Op-ed: Character no longer counts

  • By Cal Thomas
  • Saturday, June 25, 2016 7:55pm
  • Opinion

Ranking right up there with the line, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” is this recent headline in The Washington Times: “Honesty issues aside, voters still back Hillary Clinton, poll shows.”

Though Clinton’s negatives appear higher than that of any Democrat running for president in, perhaps, all of history — and Donald Trump’s are even higher — honesty appears not to matter in this election, especially to younger voters.

The Washington Times story is based on a poll taken by the technology company Morning Consult, which found that Hillary Clinton’s “56 percent unfavorability rating is driven by the fact that 39 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of independents say she can’t be trusted” and that “significant percentages of those who view her unfavorably also say she’s flat-out corrupt.”

Trump doesn’t fare much better. A recent Gallup poll found that just 33 percent say Trump is honest and trustworthy, a mere 1 percent higher than Hillary Clinton. With such numbers, Trump’s label of “Crooked Hillary” doesn’t have the moral impact it might have if more people thought he was a man of good character. Perhaps if Trump were held in higher regard, his contrast to Hillary Clinton might work to his advantage.

Has the state of our politics sunk so low that voters no longer expect honesty, integrity and character to be factors in deciding for whom they will vote? How can this be? Isn’t a person’s trustworthiness essential when we decide to buy a house or car, conclude a business deal or get married? If character matters in these and other circumstances, why does it matter less in selecting our next president? And if character doesn’t matter, won’t that almost ensure that we will get more people running for and serving in office who have less and less of it?

Brandon Rottinghaus is a political science professor at the University of Houston. In the Times story he is quoted as saying: “Trustworthiness by itself is less important than trustworthiness to handle specific issues, like national security or the economy. In the context of the 2016 election, Clinton’s low trust numbers may not mean much. If she is matched against a different nominee of the opposing party, she might be in danger. Trump’s bucolic approach to politics gives her some much-needed cover.”

But doesn’t it all go together? If one is dishonest in one’s private dealings that must spill over into one’s public life, right? Take the Clintons as Exhibit A.

Sometimes one finds a quote from an unexpected source that summarizes an issue. The actor and martial arts expert, Bruce Lee, once said: “Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.”

In this election, two people are seeking power, but it looks like whichever one wins will have a long way to go toward gaining respect. Voters have become so angry and cynical about the state of our government and its leaders that they no longer expect to respect them. If that is where we are, does that not say more about us then it does about them?

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.

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