Opinion: Showdown looms over whether Trump has 'Good Character'

By Joel Rubin

 

Suddenly, the country is talking about character – which is really a discussion about our President’s lack of it. If there was a clear starting point, it was Joe Biden’s eulogy at the service for Sen. John McCain on Aug. 30 at the North Phoenix Baptist Church.

 

Biden made a distinction between the policies that McCain supported and the man that he was. “It wasn’t about politics with John,” said Biden. “He could disagree on substance, but the underlying values that animated everything John did, everything he was, come to a different conclusion. He’d part company with you if you lacked the basic values of decency, respect, knowing this project is bigger than yourself.”

 

Donald Trump has frequently been criticized, even by his political supporters, for lacking just those basic values. On Wednesday, by a remarkable coincidence, the Alcohol Beverage Control Board (ABCB) of District of Columbia will decide whether to consider revoking the liquor license of the Trump International Hotel in Washington. The grounds? That the President lacks the “good character” required by law for a license.

 

The complaint to the ABCB was filed in June and amended three times, as more examples of Trump’s character deficiencies, including revelations accompanying Michael Cohen’s guilty plea, came to light. This is no quixotic joust. The complaint was filed by respected lawyers on behalf of five local religious leaders and two retired judges.

 

The complaint argues that Trump is a “nonstop, habitual and compulsive liar,” that he has “not removed himself from his businesses as promised” after he was elected, that he maintains “conflicts of interest,” that “at least 16 women have alleged that Trump sexually assaulted them,” that he paid $25 million to settle claims of fraud against Trump University, that he made “outright racist statements,” and more.

 

By contrast, former Vice President Biden reminded mourners two weeks ago that McCain lived by a code of “honor, courage, integrity, duty.” Two days later, in the service at the Washington National Cathedral, two former presidents echoed Biden’s remarks on McCain’s character.

 

Former President George W. Bush said that McCain lived “by a set of public virtues that brought strength and purpose to his life and to his country. He was courageous…. He was honest, no matter whom it offended. Presidents were not spared. He was honorable, always recognizing that his opponents were still patriots and human beings.”

 

Former President Barack Obama referred to the episode during the 2008 campaign when McCain chided a Town Hall questioner for denouncing Obama as “an Arab” who could not be trusted. “No, ma'am,” said McCain. “He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about.”

 

Meanwhile, last week, excerpts from Bob Woodward’s book about Trump, titled Fear, began leaking, with the President’s bad character – including such traits as a tendency to brutally disparage other human beings -- a major theme. The book, for example, quotes Trump saying of his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner.”

Then, last Wednesday, the New York Times ran an op-ed entitled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” by an anonymous senior official. The author said that there were bright spots for the White House: “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.” 

But Trump presents a danger to the nation, wrote the author, for a different reason: “The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles.”

Another term for “amorality,” of course, is bad character. And that character infects a leadership style, which the op-ed writer calls “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”

While bad character may be impossible to quantity, all of us know it when we see it. A person of bad character is someone we would never tell our children to emulate. Is that Donald Trump? The answer seems obvious, and now, for the first time, an official government body is going to take up the question.

 

Joel Rubin, who served as deputy assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs from 2014 to 2015, is an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

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