Character and Its Consequences

How Basic Childhood Lessons Can Bring Clarity to Our Upcoming Election Choice

This week, I’ll be early voting and making what I expect to be the most clear-cut voting decision of my life. I consider myself a traditional conservative. I believe in limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility and the rule of law. So why — with core principles that read like they were cribbed from the Republican party platform — will I, for the first time in my life, be voting for the Democratic nominee for President?

Because conservatism means something deeply personal to me. Not just as a marker on the political spectrum but as a guiding framework for how to live your life; with humility, integrity, decency, and compassion for others. On that measure, President Trump has failed spectacularly. And I’m personally willing to sacrifice my own short term political self-interest in pursuit of something more meaningful. Because only if the Donald Trump experiment fails, can the Republican party begin to rebuild as a party of principles and not merely a cult of personality.

There’s a fundamental value system driving my decision: my identity as a father and a parent and a human being. Because embracing decency and opposing bigotry aren’t political choices; they’re moral ones.

Being a parent is hard. Especially when our children are young, we work tirelessly to foster in them a deep and enduring sense of morality, ethics, and character. And we try to instill in them a sense that their potential is limitless. “You can be anything in the world you want to be,” we say. “You can even be the President.”

Now I know my ability to raise my daughter is limited; that children are ultimately the product of a broad spectrum of teachers. I believe that role even extends to public figures, and as the pinnacle of national leadership, the person who holds the Office of the Presidency sets an incredibly powerful example.

So what subconscious lessons are my daughter — and our entire next generation of children — absorbing about how the world should work when a person like Donald Trump is the President? How can I make my vote itself a lesson for her — to pursue not just what is personally expedient but meaningful towards a longer term, higher order good?

By standing on principle and refusing to vote for Donald Trump, here are four life lessons I’ll be teaching my daughter.

Don’t Be a Bully: Respect yourself and respect others, especially the most vulnerable among us. The President has mocked a disabled reporter and regularly dehumanizes women with names like ‘fat pig’ and ‘dog’. He’s paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money to silence women who allege sexual misconduct, and proudly boasted that when you’re a celebrity you can grab women by the genitals without their consent.

There is a Moral Difference between Right and Wrong: There is a real and knowable difference between right and wrong; they’re not flexible concepts you can bend to your self-interest. The President infamously defended white nationalists in Charlottesville as “very fine people,” and deployed tear gas on peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights against racism in Lafayette Park for a personal photo-op.

Lying Will Catch Up to You: Always strive to tell the truth because lying has consequences. Yes, every politician lies. But President Trump lies with a self-serving brazenness that is actually eroding the basic societal concepts of truth. The President infamously introduced the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts”, suggesting that it’s not about the actual factual basis of what you say, but about how you say it and how loudly and unapologetically you defend it.

Believe Everyone Has Something to Teach You: Be confident in your own intelligence but surround yourself with smart people you can trust. The President’s fundamental narcissism has regularly led him to dismiss the advice of experts — from public health officials to the intelligence community — when it hasn’t aligned with his personal or electoral interests.

That last lesson of humility is a critical one. It’s not just that the President’s character is fundamentally flawed. It’s that the President’s fundamental self-centeredness has direct and severe consequences on our democracy and our collective national and economic security.

Like the worst public health crisis in 100 years, with over 200,000 Americans dead as the President downplayed the severity of COVID-19 for months. The most significant economic slump in 90 years, with record high unemployment and an exploding national debt. The deepest racial justice reckoning in 50 years, as the President repeatedly struggles to condemn white supremacy on the national stage. And now, the growing potential of a fourth national crisis about democracy itself, as the President refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election.

I know, this is a disorienting chapter in American history. Voting decisions can often seem overwhelmingly complex and confounding. Indeed, political campaigns spend millions to spread misinformation and strategically make your decision seem complicated. But this one isn’t. Trust your childhood instincts.

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