Max Weber wrote, in 1918’s “Politics as a Vocation,” that conduct can be oriented to an "ethic of ultimate ends," or an "ethic of responsibility." In the former view, the election of Roy Moore would be acceptable because of how he’s expected to vote if elected. In the latter view, it would be antithetical to send such an, allegedly, flawed individual to the Senate.
How Alabama voters resolve the dynamic tension between these two views may show, further, how Americans wish to be governed. Trump’s election featured an embrace of an evolutionary ethic that values political advantage above all else. This framework doesn’t depend on the presence of virtue, only that the leader pursue a predetermined agenda of promises that may, or may not, be kept. Trump provides ample clues about what this can mean.
The President vowed to “drain the swamp” before he found it more expedient to erect dams that have served to make it even deeper. Examples are the numerous billionaires in the cabinet; disregard for Russian interference in the 2016 election; and how, in place of professional diplomats, they’re empty chairs at State. Instead of tax relief for the middle and lower classes, the President has embraced the strange notion that the poor should pay to make the wealthy richer. Denials that this is the case are forced. Rather than promote universal healthcare, Trump has conducted a war against the sick and feeble. This isn’t the promised populism. It’s anarchy.
No list would be incomplete, either, without mention that Trump is gutting environmental regulations designed to safeguard Americans’ food, air, and water. Tellingly, Trump also wanted to permit the importation of elephant parts from animals killed by big game hunters in Africa, like his sons. There is virtually no area of life that Trump hasn’t reverse engineered for the well to do.
Despite everything, people were willing to overlook Donald Trump’s personal flaws and allegations of financial misfeasance. Perhaps voters, similarly, will overlook Roy Moore’s alleged deficits, and support others similarly situated. It’s unclear, however, if it’ll sate deeply seated anger at automation, low wages, and frustration at the government for not solving problems.
This trusting form of hopeful indulgence requires a leap of faith that those who are elected, regardless of standards, will care more about the people who voted for them than in themselves and the tempting perks of power inherent in high office. What happens in Alabama will be telling. Irrespective of everything else, the contest between Moore and Jones shows just how deep is the hole Republicans have dug for themselves. No matter who wins, they lose and that’s not good for anyone.