“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”
― Joseph Heller, Catch-22
In his 1961 novel Catch-22, Joseph Heller coined the titular term to describe an inescapable dilemma created by contradictory limitations. A ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’ type of problem. I find many voters in America today believe they are in a catch-22 with this presidential election. But that is not the case, and I want to outline the reasons I believe there is only one clear choice for president this election.
When we think about what makes a good president, we often only consider the representative of the party we have supported in the past. We support that party because we believe it will take the nation in the direction we hope to go. And, therefore, we support the candidate who represents that party. I agree with this reasoning, but I believe it is necessary think more deeply about what makes a good president in today’s political landscape.
If we remove the lenses of our party bias, we can measure three undeniable presidential qualities layered upon each other — character, policy, and ability. Each layer provides the foundation for the next, building the basic qualities of good president.
Character is at the foundation. In political office, good character is not just who an official is; it is also how that official affects the people around them. It is about treating others with respect and displaying dignity.
The second layer is policy. This is what we normally focus on when we consider a political leader. We want to know where they stand on the issues, i.e. taxes, gun control, jobs, the economy, etc.
The final quality is ability. Governing is more than just coming up with good ideas. One must also work with others, persuading and compromising when necessary to achieve the best result. Ability is measured by assessing a person’s competence to carry out their policy.
We can think of a candidate’s character, policy, and ability as the soul, mind, and body of who they are as a political leader and how that leader affects the nation.
Each characteristic of the three foundational qualities affect us in a different way. If their ability, or body, suffers, then they are unable to complete the work of passing policy and they are politically ineffective for us.
If their policy, or mind, suffers, then they are a captain of an aimless ship and we are their passengers.
But, if the character, or the soul, of a candidate suffers, then it affects and changes the soul of the nation.
Collectively, we Americans are the soul of the nation. I believe the character, the soul, is the only one that can change who we the people are. This is an important distinction. A president’s ability (body) or policy (mind) can change what happens to us, but it doesn’t change who we are. The character we normalize, validate, and mark as acceptable does change who we are.
The character of a president affects our children. It serves as a model of what the highest level of leadership looks like. When children see leaders act, they learn to act as they do. I do not need to repeat the indecencies Trump has uttered here, but for every one uttered in the name of defying political correctness, there are more kids bullying others on a playground or online using the same language. These same bullies will be America’s future leadership because we as a country are endorsing this behavior.
His words — tweets, speeches, and interviews — do not unite us. As General Mattus said, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”
Is any policy worth our nation’s soul? Our national decency?
This is not to say all past presidents have had pure, irreproachable character. But all past presidents, at the very least, attempted to demonstrate presidential character while in office. All past presidents have at least pretended to treat others with respect and dignity. They have at least tried to unite the nation during difficult times.
I truly wish Trump had the fundamental foundational quality of character, or even attempted to pretend to have character, because then I could take the next step to compare the policies of the candidates. But I don’t have that luxury, because Trump has actively rejected the first, foundational quality of a good president.
This election is not a catch-22. We are not being asked to vote on the lesser of two evils. We are not being asked to choose the best policy this election. We are voting fora decent human or someone without character. We are choosing whether or not we want our kids to live in a world where a man without character holds the highest office in the land. This year, we are choosing whether we will continue to expect character from our leaders. We are voting for our country’s soul.
Many people justify Trump’s behavior for his policy. But what does it profit a nation if we enact perfect policy, but lose our soul?