The question of character

None of us are who we say we are – none of us. Each of us is defined by our actions, our values, and how those actions reflect and support our values. We are all measured by what we do, not what we say. Our words are only meaningful if they are supported by deeds, for in the end, it’s only the deeds that count.

Most of us judge the character of others, and of ourselves, by what is done. If we value honesty, we don’t cheat others; if we value truth, we don’t lie; if we purport to be decent people, we don’t harm others. And so on. In another time, questions of character would be posed, “do you walk the talk?” Ultimately, it is not the words that define, it’s the deed.

Deeds are especially important in our public lives. If you enter the public sphere as a business person, a teacher, someone in the medical or legal professions, a member of the clergy, or as a political figure, it is how we conduct ourselves that define us in the eyes of the members of our communities. Nobody wants to be cheated by the businessperson, we don’t want to entrust our kids’ education to teachers who are not committed to the well being of kids, and we don’t want to go to a doctor who has no time for us or a lawyer who will steal from us. We get to know who to trust and who not to trust because we live in an exponentially shrinking world.

In a democracy, we get to select those who will act on our behalf and in our interests. We do this by analyzing what they say they’ll do, and hopefully squaring those promises with past performance.  In the end, most of us know that we’ll never get the ideal officeholder, one who will agree with all of our concerns and positions on the issues. We know that we will need to make decisions, often based on imperfect information, about imperfect candidates.

As has been said better elsewhere, if you want perfection, see a philosopher; if you want truth, see your clergy; we live in an imperfect world populated by imperfect beings. In a democratic society where people vie for our votes, we have to choose between two imperfections. It’s in this decision making process that while we may not get our ideal, we expect to at least get someone of good character. And the analysis of character, as stated above, is not based on words but, rather, on deeds.

The presidential election of 2016 is a weird election. It has come down to a choice between one historic but flawed candidate pitted against a businessman reality TV star.  One is closely guarded in her comments and the other is an unfiltered self-promoter. The media is no help as it obsesses over the emails of one candidate and, like moths to the flame, the torrent of invective and abuse meted out by the other.

In the end, with issues concerning most of us being subsumed by the theater of this political season, it is hard to make choices about who has what platform to meet our needs. This year the election has focused – rightly so – on the question of character. In many ways, service to others is mostly, if not solely, about character.

Today, one presidential candidate who got his political start on leading the so-called “birther movement” admitted that our first African-American President was, in fact, born in the United States. He did so on September 16, 2016, more than five years after it was conclusively proven that President Obama was born in Hawaii. It will be little noted that the night previous, in an interview with Robert Costa of the Washington Post when the issue of Obama’s birth was posed to him, Donald John Trump refused to answer that Obama was a native born American.

Today, in a theatrically staged event at his new Washington hotel, complete with medal of honor recipients and other courageous men who served in defense of all of us, Trump in an address that took less than one minute said three things, two of them lies. The one truthful thing he said was that Barack Obama was, indeed, born in the United States. “Period.”

Before we get to the lies, a brief comment about the birthers. When I was young, along with my family I traveled through the south and for a brief period lived in the south for a couple of years. It is impossible to convey the hostile power of a “whites only” sign on a restaurant door, or a hotel’s billboard ad.  The racism was deep, broad and palpable. And as we discovered over the years, it was not limited to the south.

In March 2008, weeks prior to the start of my agency, I worked outside a polling place in the democratic primary on behalf of Hillary Clinton. The polling place was located in my general neighborhood, which made what I saw and heard even more disturbing. Many voters, using language that I hadn’t heard since the early ’60s in the south, came in and loudly proclaimed that they would never vote for Obama because he was black. This anecdote is merely offered to remind us all that not all racists wear sheets and burn crosses, or are located in the south.

The questions raised about Barack Obama’s birth are racist – pure and simple. It is the same overt, virulent racism of my youth. Put another way, how many of the 43 presidents before Obama were asked for their birth certificates? (Later this racist onslaught would demand disclosure of Obama’s grades and other college records.)

What started in 2008 as a fringe right-wingnut screed gained mainstream traction when a famous TV star decided to champion this cause.  Donald Trump breathed life and, dare I say, respectability into this issue.  Debunked year after year as false, this racist perpetuation of the lie gained more traction year after year after year. Finally, in 2011, to finally quiet the howling mob of knuckle-dragging cretins – including Trump – President Obama released his “long form” birth certificate, satisfying for all time any question of his birth. Except for Donald Trump.

Beginning in November 2011, Trump consistently challenged the validity of Obama’s birth records via his favorite medium of record – Twitter. Twitter is a perfect vehicle for those with a dearth of facts and low attention spans as it enables them to communicate with 140 bytes or less. No wonder Trump uses it so much.

The number and content of these “tweets” are too numerous to recount but if you’re interested in seeing how unhinged he got on this issue, follow this link:

But sometimes events conspire to drive one to where he doesn’t want to go. Today was one such day where Trump was forced to admit the truth of Obama’s birth. And he told two lies in the process. I’m reminded of something Harry S. Truman once said about Richard Nixon, “If he ever told the truth, he’d have to tell a lie just to keep his hand in.” So it was today.

Since Trump has gained all the racist cred with the alt.right that he could, he tried to deflect the issue away from him and onto Clinton, blaming her for for starting the birther movement. It’s kind of like blaming the foundation of ISIS on President Obama and equally untrue. As was reported in 2008, a Clinton volunteer in Iowa wrote a memo asking if Barack Obama’s birth was fertile ground for an attack. Her idea was quickly discarded and she was summarily sacked from the campaign.

In a 60 Minutes interview that same year, Hillary Clinton was expressly asked whether she had any question about Obama’s citizenship and she was direct in her answer of no. That is where it stayed regarding Clinton until Trump once again accessed his Twitter account and posted, “”The birther movement was started by Hillary Clinton in 2008. She was all in!” That was a despicable lie then, and his comments today were equally despicable.

Donald Trump does not have the same public record as Hillary Clinton and because of that, he’s been able to skate too often. But on the issue of race, he has a long and consistent record of deeds, stemming from being sued twice by the Department of Justice in the 1970s for indicating applicant’s race on a housing application, a violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968; did not dispute a quote attributed to him that “Laziness is a trait in blacks”; he has consistently dodged any strong refutation of support from avowed white supremacists; not to mention his attack on a federal judge, born in Indiana, who is of Mexican heritage; the description of a group of people as rapists, drug dealers and criminals, solely because of their heritage, and of course assuming the leadership of the birther movement.

Deeds, especially over time, are a reflection of values that define a person’s character. So it is here. Donald John Trump is not worthy of succeeding Barack Obama to the presidency, let alone lead the party of Lincoln or sit in the seat of Jefferson.  By his own words and deeds, he has disqualified himself from the presidency.

Believe me.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *