To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Wednesday, June 19, 2024


A Nation Of Law, Law-Breakers And Complicity



Appearing at the most recent hastily scheduled hearing, Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, portrayed a president out of control and a White House staff often ambivalent to the violence building around them.

Hutchinson described new details that the White House – and the former U.S. president – were aware that the rally on Jan. 6 could turn violent days before Trump’s rally when he urged his supporters to “fight like hell” to keep him in power. Mr. Trump wanted armed protesters to move freely saying, “They’re not here to hurt me” [New York Times, 6.28.22]. He had intended to go to the Capitol but was prevented from doing so by his security. This infuriated him and he lunged for the steering wheel of his limousine, screaming at his driver, “Take me up to the Capitol now.”

After returning to the West Wing the president and Meadows showed little interest in doing anything to stop the ongoing assault on the Capitol – or the mob calling for Mike Pence to be hanged. Meadows later sought a pardon from the president [C.SPAN, 6.28.22].

After listening to testimony in the previous hearing, John Dickerson [CBS, 6.21.22] commented that the individuals testifying acted in ways necessary for a democracy. In moving recount, we heard how they were asked by former President Trump to “find” more votes and when they refused, received threats to themselves, their families and neighbors.

Ruby Freeman asked, “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?” [Chicago Tribune, 6.22.22]. Her daughter described the work she had done as an election worker as being important to her community and country. As a result of the threats, she and her co-workers were no longer election workers.

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican who had voted for the former president, told of pressure from Trump and other Republicans to decertify the election results. He said that he had asked for proof of election fraud from Trump’s people again and again and got nothing; despite threats to his family, he honored the oath he had taken [The Guardian, 6.21.22]. He spoke of obedience to the rule of law in an almost word for word example of what is known as an adult conventional stage of moral reasoning.

Yet, when asked if he would vote for Trump again, he said he would [Graham, The Atlantic, 6.22.22], showing the limits of ethnocentric reasoning to known groups and experiences.

Support for the Jan. 6 Committee has not been the typical response of Republican senators and representatives. Among those pressuring Bowers to cooperate with Mr. Trump was Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs. The Select Committee had issued subpoenas to the Arizona representative and other members of Congress, saying that they wanted to hear from those who had direct conversations with President Trump leading up to and during the attack – as well as those who were involved in the planning and coordination of activities on and before Jan. 6. Biggs objected to the assertion he pressured Bowers to decertify their state’s electors in the 2020 presidential election [Washington Examiner, 6.21.22].

The response by Biggs was that he would not be participating in the “illegitimate and Democrat-sympathizing” panel, saying that the committee had been a “sham” from the beginning and that the entire purpose was a witch hunt to “destroy” Trump and his supporters, to intimidate members of Congress, and to distract Americans from “real issues that are destroying this country” [Montini, Arizona Republic, 6.22.22]. However, Biggs was one of at least half a dozen Republican members of Congress who sought pre-emptive pardons [New York Times, 6.23.22]. Johnny McEntee, Trump’s former head of presidential personnel, testified that Trump “had hinted at a blanket pardon for the Jan. 6 thing for anybody” [Haberman, et al, New York Times, 6.23.22]. Requests for pardons assumed they understood that they could be charged for crimes they had done.

Who are the law breakers? Research on human development shows three levels of potential development and related behavior: egocentric where actions are related to fear of punishment [stage one] and later to satisfy themselves [stage two], ethnocentric where actions are related to approval of others [stage three] and later to fixed laws [stage four], universalizing where right action is defined by examination [stage five], and a final stage based on conscience and ethical principle [stage six]. Most people never develop past stage three.

In the ethnocentric mode, individuals may move to the stage four orientation of authority and fixed rules. There is a genuine belief in the need for laws, for “without laws there would be chaos,” and there is perceived guilt for breaking the law. These rules and laws are behaviorally stated – e.g., “Don’t steal,” “Don’t kill” – but often don’t make finer contextual distinctions such as legal loopholes which allow property to be taken – or the difference between allowing people to starve and killing them.

Ethnocentric in determination, these laws generally only apply within one’s own group. For example, one cannot kill within the group [murder], but may be required to kill someone from the “outside” [war]. People in this stage may be generally law-abiding in a narrower sense, but will lack an understanding of the meaning or “spirit” of the law.

Moving to the universalizing level, change in laws can occur when recognized as inadequate. While most people at stage five will not break existing laws, they will work conscientiously to make laws more just. With this stage of the U.S. Constitution, there is opportunity for change, but few lawmakers actually achieve this stage of development. Such change can take decades or may never occur.

The rare stage six individuals will break laws that are unjust but only with education and non-violence. It is the stage of the Golden Rule and Kant Imperative accurately understood and generally occurs later in life.

Almost all lawbreakers, whether “white” or “blue-collar crime,” can be located in stage two. They externalize blame, are opportunistic, wary, manipulative, and exploitative. They rather enjoy the challenge of breaking the law and are not intimidated – nor usually stopped by rules and laws.

Whether street “con” artists, or “white-collar” smart, as expert manipulators these individuals can often pretend group values well. Such values may be middle class or street gang, depending on the system to which they belong. If they are smart, these individuals work the “system” well to their advantage. They tend to support their own group – as long as individuals in the group are “loyal” to them. They are also often diagnosed to be psycho/sociopaths.

Appropriate to our present season, tactics observed during an election year include blame-shifting, name-calling, reputation-bashing, rumor-spreading, and veiled threats. Too often such behavior is not stopped by people in positions of control who could do so.

In Meet Donald Trump’s Proud Bullies, Goons, And Thugs [McKay Coppins, 2015], Trump’s men with middle and working-class roots lack elite credentials, and are mesmerized by displays of lavish wealth. They are impressed with brashness and amused by dirty jokes. One of Trump’s advisers described the billionaire’s appeal to blue-collar voters: “If you have no education, and you work with your hands, you like him. It’s like, ‘Wow, if I was rich, that’s how I would live!’”

We are a people who are developmentally challenged – if not in its usual understanding. Yet we know how to encourage development from the early years on.

My graduate school advisor talked of the ability of young children to say, “Not fair,” when observing unequal distribution of food or toys. That early sense of lack of fairness can be encouraged and discussed with children throughout their early years. Children can learn to discuss rules and laws, their effectiveness and fairness.

Authoritarian parenting and schooling discourage development, while flexible socialization results in humans not only with greater cognitive skills but emotional, social and moral development as well. In addition, such socialization encourages autonomy that results in behaviors and accountability that are greater than the individual’s ability to reason in a more formal way.

In a 2017 op-ed in the Washington Post denouncing fellow Republicans who defend Trump, then-Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake invoked Joseph Welch, the chief counsel for the Army who famously confronted Joseph McCarthy.

“I have children and grandchildren to answer to,” Flake said, announcing his retirement and thus his willingness to speak frankly. “I will not be complicit or silent.”

More than 800 people already have been charged with criminal activities before, on and after Jan. 6, 2021 but we have testimony of those with courage who have told their stories despite threats to themselves, their families and neighbors. Their stories are now part of history.

What happens as a result of their courage, will be our answer to our children and grandchildren.

Ann Dapice [Lenape/Cherokee] received a PhD in psychology, sociology and philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. She has taught and/or served as administrator at a number of universities teaching courses in the social sciences, philosophy and Native American Studies. She is Director of Education and Research for T.K. Wolf, Inc., a 501(c)(3) American Indian organization and Founder/Executive Director, Institute of Values Inquiry. Her large-scale research and teaching have focused on psycho-social-faith development related to values and ethical behavior. She consults with the University of Pennsylvania on development of Native American Programs where she is Founder of the Association of Native Alumni and has served on a number of university committees. Her Fellowships have been with Princeton in Asia and the Coolidge Research Colloquium. Her cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research has been reported in professional journals, books, and academic presentations regionally, nationally and internationally – and in newspapers, radio, television, and the internet.