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So a colleague handed me his cell phone, urging me to look at the screen. I did. It was a meme of President-elect Trump.

trump character

What America Is Telling the World—Frank Fear

Trump is standing behind the Statue of Liberty. With arms extending around her torso, Trump cups both of her breasts with his hands.

“That’s your president,” my colleague offers wryly.

Your” president is right. I’m 7500 miles away from home in a developing part of the world. My friend isn’t an American. I am. Until that moment I had a devil of a time figuring out what that meant to me. Now I don’t. Here’s why.

Candidates win and lose elections all the time. But we have something new and different this time. The winner has a massive character problem. And worse yet—yes, it’s worse—a good share of this country doesn’t give a shit.

Character doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to electing a U.S. president. That’s what America is telling the world.

Character doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to electing a U.S. president. That’s what America is telling the world.

America says that you can demonize people. You can cheat them. You can hoodwink them. You can welch on commitments. You can assault women. You can do all the things we never want our kids to say or do. And, then, we’ll elect you President of the United States.

But out of the mouth of babes: “Dear President-Elect Trump, please be a good president. Some of my people are a special religion and they are not bad guys.”

If only this child could have voted. For others? I talked with two Trump voters a few days after the election, both service workers. I asked why they voted for him. “I like Trump’s ideas,” each said. What about his character? On radio I listened to a group of high school students being interviewed about the candidates. They said almost nothing about Trump’s character.

I also know a lot of people—family members, colleagues, and friends—who are hurting, really hurting, in the aftermath of this election. Devastated is a work that fits. It’s not just that Hillary Clinton lost (as painful as that is to them). It’s also about to whom she lost.

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Trump personifies a way of thinking and acting that they’ve fought against, often experienced, for years. But now he’s their president, just when they thought the country was on the verge of a historic breakthrough. Americans would certainly recoil against hate, misogyny, and shadiness. But on November 8 an endorsement came instead.

We’re all concerned that Trump’s election will bring catastrophic results. My colleague overseas said we should.

A few years ago he participated in a Populist Right movement in his country. He was fed up with things as they were and thought a bold move to the Right would bring a better future. It took less than a year to turn hope into despair. He wished us better luck.

His story reinforces an important issue: what’s happening now in America isn’t new. It’s just new to us.

And what’s really new is that we didn’t just elect a president on November 8. We entered a new era. As Cornel West put it a few days ago we voted for Neo-Fascism. We turned to a “Strong Man” who told us that only he can fix our problems and that only he knows how.

A lot of people bought it. I know some are desperate. They so much want their lives to change for the better. I know that some are racists, hate-mongers, and misogynists. They relish the prospect of what America can become with Trump. But what bothers me enormously is that a whole bunch of everyday people looked right past character -- as though character doesn’t count.

Of course it does! The next time you’re in an elementary school, take time to notice the banners that are hanging about the halls. The words are pretty much the same no matter where you go.

  • Respect.
  • Cooperation.
  • Fair play.
  • Integrity.
  • Humility.
  • Truthfulness.
  • If we’re teaching that to children, why can’t we expect it from adults? And when we don’t, what does that say about us?

Nothing good. And that’s the very point my overseas colleague made that day.


Frank Fear