Dignity By Proxy

An opinion piece in the USAToday complains about President Trump’s according recognition and honor to slain SEAL Ryan Owens and to his wife and family during the recent nationwide address. The author of the piece, Christian Schneider, after the usual excuses and politically-proper qualifications, finally gets to the point:

Undoubtedly, the temptation for Trump to wrap himself in the valor of a recently deceased soldier was too much to resist. Actors frequently win awards by playing historical figures who risked their lives in service of a cause, and yet the actor still benefits from the residual goodwill — despite being paid millions of dollars to dress up like someone who displayed actual bravery. Call it “dignity by proxy.”

But simply exhuming culture does not create culture, just as recognizing honor does not, by extension, make one honorable. Secondhand compassion is not a thing, but it doesn’t mean people won’t try. [emphasis added]

There is a point to putting grieving widows in the spotlight. Widows and orphans touch human beings deep in their gut. Here is someone who’s husband/wife/father/mother/son/daughter/next door neighbor believed in America enough to place themselves in danger while you went about your life, and the danger got them in place of you. It is death by proxy, sacrifice in absentia.

That connection sparks the intangibles: pride, terror, and wanting to be a part of that (whichever that is, either patriot or enemy of the state). That is the point of using joes and widows and orphans and Gold Star parents as stage props: first connect at the gut level, draw the People in, and then engage with them and make them a partner in effort. This is one technique leaders employ to persuade followers, so Schneider’s complaint of its use is not credible, and dignity by proxy is a reward for being part of society.

About DaveO

Retired soldier, micro-farmer, raconteur and pet owner from the great state of Oklahoma. Wandered in as a frequent commenter and have been enjoying blogging ever since.
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3 Responses to Dignity By Proxy

  1. burkemblog says:

    Schneider’s a fairly conservative writer, so it’s interesting that he challenges this bit of what is stagecraft in the president’s recent speech. FWIW, I do not approve of using such folks as props. I take DaveO’s point overall, and certainly understand it, but there is something frankly unseemly about this. I am reminded of the Senator character in Webb’s Field of Fire who’s brought to an antiwar rally as a prop and then begins to hector the crowd for getting him and his fellow Marines in Viet Nam all wrong. The president framed this moment by stating that he’d just spoken to the SecDef, and that he had assured the president that much valuable intelligence was gained. Then we met the widow, and then the applause began.

    Context in this is, alas, everything–the slain SEAL’s dad refused to shake Trump’s hand at Dover and has called repeatedly for an investigation–the president’s display during the speech was an attempt to preempt all that, and that undermines all the values and noble (and practical) purpose that DaveO suggests are part and parcel of the roles these various characters play. This was unseemly at best.

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  2. DaveO says:

    I don’t disagree on public displays of grief since I view the process as a private matter. Both Mrs. Owens and Mr. Owens pere have had their grief publicly displayed and used for political gain. The use of that grief is still a useful, go-to Shibboleth which galvanizes support.

    One artist who grieved very publicly and powerfully was Kathe Kollwitz (thank you Major Badgett!).

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  3. slater says:

    Well he honored her…and then the left attacked her on social media…so idk.

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