"To the Republicans who have been silent on Trump," read the headline to Fareed Zakaria’s op ed in The Washington Post last weekend "— your honor is at stake." In the article to which the headline was attached mention was made of several prominent Republicans who have not (so far) repudiated Mr Trump as their party’s presidential nominee, but by the end it was clear that the columnist was primarily focusing on Senator John McCain as someone whose life story as a naval aviator and long-term prisoner of war in North Vietnam has given him an almost 19th century level of solicitude about his own honor. And now here was one, Fareed Zakaria, coming forth to tell him that his years of honorable suffering in the Hanoi Hilton count for naught in his honor-accounting unless he also supports the candidate Mr Zakaria supports in this year’s presidential election.
Can you guess why Mr Zakaria never even tries to explain who made him the arbiter of Senator McCain’s honor? He simply takes it for granted that that privilege is comprehended in his divine right as a media pundit to command the inferior class of mere politicians. He has soldiers under him too, as he supposes, and he says to this man, "Go," and he goeth, and to another, "Come," and he cometh," and to his servant "Do this," and he doeth it. At least he doeth it if he knoweth what’s good for him. Naturally, it would never occur to this precious pundit that much of Mr Trump’s support is a reaction against precisely this arrogance on the part of the media in supposing they have the right to tell their fellow citizens for whom it is — and is not — permissible to vote if they wish to avoid being cast out into the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth with the ungodly.
Back in 2008, when Senator McCain was himself the Republican candidate, I seem to remember it was the cartoonist Garry Trudeau who pioneered this technique of getting at the ex-POW by pretending to question his honor for not being of the same opinion as Garry Trudeau about — I forget what. Something or other. But neither Mr Trudeau nor Mr Zakaria has the slightest idea about how honor actually works. Honor is a judgment we pass upon ourselves when we join certain kinds of honor groups — especially military ones — of those whom we acknowledge as our equals. We therefore allow them to pass judgment upon our honor by virtue of their own. At no time, needless to say, has either of these gentlemen of the press ever been a fellow member with Senator McCain of any group which he would consider entitled to judge of his honor.
The mistake they make in considering themselves so entitled has wider ramifications for our politics than this. A man of honor can only be insulted by an equal and disdains even to notice aspersions cast upon his honor by those without any honor themselves and therefore without standing to render an opinion about his. Into this category, along with Messrs. Zakaria and Trudeau, falls none other than Donald Trump, who also insulted Senator McCain’s honor, albeit indirectly, last year — when the media pretended to be outraged about it. The difference is that Donald Trump knows that honor is a dead letter in American politics while the pundits and cartoonists, believing it to be useful to them as a stick with which to beat those they disagree with, do not.
Insofar as they do find it useful, it is only because there are quite a number of bien pensant Republicans who, for reasons I do not understand, have foolishly tried to beat the Democrats at their own game of treating politics as a competition for moral superiority and who erroneously suppose that honor is the same thing as the moral purity which, they think, distinguishes them from the Trumpites. The latter, on the other hand, have figured out that most of the American electorate is not interested in the moral purity of the NeverTrumps. What did Republican moral purity ever do for them? Though I, too, have occasionally permitted myself the indulgence of looking down my nose at Mr Trump, I’ve got to admit it’s a good question.