Does character still matter in politics or in today’s political leaders? I’ve grappled with this question as I discern who to vote for in the coming American election. It is a question that must be asked by any voter in any election.
The character test is not a complicated question to answer. When you have a candidate who is a congenital liar, a bigot or a purveyor of untruth, it’s easy to answer the question.
When a candidate is wishy-washy, who says one thing and does another thing, it’s easy to answer the question.
When a candidate flip-flops and has no word of honor, it’s easy to answer the question.
True, there is no such thing as a perfect candidate. As humans, all candidates have personal failings. But there’s a difference between an imperfect candidate who is a person of probity and an imperfect candidate who does not seem to care.
Plato maintains that a leader should be chosen based on his or her character and virtues. In other words, a candidate must be a good person with a sound moral compass. In fact, Plato warned in The Republic that when the guardian of the laws and the state is a sham, it’s the community that suffers.
For Plato, therefore, character is not expendable in politics. But character, though important, is not enough. A person wants to be the president because he/she has a vision for his/her country. He/she wants to change things for the better, and he/she shows this by having a workable and feasible program for the country. Thus, akin to character is the issue of fitness – a president may not be a moral giant, but is he/she fit to bring about effective change?
This brings me to President Donald Trump who is perceived to have so many character flaws. To get a better understanding of the president, I culled from various media accounts what some of his high-ranking officials, who have left the Trump administration, have said about him.
I thought that nothing is more powerful and convincing than to listen to Republicans who, at one point, worked with and for the president.
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in an interview with CBS Bob Schieffer in Houston, said, “What was challenging for me was “to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, does not like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of say, This is what I believe.”…….” He acts on his instincts; in some respects, that looks like impulsiveness.”
How can we expect the president to have a grasp of policy proposals or of what is going on in the world that involves security matters if he does not read briefing reports? One can surmise that Trump’s indiscipline is probably a source of frustration to many of his staff.
In an opinion he wrote in The Washington Post August 17, 2020, Miles Taylor, who served at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from 2017-2019, including as chief of staff, attests to the fact that “the country is less secure as a direct result of the president’s action.” He explains that Trump has fewer friends and stronger enemies than when he took office. He says that Trump “has damaged the country in countless ways that don’t directly involve national security but, by stoking hatred and division, make Americans profoundly less safe.”
James Mattis, former defense secretary, is quoted in the June 3, 2020 issue of The Atlantic as saying, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.” He goes on, “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens – much less to provide a bizarre photo-op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”
In the July 17, 2020 article in The Guardian, Anthony Scaramucci, former White House Director of Communications for eleven days, described President Trump as a “full-blown racist” and “maniacally narcissistic.”
Mary Elizabeth Taylor, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, resigned June of 2020 in protest of how Trump handled the George Floyd protests. Taylor wrote in her letter of resignation, “Moments of upheaval can change you, shift the trajectory of your life, and mold your character. The President’s comments and actions surrounding racial injustice and Black Americans cut sharply against my core values and convictions. I must follow the dictates of my conscience and resign as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs.”
H.R McMaster, who resigned in April 2018 as Trump’s national security advisor, after one year in office, has criticized the Trump administration for withdrawing U.S. troops from Northern Syria, saying the move would destabilize the region and offer opportunities for Russia to gain greater control in the area.
Trump has not been tougher when it comes to Russia. In fact, his closeness to Putin is particularly disconcerting to many people.
Kirstjen Nielsen, the former Homeland Security Secretary, did not agree with Trump on the separation of families who were apprehended crossing the southern border. A new book, A Very Stable Genius, by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, reveals how Nielsen was “abused”, “harassed” and “pestered” by Trump for her opposition to closing the southern border. She was eventually forced to resign n 2019. In an interview with CNN Geneva Sands October 22, 2019, she said that she left office because “saying no” and refusing to do things that others in the administration wanted was “not going to be enough.”
John Kelly, who resigned in 2019 as White House Chief of Staff, was quoted by the New York Times in 2018 to have said to a group of visiting senators that the White House was “a miserable place to work.” Controversial as he was, Kelly at times did not hesitate to disagree with Trump. He said he did not believe that the press is the “enemy of the people.” He did not approve of Trump calling some Mexican migrants as “rapists” and “criminals.”
Kelly said most migrants are merely looking for jobs. “In fact, they’re overwhelmingly good people … They’re not all rapists and they’re not all murderers. And it’s wrong to characterize them that way. I disagreed with the president a number of times.”
The latest former Trump administration official to resign was Olivia Troye. She was an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence on security, counterterrorism, and Covid-19. She claimed in a video that Trump called his supporters “disgusting” and suggested the Covid-19 pandemic might be “a good thing” if it meant he “didn’t have to shake hands with these disgusting people.”
Troye said that she left because “at some points I would come home at night, I would look myself in the mirror, and say ‘are you really making a difference? Does it matter? Because no matter how hard you work and what you do, the president is going to do something that is detrimental to keeping Americans safe.’”
She continued, “I think the only thing that matters is what, at the end of the day, people are saying about him…That is who President Trump is. That’s what he cares about.”
These former officials in the Trump administration have broken ranks with Trump for various reasons. They are all lifelong Republicans, if I am not mistaken. It is unclear how many of them will vote for Trump. But they have given me, in their own words, a slice as to what kind of a president Donald Trump is.