View from Rue Saint-Georges

In Praise of Shame

Without it, we are lost

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | July 17, 2019
Moody College of Communication/Flickr
Moody College of Communication/Flickr

For years now, I have had an open text thread going with two of my closest friends, Josh, a reporter in Moscow, and Shahin, a former advisor to the current president of France, Emmanuel Macron. On Sunday, Shahin shared a link to video of Vice President Pence touring American concentration camps along the southern border. “The US is on a dangerous path,” Shahin warned. “They don’t even pretend to be civil-rights-abiding, liberty-defending anymore … I thought they’d always pretend this is not happening! But now they really own it.”

I glanced at the text and then—as too often happens—blithely moved on to other things, getting my kids up and fed, shooting back that it’s a travesty, yes, but not quite understanding what is novel about it now.

“To be honest,” I added, “Europe is doing very morally similar or even worse (insofar as deadlier) things to repel migrants on this side of the Atlantic.” And they are outsourcing it to keep their hands cleaner, I continued.

“Of course!” Shahin acknowledged. “We are doing the same if not worse, but not in plain sight. We are kind of ashamed of it, and it’s a form of shame that is somewhat important.” It’s important, he stressed, “because it means you still have a sense of right and wrong.” When the shame goes, and you assume the darkness, as the French would say, “it really means the moral compass has gone.”

I clicked the link and began to read the article. “The DHS facility in McAllen is a prime example of why we need to secure our borders,” Pence said. “The facility is overcrowded and our system is overwhelmed. It is time for Democrats in Congress to step up, do their jobs, and end this crisis.”

Indeed, once the compass has gone, up is highly likely to become down, just as an atrocity can be rendered an achievement.

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