The latest twist in Gov. Eric Greitens’ scandals has left Missourians reeling, trying to sort out who has done what, to whom, when and how.
Many of the facts remain in dispute — the dismissal of the invasion of privacy charge doesn’t change that. The governor’s alleged use of a donor list from a nonprofit charity remains under investigation and on the docket, and is still a legal danger for the governor.
The legislature is doing its work, too. We may soon know more about any secret money surrounding Greitens and his associates, as well as their campaign tactics in 2015 and 2016. Impeachment and a trial remain likely.
Whatever details emerge from these political efforts, the existing record already suggests a sad truth: The concept of shame in public life is disappearing.
No one who has watched Greitens during the past several weeks will disagree. On Monday, the governor insisted he was humbled by the dismissal of his criminal case. “I have emerged,” he said, “a changed man.”
But evidence of humility and a sincere willingness to change still seem beyond Greitens’ reach. He bounded down the steps in St. Louis Monday, still a man on a mission.
The governor is alternately defiant and apologetic. He is sorry for the pain his actions have caused. He is sorry the scandals have hurt his family and the state.
All humans make mistakes and regret them. Forgiveness for such errors, which Greitens seeks, is routine.
But shame is something more. Shame reflects a self-awareness that a pattern of behavior has disrupted fundamental social norms involving family, friends, the public.
Greitens has denied he struck the woman at the center of the privacy case. But he has admitted to the affair, an improper relationship that deeply hurt his family and betrayed his friends and supporters.
Her credible testimony to a House committee suggests ugly behavior far beyond taking a photo.
He should be more than sorry. He should be ashamed. That’s why so many Missourians have called on Greitens to resign. They want the governor to show he fully understands his moral failure.
“The governor has lost the moral authority and the ability to lead the state,” GOP state Sens. Ron Richard and Mike Kehoe said Monday. “We reaffirm our call that he resign immediately.”
The collapse of shame isn’t limited to Greitens, of course, or Republicans. President Bill Clinton was shameless — in many ways, his sexual encounter with an intern established the pattern for today’s I’m-sorry-but-not-ashamed epoch.
Other Democrats, from former Sen. Al Franken to former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, have conceded improper behavior and resigned.
The gold standard of shamelessness is our current president, Donald Trump. He lies so often that he long ago abandoned a sense of shame when violating social or political norms.
America was roiled this spring over allegations that Trump knew about a $130,000 payment from one of his lawyers to a pornographic film star. But the real scandal isn’t whether Trump knew, or didn’t know, about the money — it’s his actual behavior with Stormy Daniels.
If there was no relationship, why would anyone pay her $130,000? I think we all know the answer.
A normal politician — heck, a normal human being — would be ashamed at the disclosure. Trump shows no evidence of that.
Some Americans (notably, some leaders in the evangelical movement) appear to have accepted shamelessness. They see public life as transactional: You can do what you want as long as I get what I want.
But no policy goal can ever redeem the damage caused when public life is debased and the public’s faith in government is destroyed.
Eric Greitens has shamed his office and his name. That’s why he needs to go.