When Does Character Not Matter?

The Trump phenomenon got me to wondering: When does character matter? Should character matter? I used to think the answer was obvious. I was wrong.

No one can seriously argue that Mr. Trump is a man of good character. After all:

  • He lies all the time.
  • He had sex with a porn star four months after Mrs. Trump gave birth to their son.
  • He’s bragged about assaulting women.
  • He regularly mistreats and humiliates people, including firing people by tweet.
  • He pokes fun at disabled people.
  • He’s racist and ridicules people because of their race or ethnicity.
  • He’s crude and vulgar.
  • He calls people losers just because they don’t support him.
  • He stiffs contractors.

In short, there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of good character in this man. His character is just about as bad as it comes. Yet he’s popular with millions of Americans, including many self-professing Christians.

It’s clear, then, that character doesn’t matter to many of my fellow Americans. Which makes me wonder, am I making too big a deal over Mr. Trump’s character flaws? Should we be concerned only about his official decisions and policies and not be distracted by the man himself?

I’ve pondered these questions a lot during the past 17 months, especially when I find myself agreeing with one of his policies. My quick reaction is to be judgmental, both of the man and those who empowered him. Yet it’s hard to dismiss the reality that, to millions of people, Mr. Trump’s character is not a sufficient reason to withhold their support. Could so many people be so wrong?

I’ve come to the conclusion that whether the voters were wrong or not in supporting such a despicable man is not my concern. I am not responsible for the decisions of others and, in any event, there’s nothing I can do about it. It is what it is.

But I’ve also concluded that, at least for me, character does matter. A lot.

It’s not that I think any politician is a saint. Or that any of us are for that matter. But that doesn’t mean I have to support someone who is seemingly devoid of good character traits. Or vote for them.

It also doesn’t mean I have to work for liars, swindlers, or thieves, or for people who are crude and vulgar, or who harass subordinates or take advantage of other people. Admittedly, I’ve been lucky: I’ve never been in the position of having to work for anyone of really bad character, save one instance. And in that instance, I could leave, so it wasn’t a big deal.

I realize some people might not have the luxury of walking away from a job. I also surmise it’s possible to work for a bad actor without supporting him or allowing him to contaminate your own character and conduct. But sometimes it isn’t possible.

In fact, sometimes bad actors pull others into their orbit, and before you know it the person who thought he had better character now finds himself lying, cheating, or stealing his way through the work day. Most if not all of us have encountered such people.

They can make excuses and say they’re just doing their job (the Nuremberg defense). And, indeed, they might get a pass from society because of that defense. But whether or not they get a pass, they’re dirty. And no other person has the power to wash that filth away. Only the individual controls his or her actions. Only the individual gets to decide where to draw the line.

As with the concentration camp guards in Nazi Germany, sometimes there is a lot at stake in doing the right thing, or at least in refusing to do the wrong thing. Few if any of us will ever have our lives at stake as the prison guards did. but quite a few of us have had or will have our jobs or livelihood at stake. Doing the right and honorable thing can be costly indeed.

But doing the wrong thing can be rewarding, as Mr. Trump and others have demonstrated — rewarding from a financial perspective that is. Or from the perspective of position and power.

So, does character matter? It’s easy to have an opinion on whether Mr. Trump’s character should matter. The issue of character is a harder one to confront when it involves one’s own. Especially if doing the right thing comes at a cost.

Does Character Matter?

Does character matter? You’ll have to decide for yourself. I think it does. But not all people do. As I said, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

This past week Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama said she thought the Republican candidate for the U.S. senate sexually molested young girls. But she’s going to vote for him anyway. To the governor, character doesn’t matter.

The governor of Alabama is a woman. Women have been abused, molested, assaulted and victimized by men of poor character throughout history. And still are. You’d think that would bother all women. But apparently it doesn’t. Or if it does, apparently there are greater concerns — something more important than character. And subjugation.

I suppose each of us must decide whether we want to be like the governor or not. We don’t have to be. We can be better. You can be better, Vera. You have a choice.

It comes up a lot in life. I guarantee you it will come up in the workplace. You will have to decide if character matters. If you’re going to live a virtuous life.

You have great role models: your parents. But that doesn’t guarantee anything. It just changes the odds. In the final analysis, it will be your choice. Will you be someone like Governor Ivey or Roy Moore, or will you be better than that?

Will you cheat, lie or steal? Or will your word be your bond? Will integrity matter to you?

Will you be willing to be fired or decide to leave a job at great disruption to your life, or will you go along and acquiesce to low moral and ethical standards?

Life is full of such choices. And decisions have consequences. There are always consequences, even when you think you’re remaining aloof or standing on the sidelines.

I have just one tip that will change the odds in your favor should you decide that character matters: Associate with great people.

When I haven’t, I’ve come to regret it. When I have, I’ve benefited immensely.

Great people — people of character, integrity and virtue, who care and do their best — will bring out the best in you. They will inspire you. Challenge you. Support you. Around them, being like Governor Ivey seems like an intolerable idea. Around them, you’ll have a much better chance of being a great person yourself.

The world is full of people like Governor Ivey. But it doesn’t mean you have to be that way. You can be so much more.

Choose wisely.

Resolve

The New England Patriots mounted an historic come-from-behind win in Sunday’s Super Bowl. I would have rather seen the Atlanta Falcons win, but I can’t say I really cared. I didn’t.

I don’t like the Patriots. But I do respect and admire some aspects of their character.

The thing I admire the most is their resolve. They never quit. They never feel out of the game. They always believe they can come back and win. Hence, their amazing record.

It’s not that they have the best talent (although they do at the all-important QB position). But they do have the best resolve. And, over and over again, they prove that resolve matters. A lot. Probably more than anything.

Well, perhaps not more than anything. I believe you have to love what you’re doing. If you don’t, resolve probably won’t be possible.

There is a lesson in all of this for us, Vera.