Character Matters

  • Posted: November 2, 2020
  • Category: Blog
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It is said that “every cloud has a silver lining”. Rabbi Google pinpoints its genesis to John Milton, a young man on the make in the Merry Olde England of the 17th Century. Given that Master Milton was a partisan of Oliver Cromwell as well as author of that renowned commentary on the Book of Genesis, Paradise Lost, we might expect that bit of folk wisdom declared “hate speech” in the very near future. One wonders which bit of “woke wisdom” might replace it, though one suspects “woke wisdom” to be an oxymoron.

In any case, the silver lining to the Covid Election of 2020 might be a reawakening of the American interest in character. Despite the best efforts of all modern institutions to eradicate character, there is something in the human spirit that recognizes and yearns for leaders with character.

What is character? Like beauty, difficult to define but you know it when you see it. And we know, deep down in our bones if nowhere else, that it does not exist in America’s public life in the year of our Lord, 2020. Alfred Adler, a Jewish psychotherapist and associate of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, described character thus:

“Men of genius are admired, men of wealth are envied, men of power are feared; but only men of character are trusted.”

The need for character, for men or women that can be trusted, has become very clear over the past few years, written indelibly in the wasted lives and failed enterprises during the long months of Covid’s siege on the walls of our civilization. In the broad spectrum of voices clogging our attention, in the media, in politics, in business, science or academia, there is no one who has our trust. Even the voices of those to whom we must entrust our lives and health, ”health professionals”, have proved mendacious.

Of course we, the listeners, could be blamed. We have grown increasingly cynical and distrustful. We have retreated into congenial echo chambers where, though we may be fed a pack of lies, at least they are lies we want to hear.

We could be blamed and are indeed guilty, but then, I think we have reason. Who or what has not lied to us – repeatedly? Even toddlers are quick to discount the promises of caregivers who seek only their peaceful acquiescence to naptime.

The circus of an election exposes the ugly truth about those who ache for the levers of power. A few weeks past, I pointed out the lack of character in my State Representative, Lisa Cutter, a progressive true believer acting in the finest traditions of the bullring, a matador weaving a display of clever cape work to fool her conservative district. Is her opponent in this election any different? I don’t know, I hesitate to look.

Of course at the top of the tickets we are treated to the spectacle of Donald Trump. “Nuff said.” His character stands athwart his deeds. That he is not coasting to an easy re-election says all that need be said. His vice-president appears to be a good solid man, but at best remains a cipher, as all good Vice-Presidents should be.

Long long ago in a land far away, a gay person would enlist a friend of the opposite sex as a public companion to divert suspicions of their true sexuality. This friend was called a “beard”. Joe Biden has earned his nickname “Lyin’ Joe” honestly during his many decades in Washington and has been chosen by the elders of the party to be their “beard”.  His VP choice, Kamala Harris, fits right in, combining both the modern and traditional substitutes for character. Kamala is a two-fer as well as having slept her way to the top.

And let us be honest with ourselves. If we want to talk about character, and if we pretend any seriousness in the conversation, that is the place to start. A way with the truth – now there is a euphemism worthy of the name – is an indispensable part of leadership. Truth and character are complicated things in a sinful world, which unfortunately is the only one we have.

Despite the concerted efforts of Adorable America’s to replace character with conformance and compliance, our spirit hungers for it. Is there any other reason for the phenomenon of Bernie Sanders? You might not like Bernie. You might think his ideas to be the ravings of a lunatic, but who else on the national scene believes in what he says and says what he believes? If any political figure can say that they were denied their place in the sun by the machinations of shadowy figures in smoke filled back rooms, it is Bernie Sanders.

We don’t have the opportunity to vote for character in this election. Would we even recognize it, we see it so seldom in politics or any other public forum. Our workplace, our schoolroom, our civic engagements, even our churches – they all bury character in the bland mediocrity of the organizational need for compliance and conformity.

Anyone working in Corporate America, attending school or university, treading the corridors of the administrative State or sipping the increasingly tepid soup of our civic institutions recognizes that character is an endangered species.

 But things work well, don’t they? Isn’t the bland vanilla of conformance and compliance, a fog of all-encompassing political correctness, better anyway? Perhaps another man, one who did live a life of character on the national stage for many decades might provide the answer. Billy Graham said:

“When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”

Another common adage credited to an anonymous commentator is that “sports are a mirror of society”. As a baseball fan for going on six decades I can only mourn the loss of the game’s integrity. Doping scandals have been pervasive for decades now. The latest innovation of the game is introducing league sponsored gambling. Two of the past four World Series champions were proven to have pervasively cheated.

Once more I turn to the poetry of Paul Simon, that perceptive chronicler of our generation. Mike Nichols produced a movie in the late Sixties, The Graduate, exploring the beginnings of our national descent. A verse from one of the movie’s songs, “Mrs. Robinson”, gives voice to  today’s dilemma.

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?

Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away”

One Response to “Character Matters”

  1. Judy Hoxworth says:

    And you and I have watched the decent! Sad!

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