On Character and The Duty to Vote Accordingly

Edmund Burke

“All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.”

-Edmund Burke

Bullshido is non-partisan–always has and always will be. We do not throw our weight behind candidates or parties. So, you know, it is kind of hard to write in a time of hyper-partisanship without wading into those waters. And every election season, the low-hanging fruit of writing is an impassioned essay trying to guilt readers into deciding for whom to vote.

I hate those articles. And this article isn’t one of them.

See, Bullshido’s purpose has never been to tell our community what to think. Our purpose is to teach them how to think. That is a crucial distinction.

So this made it difficult when we were requested to write about the Presidency–specifically whether or not personal character should or should not be a factor in deciding who should be President. (Thanks @MarcRGrant for the request on twitter). But, anything worth doing is difficult and I am the “publish your values” guy so of course I’m going to do it.

Personal character absolutely should be a critical factor in deciding the President. As the highest elected official, the President–like all elected officials–represents the collective soul of the country. The President is not a reflection of us–the President is us. The President is the country’s representative to the world–the President’s values are attributed to the people that elected the President to office. The President is, in many respects, the absolute best of us and the absolute worst of us synthesized into one (likely insufferable) human being.

President James Monroe

Think of the Monroe Doctrine–where President Monroe boldly told Europe to stop mucking about in the Americas under threat of retaliation. Or President Teddy Roosevelt’s tough stance on monopolies and the like. These actions characterize and summarize the collective views of the nation at the time. Under Monroe, we valued freedom from Colonialism, and under Teddy we valued economic fairness (and wicked cool mustaches. And Presidents who did judo. And were tough as shit. Can we seriously get a new Teddy Roosevelt, please?)

Heck, consider the actions of President Adams or F.D.R.–both of whom acted in horrifically unconstitutional and indefensible ways. Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Act into law in direct violation of the First Amendment. FDR ignored the plight of Jews living under Nazi rule and locked people in concentration camps for being possibly Japanese. What do these actions say about the people of the country at the time? The fear and uncertainty and anxiety of the country is palpable through the President–as well as the racial and xenophobic undertones of a populace that would later require the Army to de-segregate schools.

Or consider the Presidencies of Johnson and his successor, Nixon. Under Johnson, we achieved some of the most important legislation ever passed by Congress–the Civil Rights Act. That was swiftly rebuked by voters who made clear they weren’t super comfortable with all people being treated equally by electing Nixon–who created the war on drugs specifically to harm minority communities. 

Every elected official presents a snapshot of the values of the people they represent. Voters in one state nominated an accused pedophile for elected office–signaling that being creepy with teens is less important to them than being on the correct side of the aisle. Voters in another state nominated a conspiracy theorist for a Congressional seat. Heck, numerous towns throughout the nation have elected dogs to be the mayor. (I would also submit that those towns are smart for creating an executive so useless that even a good boi can hold office)

Each of these actions represent the values of the constituency. Those constituencies, however, are relatively small compared to the Presidency. So while a congressional candidate may represent a small district, the President represents the nation.

These values that are displayed by elected officials are a representation of us as a whole. Through that lens, of course, it is vitally important to be cognizant of the personal values and character of the candidates for the highest office in the land.

And just as those values are reflective of us individually, they are reflective–of us collectively. The Presidency doesn’t just show us who we are as a person but it shows us who we are as a people–more importantly, it shows the world who we are as a country. When we elect xenophobes, Americans are xenophobic. When we elect interventionalists, it is Americans who are nosey busy-bodies. When we elect compassionate and thoughtful leaders, Americans are compassionate and thoughtful. 

…as those values are reflective of us individually, they are reflective–of us collectively. The Presidency doesn’t just show us who we are as a person but it shows us who we are as a people–more importantly, it shows the world who we are as a country

So, if the President’s personal character is the same as our personal character–or at the very least, an unpolished reflection of it–it is inarguable that the personal character of the President should be a large factor in deciding from whom to vote. Luckily, evaluating character is something that has already been done–and many of us may have even learned it in kindergarten!

According to charactercounts.org, the Six Pillars of Character (which is apparently a registered trademark ) are:

  • Trustworthiness
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Fairness
  • Caring
  • Citizenship.

I’ve never been one to reinvent the wheel, so let’s talk in depth about these in the context of evaluating a Presidential candidate.

Trustworthiness

The President is the leader of the free world and at the helm of the finest and most powerful military force to ever exist. To be worthy of that power, the President must be trustworthy. That means being honest, reliable, courageous–willing to review the evidence and change their position if they are wrong. If we elect a dishonest President–say, one who routinely breaches contracts and fails to pay contractors–we are admitting we, ourselves our dishonest. If we elect a President who avoids the media and storms off when confronted with tough questions–we are admitting that we, ourselves, are cowards. We are signaling that these traits are not only held by us but that they are acceptable and even something to be admired.

Respect

The President wields tremendous authority–both domestically and abroad. To use that authority properly, the President must be well-informed. Subordinates must feel comfortable to voice dissenting views and to present bad news without fear of retribution. A President who abuses subordinates and dissenters is an inept President. A President who wields the authority of their office to attack and belittle citizens is inept. By electing such a President, we are signaling our comfort with burying our heads in the sand. We are signaling a distinct lack of respect for ourselves and our fellow citizens.

Responsibility

A President accepts responsibility. As the head of the Federal government, all responsibility begins and ends with the Presidency–for the good and the bad. A President who refuses to accept responsibility is a President who is unaccountable. Such a President is rash and hasty with their actions–knowing full well the consequences can be shifted onto someone else. By electing such a President, we signal our comfort with shirking responsibility and blaming others. We signal our unwillingness to hold ourselves and others accountable.

Fairness

The President is the head of the Federal Government–the Chief Executive with the important responsibility of enforcing federal laws. The enforcement of those laws must be conducted in a uniform manner. No one should be above the law for any reason–not by virtue of connections, status, wealth, or power. For laws to have meaning they must apply to us all or else they should not apply to anyone. As the chief enforcer of these laws, the President is vested with broad discretion on whether (or how) to enforce these laws. Electing a President who would use this broad power to interfere with investigations, commute or pardon friends and supporters without good cause, or otherwise stray from the ideal of impartial justice signals our comfort with a justice system that is anything but just. 

Caring

A President wields tremendous power–both formal power through things like grants and the like and informal power through implicit endorsements. The President can use this power for good–by calling attention to injustice or indignity and lending the weight of the office to help those in need. The President can also use this power to magnify injustice or indignity and to embolden bad-faith actors. By electing a President who does not care about others–a President who routinely attacks, insults, and belittles others–we signal our own predilection to pushing others down instead of helping to lift them up.

Citizenship

A President, above all, should be accountable to the law and should work to make this country, this world, better. A President is not just a citizen of the United States but a citizen of the World–and as such, has a responsibility to try and make the world a better place. A President should be a uniting force, not a dividing force. A President should not ignore atrocity or indignity. There is only one planet and electing a President who alienates our Nation from the world signals our failure to understand that. 

I want to make clear that I’m not telling you, dear reader, for whom to vote. I’m only asking you to consider the personal character of the Candidates–and whether that character is reflective of your own–because the personal character of the President is our character. You can control how America is viewed in the world simply by casting your vote. You decide the values of this nation so please, vote for the candidate that best represents the values you hold most dear.

And I also realize that some people reading this will think I’m making a case against a specific candidate. I’m not–though I would say if the shoe fits, lace that motherfucker up and wear it.

The right to vote is one of the most important rights we have. (Though ranked-choice voting would make it even more important and meaningful…but that’s another article). I’m not nearly pretentious enough to tell you how to vote. I only ask you to consider this article in deciding, for yourself, how to cast that vote.

And most importantly, get out and vote. If you vote by mail, send in your ballot early. If you vote in person, please be safe and wear a mask.

Lastly, if you do have any requests or topics you’d like to see Bullshido or myself write about, feel free to reach out to us on twitter @bullshido or @derek_debus (or on Facebook. Or we do have a website, you know). We’re always looking for new article topics so please keep the requests coming! 

Previous articleMental Weakness and the “Just World” Fallacy
Next articleAnatomy of a Catastrophe
Maximillian Fightmaster
Derek Debus is a trial lawyer in Arizona and a graduate of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law where he earned recognition as a Willard Pedrick Honors Scholar and received the designation of Trial Advocacy Fellow. Prior to attending law school, Derek served in the United States Marine Corps as an infantryman and combat instructor and worked to train law enforcement as a professional firearms instructor. Derek also serves on the Board of Directors for the nonprofit organization Academe Grove -- a 501(c)(3) nonprofit focused on providing training and resources to education institutions and first responders. Follow him on twitter @derek_debus.