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COMMENTARY: Character still counts, doesn’t it?


My wife and I raised three boys. Like most parents, we taught them practical and moral lessons, including the importance of hard work, truth-telling, and to treat everyone with decency and respect, regardless of their personal station in life. In other words, we strove to raise gentlemen when they came of age.

They spent their childhood and adolescence during the 1990s and early 2000s, when Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama were president. I like politics, so the presidents and their policies were a common topic at our house, and the discussions weren’t limited to the legislative or policy aspects of the presidents, but also their behavior as men and role models. Given the men in question, it was obviously a mixed bag.

President Clinton was, by most objective measures regarding the economy, foreign policy and legislative accomplishments, a rousing success. Peace and prosperity were the order of the day. Unfortunately, Mr. Clinton, by his eventual own admission, committed adultery and lied under oath. Therefore, we could not hold him up as a role model for my children, because he did not emulate behavior we condone, in spite of his many accomplishments.

I disagreed with the majority of W’s policies, including our involvement and conduct in the Iraq War, and his tax cut that drove record deficits. Yet, I always considered Mr. Bush to be a gentlemen — a man who cared more about the citizens he served than himself, and a loving husband and father. I held his behavior up as a role model to my sons, and as a lesson that one can disagree with someone and still respect them as a genuinely decent person.

President Obama and I were pretty much in sync, except when it came to foreign policy. Even my most ardent conservative friends admitted that Mr. Obama was a decent human being and a true family man who adores his wife, and who helped raise two level-headed girls in an environment that can be described as difficult, as best. As with Mr. Bush, I held Mr. Obama up as a role model of behavior to emulate.

All of this brings me to our current president and my grandchildren. Mr. Trump’s presidency is still in its infancy, so the jury is out on his accomplishments. However, given Mr. Trump’s behavior before and during his presidency, it is obvious that I cannot hold him up as a role model to my grandchildren.

Mr. Trump’s incessant lying, attacks on the handicapped and women, and his history of adultery and narcissism are on full display. I find it interesting when I point out these issues with Mr. Trump’s behavior to his supporters, I get responses like, “How’s your 401(k) doing?” and “Have you seen the stock market?” The implication is that somehow, because stock holders have done well in the market, we should overlook Mr. Trump’s behavior. As if they would say to their children and grandchildren, “It’s perfectly fine to lie, cheat, commit adultery, and mock the weak and handicapped, as long as you make a lot of money.”

None of them would do that, because despite what they want to believe about Mr. Trump’s policies, character still counts. And while no one expects perfection from the president, we at least expect the man who represents the United States of America to be a role model who our children can look up to. It seems we’ll have to wait for the next president to fulfill those expectations.

Larry Horstman is an occasional contributor.



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