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Welcome to Shame-Free America

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Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey (right) used the beach with his family and friends at the governor's summer house at Island Beach State Park on July 2.
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey (right) used the beach with his family and friends at the governor's summer house at Island Beach State Park on July 2.(Andrew Mills)

SO NOW WE have our primal memory of summer vacation: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie languishing like a stranded whale on a public beach that he had just closed off to the nine million residents of his state.

Not only did Christie seem pretty pleased with himself, absorbing Vitamin D the way God intended while reading a trash novel (hello, Brad Thor), but he bristled when queried on his exclusive use of the Jersey shoreline: "That's the way it goes," he said. "Run for governor, and you can have the [beachfront] residence."

It's a column, it's a series of columns, it's a book. It's the never-ending soap opera called Shame-Free America.

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When did it begin? You could start anywhere, from Andrew Jackson's genocidal "Indian removal" (resettling Native Americans, Jackson said, would "enable them to pursue happiness in their own way") to Yankee industrialists' (hello, Massachusetts) attempts to whitewash Southern slavery because it was good for Northern business.

I like to start the clock a bit more recently, when President William J. Clinton stared into a bank of television cameras and flat-out lied about his silly dalliance with one of his interns. This was a new, improved shamelessness that was completely unmoored from conventional ethics or morality. Clinton was just betting that he couldn't get caught.

Always a bad bet, whether for a president (hello, Richard Nixon) or a private citizen. Surely this must have been Christie's calculation when he and his family disported themselves on Island Beach. Who would know? And yet The (Newark) Star-Ledger newspaper overflew the beach and the rest is history.

Christie's miscalculation was sort of a replay of Adam and Eve's dangerous bet that damned the human race for all eternity. We never learn. Someone is always watching.

Other First Citizens of Shame-Free America include former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who had an unfortunate encounter with a lady of the night in 2008. Spitzer faced the voters again in 2013, asking for forgiveness and a job as New York City comptroller. He got neither.

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2013 was an irredemptive year for disgraced New York pols. Seven-term Congressman Anthony Weiner threw his hat in the mayoral ring, after some embarrassing sexual miscues on social media. Weiner joined Spitzer in the proverbial wastebasket of history — neither man's intended destination, to be sure.

So much shamelessness, so little space. What about EpiPen CEO Heather Bresch, who tried to blame Obama-
Care for the 600 percent price increase in her company's medical devices? To say nothing of the 700 percent increase in her salary. She's a piker compared to Martin Shkreli, who jacked up the price of his company's life-saving drug Daraprim by 5,600 percent.

A sense of shame would just slow these people down.

Then there is General David Petraeus, the ultimate Boy Scout, who proved to be unfaithful to both his wife and to his vow to secure classified information. After copping to an affair with former Army officer Paula Broadwell, Petraeus pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling state secrets in 2015.

How very unsurprising that Petraeus's name surfaced when the newly installed Trump administration was shopping around for a secretary of state. Because when it comes to Shame-Free America, Trump & Co. are contributing a new chapter almost every month.

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It is truly the never-ending story.


Alex Beam's column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.