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Why Character Counts in the Next President

Trump and Clinton have discarded their Moral Compass -- if they ever had one

I can’t recall a presidential election when the two candidates fell so short of being an ethical person. On the one hand we have Donald Trump who has made crude remarks about others and seemingly has no problem with sexually harassing women – and that’s for starters. On the other hand, we have Hillary Clinton who seems to have only a passing acquaintance with the truth as evidenced by comments about her use of a private server when Secretary of State and classified information on the server.

Abraham Lincoln said “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” How true this is when it comes to Trump and Clinton. They both have said one thing in private and another in public on numerous occasions. Does ‘The Donald’ love and respect women even though he has constantly criticized them for their appearance and capabilities? Will he create jobs for African-Americans and Hispanics even though he has routinely used foreign workers in his properties?

Does Hillary really dream of a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open markets, as she said in a speech to foreign bankers in a leaked email? Is the trans-pacific pipeline (TPP) the “gold standard” for trade or bad for the country?

Character counts because it defines who we are. The novelist Robert McKee puts it best: “True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.” How can we believe in the character and integrity of Trump and Clinton when their professional opinion differs so frequently from their public stance?

Character is also about what people do when no one is looking. Here, the private comments released from old transcripts and speeches illustrates the lack of character of both candidates who banked that their offensive comments (Trump) and private position (Clinton) would never become public knowledge.

Character also counts because it gives us a peak into the soul of each candidate. Trump demeans many groups including prisoners of war, the disabled, and virtually everyone in the media. Clinton doesn’t understand the meaning of transparency.

What do they believe in? Was Trump against the war in Iraq even though he was quoted in an interview with Howard Stern as supporting it? We now know some of Clinton’s emails were marked classified and a Secretary of State should have known they contained classified information even if not so marked simply based on her experiences and knowledge of foreign affairs.

In the recent town hall debate Trump and Clinton each pulled out the sleaze card. But, is this the dirtiest presidential campaign in history? Not but most accounts. That ‘honor’ goes to the 1824 election between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. Jackson had a fierce temper. Among other things, he ordered the execution of six men in his militia who were accused of desertion. He spread false rumors that Adams had provided the Russian czar with sexual services of an American women and that he gambled while in the White House using public funds for a pool table.

Adams was repelled by the mud-slinging and withdrew from active participation in the campaign although an Adams newspaper wrote that “General Jackson’s mother was a common prostitute, brought to the U.S. by the British soldiers.” My “favorite” claim is she afterward married a mulatto man, with whom she had several children, of which General Jackson was one.

Trump and Clinton have set the bar so low that even the most accomplished limbo dancer couldn’t clear it. The campaign has been a tale of two corrupt individuals who lie to the public as easily as they breathe or sniff through a microphone during a debate. Once again the American people are the big losers as we will be forced to hold our noses and vote for the lesser of two evils on November 8th.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 13, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at:

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