Elections say more about the electorate than the candidate. Since casting my first presidential vote in 1972 I have become more convinced of this over time. If I had any doubt left, the U.S. presidential election campaign of 2020 has erased it.
The American people know who Donald Trump and Joe Biden are. I am not talking about “know” as in name recognition. That is a given. We know about them as people too. We have a 47+ year record of public service on Biden. In the past 10 days alone one news story, two new books by Michael Cohen and Peter Strzok, and Trump’s own words on the record reveal a stark contrast in the character of Trump compared to that of Biden.
But wait..these “revelations” about Trump are not really news because We the People already knew it. We told the Pew Research Center that we understood the difference between Trump and Biden relative to character nearly three months ago.
From June 16 to 22, 2020 the Pew Research Center conducted a survey as part of its American Trends Panel research. This particular survey focused on assessing how a random sample of adults in the U.S. viewed the personal traits of Trump and Biden and their positions on major issues.
On the major issues facing American’s today, Trump edged out Biden on only one issue…barely: “Make good decisions about economic policy.” We the People give Biden the advantage on each of the other five major issues: “effectively handle law enforcement and criminal justice issues;” “make good decisions about foreign policy;” “handle the public health impact of the coronavirus outbreak;” “effectively handle race relations;” and “bring the country closer together.”
This is useful information to be sure and it does seem like a pretty clear consensus that Biden could do a better job than Trump. But does it matter? Probably not because the issues seem to be trumped (no pun intended) by questions of character.
So, what about their personal traits and matters of character?
We the People told the Pew Research Center we perceived Trump to be more “energetic” than Biden by a wide margin and that we barely saw him as more “courageous” than Biden.
However, on the next four factors: “honest;” “cares about the needs of ordinary people;” “a good role model;” and “even-tempered” Biden has wide advantages…very wide advantages.
Here is what Pew’s research tells me: We the People did not need Mary Trump, Michael Cohen, Peter Strzok, or Trump himself to tell us about Donald J. Trump’s absence of virtuous character. We already knew it and we have known it for a long time. You know, it was on full display on “The Apprentice.” True confession…I saw one (and only one) episode, though I detest “reality” TV. Except I love “American Ninja Warrior” which is awesome because it is real people doing real things that require real skills. Oddly, the title has nothing to do with the show itself though.
So the election is about character? Yes, but not about the character of the candidates.
Where Trump and Biden stand on the issues and the nature of their character would be really, really important – if the election were about them. But it is not about them. It is about We the People.
Where the character of the candidates is concerned it is a very clear choice. Though both men are human with plenty of faults we know that Biden is essentially of virtuous character and Trump is far from it. Yes, we understand who they are and what they stand for – both on the issues and in their character. The choice is so clear, in fact, that on November 3rd the election is more a test of our character than of the candidates.
What is the character of We the People? Are we drawn to the more virtuous leader or the one who exhibits little, if any, virtue? Do we stand with the leader whose career has attempted to achieve the greater good for all or the one who has been, and continues to be, only concerned for himself and his own wealth? What do we honor? What do we value?
This election is a test of our character. As always, what we do speaks louder than what we say and it will make plain our virtue, or lack of it. When we choose between Trump and Biden we will be making a statement about our own character. Our own virtue. Our own tendency toward the greater good or toward self-interest because this is the choice the two men represent.
My hope for the future of our country, the United States of America, rests in a belief that a consensus of We the People still choose for the greater good. I have staked my life’s work on this belief and it is the founding principle of my business: to animate and equip people, organizations, and communities to lead change for the greater good.
I do not believe my faith in We the People is misplaced…but I am worried.
This week a friend recommended a movie to us on the National Geographic channel, 9/11: Control the Skies. It is about the amazing effort Canadian air traffic controllers in Gander, Newfoundland to quickly and safely land 224 transcontinental passenger jets in the hours after the 9/11 attacks. We were so taken by the documentary. We tried to remember more clearly how the people of Gander (population of about 10,000 at that time) welcomed and comfortable stranded passengers that nearly doubled their population. This led us to a second film, the docudrama, Diverted. We watched that film last night and were moved by the deep caring, generosity, and character of the people of Gander. It has now gone on our “bucket list” of places we need to go when travel is allowed again.
We were reminded by these two films of what it means to be people of character. Under the ego and thumb of Trump we have been fractured, divided, broken, berated, misled, put a risk, placed in harms way, and, well, to put it plainly, killed. By Election Day well over 200,000 of us will have died because of the COVID-19 pandemic which we know did not have to be this deadly. (Just last night we learned that Trump is now trying to “cook the data” from the CDC MMWR reports to make him look better in light of the staggering COVID-19 statistics.) Others have died as a result of state sanctioned brutality and murder. I worry that, if we are not prevented from voting, too many have been brutalized into submission and compliance. I fear that too many will simply “go along to get along” or just stay away from the polls.
We can do neither.
Still, the election will reveal our character. When we vote this Fall it will be a statement of what we stand for. We must choose wisely for, as in every election, democracy hangs in the balance. In my lifetime this has never been more true.
The Meaning of a Life
When actor Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed Black Panther in the wildly popularly movie of the same name, died of cancer, it had a powerful impact on the lives of many people. PBS recently had a piece on its website that helps us understand more clearly why Boseman’s brief life was so meaningful and his death such a loss. It is a sweet article and a brief read. I hope you will take time to check it out.
Brittlestar is a YouTube star from Canada. I’ve featured a couple of his videos in this blog and will be inserting more, including today. In real life Brittlestar is Stewart Reynolds. He has done voice over work and video campaigns for a variety of companies. Among YouTube producers who are over 50 years old, he is ranked #14 in the world (but #37808 among a YouTube stars). So, you wonder what it is like living next door to America right now? Brittlestar has some thoughts on that.
The View from Jeff
Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.