Thursday, April 7, 2016

When Brashness Trumps Integrity


Photo credit: Modcloth.com


Almost 18 years ago, the United States (and other parts of the world) were fixated on a blue dress, an intern and a president.

The president of one of the most powerful countries in the world was on public trial defending himself against accusations of an improper sexual relationship with a young woman who was not his wife.

At first, he denied that anything improper happened.

And then tapes were released, and fabric with DNA evidence was brought forth and tested.

And the media circus and feeding frenzy escalated.

--

To be honest, I didn't pay a lot of attention to the scandal. I was living overseas at the time.  Juicy details were published both in print and the television media of Greece. Truthfully, I was embarrassed on behalf of my country and for the dignity of the office of President.

Even worse, when President Clinton eventually confessed to what everyone knew he had done despite his repeated denials -- at that point, it was truly a low point in the history of our political system.

However, more than the disappointment I felt about the perception of the honor factor of my country and our leader, I was shocked to hear people back home arguing about how we shouldn't judge the president by his moral failings or successes. Rather, we should judge him by his political efficacy.

Of course, the Christian community in particular was outraged at this notion. They argued:

"How can you separate a man from his actions? 
"Can you remove morality from the equation of measuring success?" 
"Can you be a terrible human being, but still be a good president?"

And of course, the implied answer was no. You either are honest and trustworthy in your marriage, or you aren't. And if you are not honest or trustworthy in that arena, wouldn't that make you less inclined to be honest and trustworthy in your job as the leader of the free world when it suits you? Would you also lie and distort and cover up the truth if it served your purposes?

Does character really count?

The implied answer was a resounding yes.

And for the record, I think that is the correct assertion. I don't believe you can compartmentalize morality and character and operate in one way in one aspect of your life and then then switch that off and do something opposite in another. It's impossible for character to not bleed into every area of life. Because it is who we are.

As Americans, we wanted Bill Clinton to be better than he acted. We revere "Honest Abe," and the courage of George Washington. We don't like to talk as much about Richard Nixon or the less savory aspects of our Camelot president.

Because ultimately we want our leaders to rise above. Fair or not. Attainable or not. We want them to demonstrate that which we find so difficult.

Integrity.

Which is why it baffles me that Donald Trump is even a contender at this point. I won't go into the skimpiness of his political credentials, or how his fortune has bought him a seat at the table of a political party he has historically mocked and despised.

What baffles me is the support he is getting from Christians -- many who were the yelling the loudest about how character matters when Bill Clinton was falling from grace.

The double standard here boggles my mind.

How on earth can Christians support and condone behavior that would get any student in American expelled from school, or any employee suspended without pay (or even fired)?

The things that Donald Trump has said publicly and on record as he has campaigned have literally made my toes curl, blood boil and insides cringe.

He is mean. He is a bully. He mocks and belittles women and uses slurs that are not just politically-incorrect, they are in the worst possible taste.

And yet, he is still at the political table.

Why?

Because "he speaks his mind." "He's brash and bold and someone has to say it like it is -- even if it's offensive." "He's not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking."

Frankly and respectfully, I don't think this qualifies him to run for President of the United States, let alone president of anything.

He is making us look bad. All of us.

Because you can't have it both ways.

You can't scream about how character matters just as much in the privacy of an office as much as it does in the public arena of a press conference, and then turn around and applaud the next guy for doing the same thing under the guise of "being unpredictable."

I get that Americans are tired of the same old political crud that seems self-serving and not at all about "we the people."

I get that we are tired of paying so much of our money into a system that seems flawed, broken and unaccountable to anyone.

I get that the luster of democracy has worn off as special-interest groups and big money has taken away our voice and influence.

But this is not the way.

We cannot vote for rudeness, dishonor, contempt, ego and arrogance for president simply because we are sick and tired of the status quo.

We cannot rail about how integrity and honor should trump deceit and manipulation, yet turn around and applaud any political candidate that oozes contempt and vitrol simply because it is aimed at those we want to see defeated.

It doesn't work that way.

It shouldn't work that way.

Because our choices cast a shadow. And that shadow can provide a place of rest and respite from a harsh world, or it can create a place of darkness and confusion.

But make no mistake: everyone sees a shadow. In Bill Clinton's case, the blue dress scandal is forever memoralized in one artist's depiction of his presidential portrait for the Clinton Museum. The shadow of that dress is literally painted onto the canvas.

Photo credit: therooster.com


I know that some will not agree that when we vote for a president of our country, we are not voting "for a good person."

I whole-heartedly disagree. When we vote for president, we are voting for the best person to represent the United States of America both abroad and the majority of her people -- someone who exemplifies the "best of us" and not the worst of our fears and anxieties.

Luke 6:43-45 says:

"A good tree doesn't produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn't produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren't gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart."

History will judge us. It's judging us now. We cannot teach our school children the program, "Character Counts," and simultaneously behave and vote as if it does not.

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