Does Character Matter At All In This Election?
[guest post by Dana]
At the risk of sounding the “It’s a binary choice, stupid!” gong, I want to direct your attention to a thoughtful piece by Jeff Jacoby, who has concluded that due to the obvious lack of moral character in either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, he cannot cast his vote for either of the candidates. It’s not simply due to his own personal sensibilities being offended. It’s far more than that.
He begins his op-ed by pointing out the obvious importance of moral character in matters of everyday life, and then asking whether we shouldn’t expect our elected officials to hold themselves to a similar standard, in both their personal and public lives. Especially those who would hold the highest office in our nation:
WOULD YOU HIRE a babysitter who lied with impunity? Would you choose a therapist who was a compulsive braggart? Would you want as your accountant or financial adviser someone who trailed the reek of corruption and bottomless avarice? Would you list your home with a real estate agent who routinely played fast and loose with rules that others must abide by? Would you attend the church of a pastor who spewed insults and threats and trafficked in delusional conspiracy theories?
If so, you’ll have no trouble supporting Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president.
But if you wouldn’t entrust your personal affairs to someone manifestly devoid of ethics and good character, how can you think of entrusting the nation’s highest office to either of the major-party candidates?
Clearly Jacoby sees this election as a different sort of binary choice.
I think all of us would agree that both candidates lack any discernible measure of moral clarity or integrity. Over the years both have demonstrated that they are more than willing to sink to any level necessary to promote themselves, even if it involves debasing others. And interestingly, it is women who have borne the brunt of their collective amorality.
Consider how the self-proclaimed champion of women intimidated, and threatened to destroy the lives and reputations of a long list of women who made abuse accusations against her husband. And consider the blistering bottom-line of Hillary Clinton: If given the opportunity, she said of one particular woman, she would crucify her. Yet, if anything, this election cycle has revealed these women are now more than willing to push back against Hillary Clinton the candidate. No longer are they willing to fade quietly and fearfully into the night:
Or consider Kathy Shelton, a 12-year old rape victim whose attacker Hillary Clinton chose to defend, and who not only suggested the child rape victim had romantic motives of her own, but also ended up negotiating a deal for her attacker to serve only one year in county jail for fondling a minor instead of a charge of child rape. While Clinton later laughed about the situation, Shelton, who had to have stitches “down there” as a result of the brutal attack and was rendered unable to have children, has done anything but laugh:
“Every time I see [Clinton] on TV I just want to reach in there and grab her, but I can’t do that,” she continued.
“I don’t think [Clinton’s] for women or girls. I think she’s lying, I think she said anything she can to get in the campaign and win,” Shelton said. “If she was [an advocate for women and children], she wouldn’t have done that to me at 12 years old.”
Trump also lacks a functioning moral compass or code of ethics. How else to explain a husband willingly pimping out his wife to pose nude for a men’s magazine? Even going so far as to negotiate the price for his unwilling wife to bare it all:
Jacoby makes it clear that he is voting on moral character this go-round, and not on the issues. He also points out that our nation’s foundation may face bigger and more long-term, damaging consequences as a result of the candidates that have been foisted upon us:
Of course it is, and if this were a typical election I’d be voting for the candidate whose political outlook came closest to my own.
Unfortunately, this election isn’t typical. The major parties have coughed up nominees so tainted that to vote for either one would amount to a betrayal. Our generation inherited a democratic republic that, despite all its flaws and weaknesses, was grounded in the conviction that a basic level of civic virtue is indispensable to the survival of American freedom. A vote for a candidate as dishonorable as Trump or Clinton is a vote to trash that inheritance. I can’t bring myself to do that.
The founders of the American system warned at every turn that without moral and civic virtues to navigate by, no democracy can endure. The character of government, they stressed, is inseparable from human character. “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence,” wrote James Madison at the very end of Federalist No. 55. “Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.” In short, once good character and integrity no longer matter, government of the people is doomed.
Free elections are a uniquely, invaluable part of the American experience. They can also be ugly matters when greed, deception, corruption and vanity solely drive the bus. We are not naive children, we know this to be true. And if we believe it is true that American freedom and success depends upon a degree of moral integrity upon which to stand and draw from, how is a nation facing our current political predicament impacted by electing an individual wholly lacking any measurable degree of moral fiber? By electing either of these charlatans, do we condemn ourselves to something more far-reaching and destructive than seeing the appointment of say, activist judges?
As Jacoby points out, both Clinton and Trump “are practically defined by their cupidity, deceit, and self-righteousness,” and a host of other unenviable qualities. As such, choosing them to lead our nation might invite perhaps a more damaging set of consequences than imagined:
For Americans to elevate anyone so reprehensible to the presidency would be to humiliate themselves before the world. It would also be a sign that the great American experiment in republican self-government may have run its course.