WASHINGTON – If only we had an all-seeing judge like the jurist Morgan Freeman played in the 1990 film, “The Bonfire of the Vanities.”
“What is justice?” “Judge” Freeman asked the riotous courtroom, set in New York City. Crooked prosecutors and quarrelling neighborhood spectators had torn up the place.
“Justice is the law,” he went on. “And the law is man’s feeble attempt to set down the principles of decency. Decency. Decency is what your grandmother taught you. Now, go home – and be decent. Please.”
The admonition about decency could have been addressed to Donald Trump, and to a lesser degree Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and even President Obama himself.
Pope Francis spoke directly Thursday about Republican presidential candidate Trump. Francis was asked by a Reuters reporter what he thought about Trump’s plans to build a wall against Latin American immigrants.
The reporter spiced his question by claiming that Trump had called Francis a political “pawn” of the Mexican government. The Pope replied Trump’s views are “not Christian.” (The pope did not say, as hate radio proclaimed, that Trump was “not a Christian.”)
Some Catholics might prefer that Francis be less pointed, less direct, and not spill Rome’s prestige on some individual politician.
But the papacy probably has the longest unbroken memory in civilization. Francis may have been thinking about another pope, Pius XI, who held his fire when another promoter built his political success on envy, frustration, sheer hate and promises to make Germany great again.
Time was in Washington that rules, process and common courtesy used to make up our sense of “decency.”
Protocol might have prompted Obama to put on a tie when he first spoke on TV about the death of Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But Obama didn’t.
Common courtesy might have moved the president to keep brief his comments about a replacement, while Scalia’s body was being flown back here from an expensive hunting trip in Texas. But he didn’t.
The president might have attended Scalia’s funeral after laboring so much in public about the judge’s successor. But he wouldn’t.
Granted, the nation owes Scalia no favors for his key role in promoting the worst Supreme Court ruling in 150 years, Citizens United v. FEC, which in 2010 gave corporations legal personhood. And Scalia was a bit of a bully on the bench. But protocol is protocol.
Respect for the Constitution should have sealed the lips of Senate Majority Leader McConnell, while Scalia’s body was still warm, from announcing the GOP-controlled Senate will not consider a nominee from this president. The Constitution absolutely obligates Obama to send a nomination to the Senate. The charter implies, but does not mandate, that the Senate vote on the nominee.
Lastly, for now, is Ryan. After the Republicans won the House, and Ryan replaced John Boehner, R-Ohio, as speaker, Ryan said the House would return to the “regular order” of business. That includes passing a federal budget.
But now Ryan is saying that the House may not even pass a budget this year. Worse, Ryan’s lieutenants said they would not even hold the usual hearing to consider Obama’s budget.
NETWORK, a social justice group inspired by Catholic nuns, said the Republicans’ refusal to even meet with Obama’s budget director “discards a tradition of cooperation between the branches of government that has been in practice since 1921.”
Decency, protocol and courtesy are being thrown to the winds, and it’s not just Trump’s fault. It’s ours. It’s what’s for dinner.