After all, if you are old enough to remember the Clinton years, you discovered that character mattered a lot to conservatives. Or so they said. They started saying it, in fact, in 1992, from the moment that Bill Clinton became a serious presidential candidate, and Clinton's recreational sex life became public knowledge and thus part of our political debate. Still, since conservatives are a little squeamish on the subject of sex, they decided to transform the discussion of Clinton's extra-marital life info something a little bit loftier, and therefore suitable for a presidential campaign. And so, the character issue was born.
Fast-forward a quarter of a century, and the character issue is alive again. Only not in a way that is designed to please conservatives. One of their own is in the White House and, though he could be charitably described as a character, he cannot honestly be said to possess it. He is a trust-funded, bankrupt con artist who has no true position on anything, except as it may relate to his self-promotion. You take his word at your peril. Sadly, many good people have learned that lesson the hard way. Now, together, we will all learn it, whether we want to are not.
So it should come as no surprise that conservatives, and their media allies that pride themselves on maintaining a bipartisan reputation (above all else), have found a way to, well, reposition the character issue. Suddenly, it's no longer about the person being elected; its about the people doing the electing. It's about the voters. But not about all of the voters. It's about "white working class" voters, and the neglect that has been heaped on them by "elitists" (translation: liberals with more than a high-school degree).
Only it's the voters who have been heaping that abuse on themselves. For the better part of 35 years, these same voters have been voting for the same conservative candidates, swallowing the same empty promises of pain-free solutions to everything in their lives, solutions that depended on the voters' willingness to hate people who weren't like them. Last November, those voters proved that even at rock bottom, they were still willing to look up and believe in those empty promises--even from a messenger that was laughing at them behind their backs.
Where's the character in that? Where's the character in voting for a man who spent months demeaning the humanity of every group under the sun but "white working class" voters? I will go to my grave wondering why Trump's presidential campaign didn't go down in flames the minute the footage of him mocking a disabled reporter was made public.
The answer is simple. There is no character in this at all. In fact, there's a certain degree of slander in saying that Trump's support is rooted in the grievances of the white working class. A large number of people who could arguably fit into that categorization didn't vote for Trump after all.
To put it another way, as this author puts it, the likelihood of someone voting for Trump is in an inverse relationship to the quality of that person's character. Trump voters are still people who are looking for easy answers, still looking for empty promises that have no price tags, and don't care who gets hurt in the process of making and keeping those promises, as long as they get treated like it's not about all of us, just them.
Or, as this author put it:
And so, they must be accountable for the effect they have on others, especially children. And Jews. And Christians who try to practice what they preach. And all others they and their Fearless Leader step on in the pursuit of their naked self-interest. And, when they blind themselves to reality in the process (see here and here)), they must be held accountable for that as well.There is a sickness in America’s political culture. It was brought about by systemic problems rooted in neoliberalism, the politics of economic austerity, a frayed and broken social contract, and an assault on the very notion of political community and civil society. The ascendance of Donald Trump is a symptom of these troubles, but not the cause.Ultimately, however, Donald Trump’s voters made a moral decision. They chose to support a candidate who is a clear and present danger to American democracy and to the core values of our pluralistic, multicultural and cosmopolitan society. In the spirit of “personal responsibility,” these people must be held accountable for their decision.
Character matters. But character is much more than keeping one's zipper up. Character matters in every moment in every hour of everyday any of our elected (and especially our un-elected) officials are in power, and have the opportunity to use that power. Or misuse it. It matters in every decision that is made or not made, about every issue that may have an impact on everyone. I repeat: everyone. Not just the supporters of one person. Everyone.
And character is reflected above all in fidelity to the truth, whether or not that truth is personally painful. Power in this country is not meant to be handed out for personal enrichment. It is distributed as a public trust, to be used only on behalf of the public.
If we are ever to be a democracy once again, that's the type of character all of us need. The voters, and those for whom they vote. Hopefully, that's something that all of us can agree upon. Soon.