Saturday’s massive turnout for the Women’s Marches around the country and the world, which brought millions upon millions of people together in protest of the new American regime, made history. Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 will long be remembered for the record crowds, which were entirely peaceful, and for the way we finally stood up to a year of being bullied and misled. We have thrown down the gantlet to Trump and his minions: The line has been drawn. You are an illegitimate President, Mr. Trump, and you are on notice that the American people are fighting back.
And now, on a related topic:
Does Character Count?
We are assured by his friends and supporters that Donald J. Trump is really a different person from the angry, vengeful insulter who stalked the campaign trails of America, hurling libels at his many perceived enemies, making false statements, striking the most aggressive poses even at times when he easily could have been conciliatory, and telling lie after lie after lie.
“That’s not the real Trump,” his friends tell us. “In person, he’s actually kind, soft-spoken and caring, with a great heart. Don’t be fooled by how he ran. Watch what he does.”
Really? If it walks like a duck…
I was talking to a dear friend on Inauguration Day, a lifelong Democratic woman who concedes that she has a certain sympathy with the tea party and with Trump. Her main concern is that politicians of all parties run for office on promises to make life better for “the people,” and then do nothing except enrich themselves at the public coffer. This message was a huge part of Trump’s campaign spiel; it appealed to many who felt the same way. Surely, they reasoned, Trump is so rich, we need have no concern he will do things for his own benefit. And so, my friend told me, she agrees with Trump, on this and some other issues.
So when this dear friend told me she was planning on participating in the Women’s March against Trump, I asked her why, since, according to her, he’s right.
She took umbrage and responded, her voice rising in tone, “Because he’s a bad man!”
This is the thing. We’ve seen it from Day One: the arrogance, the smears and slanders, the fact-free rants, the disinformation, the pandering to the worst instincts of the American people, the sexual predation, the anti-Mexican rhetoric, the anti-Islamic demagoguery, the mocking of that disabled reporter, the falsehoods, the continued questioning of Obama’s birthplace, the depreciation of science, the thin skin that showed the insecurity and resentment roiling inside him, the flipping off of more than half the country that voted for Hillary, the palling around with white supremacists, the wink-wink at homophobic groups, the willing misunderstanding of history, the dismissal of expertise, the hubris and authoritarian tendencies, the impeachable collaboration with the Russians, and what seems like sheer vindictiveness when it comes to undoing President Obama’s legacy: It all testifies to a character that is bad.
But does character still count in a President? His fans might argue that, No, it doesn’t. What counts, they aver, are his policies, not his personality: if he can build that wall, deport the illegal immigrants, overturn Obamacare, cut taxes, make government smaller, eliminate regulations, create jobs, crush the coastal elites, restore family values, make better trade deals, destroy ISIS and “make America great again,” then who cares about his character? If he’s a schmuck, at least he’s their schmuck. In their own naïve way, these supporters have reached the same position Winston Churchill did in the early days of World War II (although they’ve probably never read him and may never even have heard of him); when asked why he was supporting the Soviet Union—Churchill’s lifelong bête noir—after Nazi Germany invaded her in June, 1941, Churchill replied:
“If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”
As much as he hated Hitler (Churchill implied), he hated the devil even more. This is how, in politics as in war, strange bedfellows may lay down with each other.
My point is that even Republicans understand the serious inadequacies of Trump’s character, but they are willing to overlook their own reservations because he agrees with their positions. That this makes them—let us be blunt about it—hypocrites is clear, but beside the point. “Perhaps it is a little hypocritical to pardon his moral lapses,” they say, “but if you were trapped in a burning house and a fireman rushed in to save you, would you first demand to know about his moral philosophy?”
Fair enough. But America is not a burning house. By every measure you can think of, things are better—far better—than they were when Barack Obama took office. He successfully reversed the Great (Republican) Recession: unemployment is the lowest it’s been in many years as the number of jobs explodes, the gross domestic product is rising, household income, including for the middle class, is up, inflation is fully under control, the poverty rate is falling, the wage gap between men and women is narrowing, the number of uninsured Americans is way down, violent crime in the U.S. is falling, our air and water are cleaner than ever, the U.S. is making rapid progress in fighting climate change including the Paris Agreement, and of course we have the Iranian nuclear deal that has made the world safer and the end of two major ground wars (although both Iraq and Afghanistan remain problems the new President will have to deal with).
No mean achievements! Not that any Republican will ever give Obama credit, and as these tremendous trends continue into 2017 and beyond, we can be sure that Trump will pretend he caused them to happen—and be believed by his low-information supporters.
Which brings us back to character, or the lack of it. I like this definition of the word “character,” from a non-profit educational group:
Character is a pattern of behavior, thoughts and feelings based on universal principles, moral strength, and integrity – plus the guts to live by those principles every day. Character is evidenced by your life’s virtues and the “line you never cross.” Character is the most valuable thing you have, and nobody can ever take it away.
“…the line you never cross.” Barack Obama never crossed that line into vile indecency because he had—has—character. Donald J. Trump crosses it every day; he lives on the other side of the line. He does not have good character. And character counts.