One morning early in the 2016 primary race when Donald Trump was gaining traction and winning in a few states, my mom and I were eating breakfast and watching some morning news before work and I half-jokingly told my mom, “If Donald Trump gets elected, I’m moving to Canada!” “I’ll come with you,” she said, “but he won’t win.” Well, I didn’t follow through on this statement. In all seriousness, fleeing to another country would present so many legal and logistical hurdles that I would only consider it if faced with war or persecution like those poor people in Syria. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had this idea however. Shortly after the election, I was watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It is not a show that would appeal to everyone as John Oliver is quite generous with the F-bombs, but if you can look past that, he does make good points. That week, he basically told viewers that while the idea of moving to Canada is very alluring at the moment, we should not do that because we are needed here. We should stay and fight for a return to the values our country was founded on. That reminded me of discussions from my political science classes in college where we talked about how the people are the foundation of any institution or organization, so it is up to them to preserve its values. When Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada was interviewed on 60 Minutes, he sounded so much kinder, more intelligent and more rational than Donald Trump, but when Justin Trudeau’s term ends, who knows who the next prime minister will be. What I mean is that the grass may seem greener in another country right now, but in this fallen world, political situations are ever-changing, so our efforts are better spent fighting to preserve our country’s values, rather than just running away to another country. I love the tagline on the web site of the American Civil Liberties Union which says, “Because freedom can’t protect itself.” And that reminded me of the bible study with my Jehovah’s Witness friends months before the election when I learned that Jehovah’s Witnesses are neutral when it comes to political affairs, meaning they don’t vote or run for political office.
“I know the problems of this world will never be resolved under this current system,” I remember telling them, “but if we had more people of good character like Jehovah’s Witnesses in office, people of integrity, humility and high morals, this world could be a whole lot better.” To this they responded that there are good people in office right now but because Satan influences all worldly governments, these good people are unable to be effective. I tossed this around in my mind a lot in the months that followed and realized they had a point. As hard as good people tried to speak out, warning us about Donald Trump’s low character and trying to stand up for what was right, these civil, rational voices were overpowered by Satan. At the same time however, the bible also says that Christ’s followers should be salt and light to a hurting world, meaning that although there will always be trouble in this world until Christ returns, we are called to try to make the world a little bit better, and to me the Jehovah’s Witness approach of completely separating themselves from this world is the religious equivalent of moving to Canada, or in other words, throwing in the towel. At this point in my life at least, I am seeking to find that happy medium of not separating myself completely from the world, but not worshipping political figures to the point of wearing Obama underwear either. To that end, I have been thinking about two goals for approaching politics in the future. First, I want to campaign for causes, not people. Then on Election Day, I want to vote based on character alone.
I have heard that many of the people who voted for Donald Trump didn’t like his vulgar comments and mean-spirited behavior at all, but voted for him out of desperation. These people were often poor people who couldn’t afford healthcare or who had lost their jobs when the factories moved overseas or the coal mines closed. The forces that cause factories to move overseas, healthcare costs to rise, or coal mines to close are largely beyond the control of any president or even the entire congressional body. But they saw Hillary Clinton, a career politician, as a continuation of the status quo, whereas Donald Trump, an outsider with no political experience, would shake things up. I will go into more detail about the hypocrisy behind this thinking in another post. But the point is, Donald Trump, with his fiery rhetoric, simple solutions and lack of political experience struck a chord with a lot of people who thought he could bring about real change. There are certain situations that require the steady-handed, decisive leadership of one person, most notably the decision whether to launch nuclear weapons. This is where the importance of character comes in, which I will discuss shortly. But when it comes to economic forces and social issues, both of which are too complex for one person or government to solve, and which don’t impose an imminent existential threat, it really doesn’t matter who we elect. Even if a candidate’s platform says for example that he/she is going to bring back factory jobs, it is important to remember he/she is often just making these promises to get voters motivated because when the candidate actually gets into office and realizes how complex the issues are, , he/she may not be able to make good on these promises anyway. And even if a candidate is able to make good on a campaign promise and pass a law to address a cause important to you, passing the law is the easy part. Due to complex factors, many of which are beyond government’s ability to control, implementation of the law is when the real hard work begins, and thus it is not uncommon for laws passed with good intentions to fail upon implementation. So if you are a single-issue voter who votes for someone just because he/she supports one particular cause that is important to you, you will likely be disappointed.
The other reason I think we should campaign for causes rather than people is because at least in my opinion, neither party platform is completely in the right. For example, the Republican platform campaigns for entitlement reform which I think is necessary because the current rate of spending for these programs is unsustainable and if something isn’t done, these benefits may not be available when my generation is eligible for them. But the Republican platform also campaigns for de-regulation to foster a business-friendly climate. While I understand the value of a business-friendly climate, I think some regulation is necessary, like the Dod Frank regulations that were created to hold banks accountable and prevent another recession like the one in 2009, and limits on carbon emissions because I believe climate change is a real concern. This puts people like me in a conundrum. If we had to campaign for a candidate, who should we campaign for? Both causes are important, so if we worked for one candidate’s campaign, it would have to be at the expense of one of our causes. I did buy a Hillary for America t-shirt in 2016, the proceeds of which went to her campaign, but from this point forward, my goal is to never work for a campaign, or donate to a campaign even if it is just buying a button. That way, I am free to support the causes that are important to me even if they are contradictory on a particular party platform.
But by no means am I advocating for abstaining from the voting process because if citizens who want leaders with good character don’t exercise their right to vote, leaders of bad character will seize upon this apathy and rule unchallenged. I believe that if we can get Donald Trump out of office in 2020, he will go down in history as an anomaly, from a time when the people were grappling with complex issues and feeling desperate and just were not thinking straight, and thus I don’t think he will pose a long-term threat to our freedom. But if voter apathy continues, there is no guarantee our country couldn’t go down the path of Russia and North Korea because “freedom can’t protect itself.” And in addition to corruption and economic inequality, guess what else unchallenged rulers of bad character now and all through history have in common? They see religion as a threat, and will thus impose laws that conflict with God’s laws. Sadly, it is too late for Christians in countries like Russia and North Korea to change their situation as their tyrannical rulers are well-established now. But we still have a chance to make things right, and if people who want leaders of good character exercise their right to vote before a leader of bad character takes this right away, we could continue to steer clear of the religious persecution millions around the world face.
When it comes to judging a candidate’s overall character, it is unusual for the differences in character to be so stark, so cut-and-dry as they were in 2016. No additional research was necessary in 2016. It should have been obvious just by listening to the words that came out of Donald Trump’s mouth that Hillary Clinton or any of the other sixteen or so candidates Donald Trump beat in the primaries demonstrated higher character. But under normal circumstances, which I believe we will return to, it can be difficult to judge a candidate’s character. They all have slick commercials, speak well and seem as though they genuinely care about the people they are running to serve, even if their ideas of what the right path for the country looks like are different. I also confess that I have been a lazy voter in the past, voting for someone because I liked how they presented themselves in the debates, or because I was influenced by peers who liked them and just jumped on the bandwagon. But from now on, my goal is to be a super-informed voter who decides who to vote for based on objective character assessment alone. Here are a few ideas I have come up with as to the questions I would ask. If more ideas come to mind, I will post about them and of course, feel free to comment with your own ideas I may not have thought about.
What is the candidate’s level of honesty? When nonpartisan fact-checkers rate the candidate’s statements, what percentage of them are rated true or mostly true, and what percentage are rated mostly false or “pants on fire?” If a candidate is incapable of honesty regarding small statements during the campaign, they will lie to us in office when the stakes are far more serious. Has a candidate accepted large amounts of money from a particular interest group, becoming a puppet of that interest group rather than being an independent voice free to do what is in the best interest of everyone he/she serves? What is a candidate’s past voting record in the house or senate? Is it consistent, no matter which party has the majority, or do they scream about irresponsible government spending when Democrats are the majority, and then vote for huge increases in government spending when Republicans become the majority? Even if I don’t personally agree with a candidate’s views, I have more respect for people who stand by these views than people who are hypocritical. On a similar note, has a candidate held a particular position for many years, or does the candidate’s position on an issue mysteriously change just in time for an election? When a candidate is confronted with a group of protestors, or an unflattering article someone wrote about them, do they attack and belittle the opponent, or do they take the high road? Does the candidate have a track record of bipartisan cooperation, or a track record of jamming through legislation without inviting anyone who disagrees with them to the negotiation table?
I think if we all scrutinized candidates objectively, keeping a file on our computer, or a notebook where we record the answers to these questions, we would automatically eliminate candidate’s of bad character or extremist views, making room for rational, moderate leadership on both sides of the aisle. Is it a perfect system? Of course not. Until Christ returns, there will always be injustice in the world and important causes that will not get the attention they deserve because many of this world’s problems are too complex for earthly governments to solve. But the odds of addressing at least some of the injustices of the world are far better when the government is controlled by people of high character than they would be under a tyrannical regime. But even if a cause important to us is never addressed in this life, if we elect leaders of good character, we can at least continue to preserve the most important cause of them all, our freedom which includes freedom to practice our faith.