2020年11月13日 星期五

Why virtue matters

Lessons from the Trump years
Author Headshot

By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

“A republic,” the historian Gordon S. Wood wrote in “The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787,” “was such a delicate polity precisely because it demanded an extraordinary moral character in the people. Every state in which the people participated needed a degree of virtue; but a republic which rested solely on the people absolutely required it. Although a particular structural arrangement of the government in a republic might temper the necessity for public virtue, ultimately ‘no model of government whatever can equal the importance of this principle, nor afford proper safety and security without it.’”

Or, as James Madison would put it in the early days of American democracy, ordinary people had to have sufficient “virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom” or else “no theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure.”

The Trump years, up to and including this past week, have been a testament to the essential truth of this observation. There is no amount of checks and balances — no rules or laws or norms — that can make up for a lack of virtue, either among the people or among our public officials. Our institutions may, in the end, survive these years of chaos and disorder. Still, it’s been degrading to the country and to its individual citizens to watch as so many of our elected leaders lie and cheat and steal for nothing more than self-interest and personal gain.

It breeds cynicism, and that cynicism will be the fuel for the next Donald Trump, whether it’s someone new or the original, back in four years to make another bid for power.


What I Wrote

My Friday column was on the Electoral College, which came uncomfortably close to producing a major crisis of legitimacy and which makes it possible for Trump and his enablers to try to overturn the results of the election:

As recently as Wednesday, according to a report by my colleague Maggie Haberman, President Trump was pressing his aides on whether Republican legislatures in key states could overturn the results of the presidential election and pick pro-Trump electors, potentially giving him a second term. It’s not likely, but the fact that it is even theoretically possible is one of the most starkly undemocratic elements of the Electoral College. If it actually happened, in 2020 or the future, it would mark the end of American democracy as we know it.

Now Reading

Alex Pareene on the problem of political messaging in The New Republic.

Rosie Gray and Ruby Cramer on the life and death of Herman Cain at Buzzfeed.

Alberto Toscano on “racial fascism” in Boston Review.

Michelle Ruiz profiles Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for Vanity Fair.

David Bentley Hart on socialism for Commonweal magazine.



If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at jamelle-newsletter@nytimes.com.

Photo of the Week

The line to vote at Charlottesville City Hall in Virginia.Jamelle Bouie

I spent Election Day, and the days leading up to it, riding around to polling stations and photographing the voting process. I believe this photo was from one of the last days of early voting, possibly Halloween, when the long line included folks in costume, like this woman in a banana suit.


For reasons I can’t quite articulate, a person standing in line to vote while wearing a banana suit feels like the perfect representation of this election season.

Now Eating: Beans and Garlic Toast in Broth

Lately, I haven’t had the energy to make interesting or impressive meals. I’ve found myself falling back on very simple preparations, from ingredients I almost always have on hand. This recipe, from my colleague Tejal Rao, is one of those. The only thing that takes any time is the beans. Everything else is very straightforward. I use bread from a local bakery and a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil from a local grocer. I love the flavor of garlic, so I usually use four cloves instead of two when making the beans, and I’ll roast a head of garlic for spreading on the toast.


For the beans

  • 1 cup dried beans, such as cannellini or cranberry
  • 1 small onion, peeled
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Up to 4 ounces Parmesan rinds
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

For assembly

  • 4 thick slices crusty sourdough bread
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon marjoram leaves, chopped
  • Flaky sea salt, finely grated Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper, for serving


If you remember, soak the beans in cold water overnight, or for 10 to 12 hours. Rinse beans, and place in a large heavy-bottomed pot with onion, garlic, Parmesan rinds, olive oil and salt. Cover beans with water, so that the water level is a couple of inches above the beans, and bring to a boil, then turn heat down so that it’s simmering gently. Put a lid on the pot, and cook until beans are tender, adding more water as needed to keep the beans submerged. This could take 1 to 2 hours or more, depending on the beans and whether or not you soaked them. (If you’re using an electric pressure cooker: Add 5 cups water, set the machine to high pressure and cook for 25 minutes, then allow the machine to slowly depressurize on its own.)

Use a spoon to fish out the onion, garlic and cheese rinds; discard. Taste a couple of beans along with the broth. It should be opaque and slightly creamy; adjust the seasoning with more salt if needed.

Brush both sides of each piece of bread with olive oil, and place on a foil-lined sheet pan. Run the pan under the broiler for 2 minutes, so that the bread is crisp at the edges and nicely toasted, then flip bread and repeat. While the bread is still hot, rub a garlic clove along one side of each piece, as if you were grating the garlic on the bread, pushing just firmly enough for the clove to fray and dissolve slightly into the bread.

To assemble, place a piece of bread at the bottom of four wide, shallow bowls and ladle hot beans and broth on top. Wait a few seconds for the bread to absorb some broth, then ladle a little extra on each one, so that it’s swimming. Garnish the bowls generously: Drizzle olive oil all over the beans, sprinkle with herbs and flaky sea salt, cover with finely grated Parmesan and grind a little black pepper on top.

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