment with China, the ABM treaty, or his formation of the EPA were good. We can I guess debate other policies but hopefully they at least stand as examples of people with well known moral failings who did a lot of things most people consider good.