I spent the last several months trying to convince people that Donald Trump's character, alone, was reason enough to deny him the presidency by voting for almost anyone else.
This was a bit of a departure for me. I think that a lot of people have had similar experiences with 2016: a shift in the possible. Until this year I would have argued that character was not nearly as important as policy proposals when it came to evaluating a candidate for office. This campaign season made me realize I was wrong. Most of the time, it's a good rule of thumb. But I had neglected to consider the depths to which character can sink. I hadn't realized that character had a floor. Most of the time, you simply look at the two or three candidates and pick the one with the best policies, or the least worst ones, anyway. But it turns out that there is a sort of character that I look at and say, "I don't even need to know about your policies. I don't want you or anyone like you in that office." As long as you meet a minimum standard of character, policy is more important. But what I didn't realize is that I have a minimum standard for character -- and failure to meet that minimum standard trumps your policy positions, in my view.
So anyway. My argument against Trump was essentially, This man is unpredictable. He has no boundaries. He reacts angrily to personal slights. He encourages and emboldens a small but frightening set of vile racists. He's dangerous.
As for policy, he promoted a lot of bad ones (waterboarding; reneging on NATO; mass deportations) and where he promised "good" policies, he was vague (the best judges) or promised things that weren't even in his power (we'll make Mexico pay for the wall) or seemed not to understand the nuances (we'll punish women who have abortions). The bad plans were very bad, and the theoretically good ones were literally un-believable.
But the main problem? Character. And I reiterated the character problem again and again, in the hopes of convincing other people that he couldn't be trusted with the presidency because he wasn't trustworthy.
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Now Donald J. Trump is going to be president, and I'm having trouble pivoting. Because once he's already president, the character question is rather moot.
Much like "but he's better than Hillary Clinton!" is now moot. There is now no Hillary Clinton to frighten the children. There is only Donald J. Trump, and he has to stand entirely on his own.
And the character question is moot. He has been entrusted with the presidency. No arguing about his character will change the outcome. Now there is only policy and choices and action.
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Before Donald J. Trump was elected to be our president, I could hope in good faith that the bully would crash and burn. Nobody wants to see the bully win. I certainly didn't. But I'm having to stop myself now, because I don't want the bully to fail if it means America fails too. I have to want the bully to succeed -- in the sense that I want America during his administration to grow more prosperous, just, and welcoming. I don't want him to fail and take the rest of us down with us.
How can I hope that he succeeds in this way?
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I have to get rid of any vestiges that still want to see him fail so badly that he resigns or at least slinks away in disgrace. Even though I warned that his terrible character risked failure for the country, and even though I would be "proved right" if the failure happened and Trump slinked away embarrassed, I can't want that any more. That would mean, more likely than not, that bad things will have happened to the country. I don't want bad things to have happened. Ergo, I can't want utter, embarrassing failure for Trump. It is going to take me a few days to align myself to the reality that now, Trump's interests are partly aligned with the country's interests. I can't want him to crash and burn unless I want the country to risk crashing and burning too. I have to hope that he redeems himself. That would be good, not bad, and to wish otherwise is to sink into revenge.
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But while I have a moral responsibility to train myself to hope that Trump succeeds in the sense that the whole country succeeds while he is at the helm, I have a different moral responsibility towards hope in the other traditional measures of a president's success.
For example, one measure is: was he able to enact his program of policies?
Now policy matters.
Donald J. Trump promised us many things, some of them bad, some of them good, some of them mutually contradictory, some of them impossible.
Where he promised bad things that are possible, I must oppose them.
Where he promised bad things that are not possible, I must not be distracted by them, and must help others not to be distracted by them.
Where he promised good things that are possible, I must hope for them.
Where he promised good things that are not possible, I must not be distracted by them, and must help others not to be distracted by them.
Where he promised things that sound good but have foreseeable bad consequences, I must point them out.
Where he speaks the truth, I must agree.
Where he speaks lies, I must disagree.
It's just the same as a politician with better character.
The fact that I expect a lot of bad things, and am highly skeptical of the promised goods, is almost irrelevant.
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Character still does matter -- because there will be more promises, and we must evaluate the reliability of future promises based on the track record of the past.
Character still does matter -- because one thing a president does is ask other people to help him with his inadequacies, and we must evaluate proposed helpers (the Cabinet, for example) in the light of the deficiencies that they are supposed to alleviate.
Character still does matter -- because we're (finally) about to have a national conversation about how much power the president should have, compared to the power of our representatives in Washington. It seems not so bad to hand over lots of power to someone who won't abuse it, or (apparently) who will abuse it only in ways that hurt other people, not ourselves. Time to look bluntly at the character of the executive and ask, "Should the legislature have signed over so much power to the office now held by this man?" We assumed the president would always have certain characteristics: a certain wisdom, a certain discretion, a certain desire to do the right thing (even if different presidents disagreed on what was the right thing). Do these assumptions still hold? Time to evaluate.
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But arguing against Donald Trump's character is mostly pointless now, at least till 2020. There is nothing in the Constitution that says the president must be of good character. He will stand or fall in 2020 based on his actions.
And actions can be evaluated independently.
That's our job now.
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I've been thinking a lot about the #nevertrump hashtag. I was unapologetically #nevertrump, but now I am uncomfortable with the hashtag. I would have been embarrassed by anyone who spent 2008-2016 claiming to be #neverobama. It's too close to "Not My President," which to me is too close to refusing to accept a free and fair election.
The hashtag #nevertrump meant, "I won't vote for this man, ever." It can't mean that I will never support him, ever, now that he is already going to be president. Because if by chance he does a good thing I should support him in that good thing. We aren't allowed to call good "bad" and bad "good" based on how we feel about the messenger.
I feel like we need a new hashtag. But I'm floundering as to what it should be.
Give me that week. Maybe I'll come up with one.