The discussion (or what vaguely passes for discussion) of issues in the Republican presidential campaign is mostly characterized by, on one side, contentless sloganeering, and on the other side by waffling, retreating and reversal. Nowhere to be found is a serious discussion of healthcare (repeal Obamacare and then what?), immigration (Who will build that wall? Migrant workers?), the economy (We would have made it better? Yeah, like last time). the environment and a host of other topics that have a real and potentially devastating impact on the American people.
That void of serious discussion should tell you something. It should tell you that no one wants to discuss the real issue, the issue that is at the center of each one of this nation’s core problems. Look closely at the problem of health care, immigration, the economy and the environment, and you will see that they all involve one question: what is our obligation to others? The question on health care is whether we should all chip in to provide health care for everyone. The question on the economy is whether the rise in the economy should benefit all. The question on immigration is whether we Americans have an obligation to those who want to come to America. The question on the environment is whether we owe it to each other and to those yet unborn to provide a habitable planet.
The real issue, the only issue, in this campaign is whether to choose policies based on self-interest or policies based on responsibility for others. That would be an interesting discussion if it hadn’t already been resolved for Americans. Listen closely:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;”
If you are an American, or if you espouse the American ideal, you have as your defining value the unalienable rights of every human being. That is not a pronouncement of your own rights but of the rights of every human being you encounter. It is a declaration, not of license, but of responsibility.
So the real issue in this campaign is whether or not the American ideal will survive. There are those, and Trump and Cruz are included, who would put aside the American ideal in support of self-interest and demagoguery. Those, like Bush and Kasich, who appear to want to follow policies that promote the rights of all, are either too cowed by the Trump types to step forward or perhaps even too indoctrinated by the radical right to even believe it themselves.
Be all of that as it may, there really is only one serious question. What is our ideal? What is it that motivates and gives direction to all our policies? Who, really, are we? Either we are the Americans of our birth, committed to the inherent rights of every human being, or we are just another bunch of self-seekers, tied together only by the need for the power of numbers. All the rest is just a utilitarian calculus. We will (or will not) provide basic medical care to all people as we do or do not feel that every human being should have that care. We will (or will not) install a tax plan that places the burden on those who can best afford it and that generates sufficient income to provide adequate education for all, adequate repair of roads and bridges and adequate funds for health care and Social Security, all as we do or do not feel that the income of each is earned in part for the benefit of all. We will (or will not) commit to an aggressive policy of repairing the environment as we do or do not feel we owe any obligation to those who come after us.
Perhaps this is the best that we can say about the whole tawdry Republican carnival show is that, by the very emptiness of the blatherings of the Trumps and Cruzes, we will all be driven to this defining query: do we as a nation define ourselves by the unalienable rights of every human being, or are we really just all in it for ourselves?