Some 25 years ago there was a popular campaign aimed at school children themed, “Character counts.” How we behave matters. Not whether we win, but how we conduct ourselves. It was a very obvious, almost vapid notion. Who could oppose teaching our children the importance of how we should treat one another? No lying, no bullying, no cheating. Kindness. Open-mindedness. Truthfulness. These were the traits we wished to instill on the future generation.
Today, character matters not a whit to nearly half of the country. On television, I heard some regular person in a coffee shop in New Hampshire say, “The president is despicable but I’m even more for him today than I was when I voted for him the last time. He’s done a lot of good things for the country.” What might those good things be? Standing up for white people? Bad mouthing Mexicans? Attempting a Muslim ban? Appointing the supremely incompetent Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education? Rolling back environmental standards? Using cruelty as an immigration policy? Declaring the free press to be the enemy of the people? Attacking private citizens from the presidential twitter feed? Normalizing mendacity? Exacerbating income inequality? Doing everything possible to make health care worse for millions? Increasing the national debt? Confusing our allies? Empowering authoritarians? Obstructing justice? Promoting a private business from the oval office? Actually, the “good thing” that matters the most may be the white people thing.
During our 200 year plus experiment in democracy, we are now in a place where voters willingly vote for someone they consider to be despicable. Not unlikeable, or imperfect. Despicable. Instead of “I Like Ike” or “Hope and Change,” we now have “I’m With the Asshole” as a campaign slogan. A large swath of the American electorate has been exposed to be bigots or willful idiots. If a crackpot grifter can use mendacious conspiracy theories to get elected, then govern, does the future bode well for the good ol’ USA. Ponder that while you decide if the tag team of Putin/Trump has succeeded in permanently altering democracy.