Character is not some vague or amorphous concept. It is real, visible and definable. As individuals our character begins to develop at a very early age. It is built one brick at a time through the many influences that surround us. Some of the most important are our parents, siblings, relatives, religious leaders, teachers, national leaders, friends, books, TV and the movies that we watch. In some manner they are all instructive and model behaviors that we come to respect or reject. Through these early experiences and examples our character is shaped and then hardened by life’s challenges. It is the manner in which we confront these challenges that demonstrates our character or lack thereof. As with individuals, a nation’s character is evidenced by its behavior. America has always held itself up as a model of high character. Though we have sometimes not reflected this in our behavior, unlike many other nations, we have always been willing to acknowledge our deficiencies and strive to correct them. However, when the public face of a nation is one of an amoral narcissist it endangers all that it has come to stand for.
It is not an accident that American has long been the dream destination of the world’s displaced and oppressed. America has been the antitheses of what they were running from and the realization of their dreams. It has been understood that a person of honesty who works hard and respects the laws and his neighbor can live a wonderful and successful life in America. It has been a fact that our nation of high character respects an individual of high character. Certainly, some of this is built on a mythology that falls apart under closer scrutiny. However, while we have yet to achieve that reality, what is important is that our national character persists in striving to achieve it. Yet, it is clear that our national character is being tested every day by a leadership that values its narrow needs above the needs of our nation and the world.
One tragic example of this lack of character is reflected in the actions taken by the Trump Administration as it has unrelentingly eliminated a multitude of regulations. In almost all cases they impact on our health, safety and security. It is no coincidence that in almost all cases deregulation equals cost savings to American corporations. I need not say more. The actions speak volumes and define the character or lack thereof we are dealing with. The budget that Trump presented a couple of months ago demonstrated just where the current administration’s values lie. It reflected a desire to increase Pentagon spending while decreasing State Department spending by 30%. It decreased spending in virtually every department that impacts on the provision of human services or quality of life and increased spending in departments that impact on military security. This isn’t to say that a strong military is unimportant, but rather that there needs to be a balance. After all, what are we defending?
High on the list of individual traits that form a strong character is veracity, honesty and a moral code. There was a time when a written contract was superfluous because it was thought that a handshake was contract enough. Trust me, they never said that about Donald Trump. This is a man who has lived his life lying simply to make money. He is a man to whom denigrating or hurting an individual never was allowed to get in the way of his success. His behavior as president is no different. If the courts are creating a barrier to his success he simply denigrates the courts. If the press is not presenting him in the way he would like he simply accuses them of being fake and unsourced and then creates his own unsourced and fake news. The Trump Administration is trampling on the character of our nation for its own selfish gain. America’s character is being questioned the world over as alliances are being threatened and treaties are being challenged. Our citizens are questioning the character of our nation as we experience the rise of xenophobia and the violence that comes with it. We are watching our very basic hard-fought for rights and liberties threatened by an administration that sees the Constitution as a tool of convenience. America’s character is being tested every day. It is up to “we the people” to protect it.