Andy Schmookler: Was I wrong about conservatives?

schmooklerI’ve always been politically liberal, because – like my parents, who came of age during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt – I believe that government has a vital role to play in making our society what it should be.

But at the same time, I’ve always had respect for conservatives because I believed them to be the people who put an appropriate emphasis on “character” and – again, like my parents – I believe the character of a person is what matters most.

But now the conservatives are backing a man who is quite conspicuously lacking in good character.

Donald Trump said, “”I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” Well, of course it’s not OK. But still, it seems he was right.

As a whole, Republicans – voters and office-holders alike – are rallying behind a man who is showing us again and again that he lacks the basic human virtues that are important in a friend, or a neighbor, but especially in someone occupying the most powerful position in our nation.

There’s no need for allegations here. The evidence is right in front of our eyes.

We’ve seen the video of Trump mockingly imitating the arm movements of the disabled reporter who’d challenged him. Don’t we all know from our own experience what kind of guy – the cruelest of bullies — has an impulse to mock the crippled and disfigured?

I have several dozen people I call friends. I cannot imagine any one of them doing that even in private, let alone before a national audience. Even with a couple of drinks in them. Even if they were emotionally wrought up. Decent people just don’t do that.

I’ve heard a number of Republicans justify their continued support for such a man by pointing to Hillary Clinton. Hillary’s character, they claim, is no better.

But really, there’s a big difference here.

The case against Hillary’s character is based not on what we’ve actually seen her do but on allegations.

Many Republicans believe they “know” things about Hillary’s alleged culpability in the Benghazi tragedy, “know” things about the alleged implications of what she did with her email, maybe even “know” about her alleged role in Vince Foster’s alleged “murder.” But these allegations are only as valid as what these Republicans have been told (much of which, I can say as one who studies these things, is doubtful).

But with Donald Trump, we all can see his character in action. No one has to feed us questionable “facts,” or distorted arguments to explain to us what those facts mean. Simply as human beings, we understand, for example, what it reveals about a man’s character when he insists on humiliating his most important allies.

We’ve seen how Trump treated Chris Christie when he became Trump’s most important backer early on. We’ve seen the Christie “hostage” video, we’ve heard Trump making demeaning reference – in front of a national audience – to Christie’s weight problem.

We’ve seen how Trump treated his Vice Presidential pick, Mike Pence, at the press conference called to roll-out Trump’s running mate—how Trump went on about himself for 20 minutes and barely mentioned Pence before leaving Pence hanging out there to dry.

What kind of man acts that way? What kind of president would a man would be who is  unembarrassed to display a need to dominate is so intense that he can’t resist cutting his most important comrades-in-arms down to size?

Then, too, there’s this recent episode of his going after the Gold Star parents whose Muslim son died a hero saving his fellow American soldiers.

Would it really be OK to have a president who feels compelled to avenge himself on everyone who criticizes him?

To know how constantly Trump lies, one has to know the truth. To understand how reckless his statements have been about American foreign policy, one has to know what our policies have been, and how well they’ve served our national interest. But to see Donald Trump’s complete lack of character, all one needs is to be an adult human being with a sense of decency.

Some things go deeper than politics. Human decency is one of them.

Deeper than politics, but with profound political implications: What kind of guy is always looking for someone to fight, and what kind of president would such a person be?

Was I wrong to believe that conservatives understand and care about such things as decent character?

Andy Schmookler – who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012 – is the author most recently of WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World – and How We Can Defeat It.

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