But the triumph of ad hominem arguments on the Trump right also has a deeper and darker meaning. Fox News is no longer content to spout pro-Trump propaganda. It must destroy Trump’s opponents, even if they are honorable people. Especially if they are honorable people. The goal is not to dispute their testimony — which, on the facts, seems indisputable — but to discredit them as witnesses and as human beings. The immediate response to the release of Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony was for Ingraham to call his loyalty to the United States into question — despite a Purple Heart giving evidence of such loyalty. Attacks on those who dare oppose Trump are reflexive and brutal. To hell with past service. To hell with facts. All that matters is muddying, blunting or silencing an accusation against the dear leader.
This is a deeply immoral impulse. And it is part of a broader crisis in our political culture — a crisis of missing limiting principles.
Partisan extremes in the United States have become entirely consequentialist in their ethics. The overriding goal may be the end of Roe v. Wade — or its preservation. It may be passage of gun control legislation — or protection of the Second Amendment. In each case, the objective — always measured in saved lives — means everything.
But if the objective means everything, then how do we judge the character of leaders or the morality of political methods?