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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

The Mirror

I have often wondered how it is that nations are able to identify and elect leaders who inspire and govern with noble intent and character then sharply swerve to embrace those who are morally corrupt, venal and solely pre-occupied with power and self-interest.

Of course there are many reasons why the mood and sensibilities of a country change—and it is fair to say that voters are aspirational—they endow candidates with traits that they may or may not possess—persuaded more often than not by the packaging and not the person, by ideology rather than demonstrated behavior. Perhaps this explains comments I have heard regarding the upcoming election in which people have said about a candidate, I hate everything he says, he is an embarrassment, I cannot even stand to look at him but I am going to vote for him because……………”

Before any of us condemn those who harbor such views its worth noting that they have been said about both Presidential candidates in the present though for very different reasons. It is also true that when questioned as to the apparent disconnect the respondents invariably point to some foundational belief about their candidate that justifies their position. These range from statements about self-interest (I or my family will or have done better economically or socially under this individual’s leadership); fear ( I cannot vote for the other candidate because I fear that he or she will do something that will injure me or those I care for); and a host of ideological identifications that have no real basis in fact but typically betray a life- long identification with one party or the other.

We have had capable leaders of dubious character, and a few poor leaders of commendable character. Finding both attributes in one person proves harder than it would seem. Why should that be? I would submit it is because the question of character—who a candidate is as a human being—how they treat others, what they say and do and have done in their lives that reveals the essence of their character is not really anything most voters apprehend. Rather, they hold up a mirror and vote for the person that is most like them, or at least most like the person they wish to be. The candidates are a reflection—no more substantial in one sense than characters on the screen.

Let’s start by acknowledging that most of us are poor judges of our own character. I do not think I am being overly harsh when I say we give ourselves a pass on a lot that we do and say—looking for and finding the mitigating factors, situational excuses and emotional blindness that masks the nature of what we may have said or done in the present or the past. We are not without character—but arguably we are abundantly human—and possessed of all the limitations inherent therein. I must admit I am suspicious of those who claim otherwise—either they lack self-awareness or have the capacity to lie to themselves and others with ease. Moral certainty is a slope any sensible individual would concede as unscalable.

The most dangerous outcome of electing individuals who are deeply flawed—those who lack fundamental values—empathy, compassion, respect for the truth—is that their behavior provides us with more than tacit license to emulate those qualities. Great leaders inspire greatness in much the same way—they set the example for their colleagues, admirers and importantly for the public as a whole.

If we live in divisive and harsh times in the present, if we see a sharp increase in hatred, abuse, mischaracterization of motives, selfishness, and authoritarianism then we should recognize those traits latent in our culture and our way of life. One leader does not make a people evil, neither does one make us good. But they have the power—power we gave them gazing into our mirror, to inspire the best or the worst in us.

If we truly wish to see our country be, once again what we thought it once was, a great experiment in freedom, a beacon of hope for those around the world who were not so fortunate as we, a place where it fact it is possible for every citizen to enjoy the peace, hope and fruits of our collective blessing than we must ask of every presumed candidate for every office—who is this person, and not what is their party what is their platform, what is their ideology? We must put the qualities of character ahead of everything else—and make up our own minds without reliance on social media, TV ads, neighbors, friends, pastors or anyone else to tell us who we should elect. The mirror will show us exactly who we are.

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