Politics

When Character Was King

In 1998, Dr. James Dobson was stunned by the public’s ability to “rationalize” Bill Clinton’s behavior. In a public letter, he lamented the fact that as long as Clinton did a good job in office, many Americans felt that “it’s nobody’s business what he does with his personal life.”

Today Dobson, like many high-profile Evangelical leaders, supports Donald Trump for president. The key question here is whether character should matter—or whether a lack of character should be a deal breaker. And it sounds like Trump’s apologists have answered with a resounding “No.”

In this regard, Bill Clinton’s defenders have won the culture war; even Christian leaders agree that being on the right “team” is what counts most.

One could certainly argue that the political stakes are so important that we must overlook some serious flaws in order to elect the person who will advance our policy goals. But that is decidedly not the principled stand most conservative Christians took in the late 1990s.

Admittedly, all politicians—all of us, really—have done or said things that wouldn’t look good if they were broadcast on the six o’clock news. I think it’s fair to say that Trump’s comments and alleged behavior (throughout his life, really) are qualitatively different (and I believe, worse) than most.

So how should we judge their fitness?

Here’s my take: Because we can’t predict which issues a president will confront (George W. Bush ran on a humble foreign policy and “no child left behind,” before 9/11 scrambled his plans), it’s best to judge them on attributes like competence, stamina, worldview, and character.

These qualities are, perhaps, the best predictors for how a president will perform in office.

Even if you don’t agree that character should be at the top of this list, at best, Donald Trump is hitting one-for-four.