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Matt Gaetz has a lesson for us

April 10th, 2021 by dk

Matt Gaetz has a lesson to teach us. He learned it from Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell. Liberals have been slow to recognize it. There’s work to be done.

Three-time Congressman Gaetz has always been one of Trump’s most vociferous supporters. He may soon face a federal indictment for raping an underage woman and possibly paying her for it.

His was the lone vote against an anti-human trafficking bill in Congress in 2017. Maybe now we know why. His was one of two votes in Florida’s 2015 legislature against outlawing “revenge porn.” The only other vote against the law came from Gaetz’s roommate.

Gaetz later defended Democrat Katie Hill when she was ensnared in a sex scandal in 2019. “He was one of the few colleagues who spoke out after a malicious nude-photo leak upended my life,” Hill wrote in Vanity Fair. Hill resigned her seat. Gaetz insists he will not do the same.

Gaetz has only a couple vocal defenders on Capitol Hill. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) emit a scent of scandal that’s unmistakable to their Congressional colleagues. And there has been nary a peep from the former president, despite attempts to tie it all to the outrage du jour — “cancel culture.”

Nothing about Gaetz’s behavior has surprised insiders around Washington. Attorney General Bill Barr was briefed about the accusations in 2020. Barr was careful to avoid being photographed with the 38-year-old, but did not impede the investigation. Gaetz is known as a carouser and may have shown other Congressmen nude photos of his sexual conquests.

We call Gaetz shameless, but that’s not quite right. The difference matters. What Gaetz lacks so prominently is self-shame. The same has always been true of Trump, but an inability or refusal to self-correct is not limited to sexual peccadillos. Mitch McConnell expresses glee where compunction should be. He openly wields his power without self-shame — until others stop him.

They refuse to limit themselves, because they view self-restraint and self-esteem as the recent inventions that they are. Just a few centuries ago, shame was exclusively what society doled out to aberrant members.

Shame is as old as human moral codes, but “being ashamed” — self-shame — first appeared in print around 1800. If you told an American colonist that he “should be ashamed of himself,” he’d be confused. Self-restraint gained popularity around the same time. (What we call self-control is “temperance” in the 1611 King James Bible.)

For almost all of human history, shame has been an outward action performed to correct an individual or group, not an inner feeling that may or may not cause change. (Don’t get me started on how the self-esteem movement has upended the esteem movement.)

Put another way, collective shaming is the baby in the “cancel culture” bathwater. We can and must do more than simply shake our heads or raise our fists. It’s our job to stop them! We should learn that lesson and thank Mr. Gaetz for teaching us.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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