Shame Is Lacking In Our Politics

My dad’s nephew robbed a bank when a young man.  Had he been better as a criminal that first line might have been written in the plural. He took the loot and stashed it under his bed at home, which made him a fast catch by the authorities and more a family story than a lingering series of headlines for the public to read.  As a boy, I wanted to know more about the events and wished to talk about them at the annual family reunions.  My parents always firmly reminded me how far it would be to walk home if I started a conversation about that forbidden topic with the larger family.

In later years, his ‘youthful adventure’ as it came to be termed by the older family members at a small town bank, would rank up there in the family tree with the man who slept in a car in the driveway of his home while the spouse lived inside their home. People knew the stories, but the propriety of the reunions made people somewhat circumspect in their conversations.  When as an adult I had long chats with the man who robbed a bank, and there was nothing holding me back from getting insight into the day it happened, I was held back by that sense of decorum, that cloud of shame if you will, that still was hanging about overhead.

I thought of that now departed man when reading a story in the Wall Street Journal today where it was reported Donald Trump’s close associates are bracing for his indictment concerning his criminal behavior of handling classified materials. They “anticipate being able to fundraise off a prosecution.” It seems hard to fathom if one takes a step or two back and reflects from a longer lens view, that a former president who repeatedly denied a return to the federal government of classified documents, once caught and indicted, would seek to make money over the criminal charges.

What happened to the people in our nation—and I can use my larger family tree to ask the question—where talking about the how and whys of a bank robbery were off limits—but the acceptance of the behavior of the likes of Trump and George Santos are accepted and abided?  Some of the reasons have to do with how public relations experts package the awful behavior along with the fact there seems to be a growing segment of politicians who harbor no sense of shame.

Decades ago, former Wisconsin State Senator Robert Welch, when seeking a primary nomination to run for the U.S. Senate spoke at a ‘porky-pancake’ breakfast in Hancock, my hometown.  Dad was involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the ones flipping the pancakes, and so much of our family was in attendance.  Welch talked about how shame as an ingredient for how people operated, or the lack of it, needed to be again a more visible force in society.  I was not aligned in any way with his views or politics, but these many years later recall that small portion of his longer presentation. I think he had a point worthy of attention.

I tend to think on the issue of shame the current barometer of decency might be Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney. The line from his encounter with a reporter regarding Santos seated at the State of the Union Address this year points to the values we once had in this nation about shame. “He shouldn’t be there and if he had any shame at all, he wouldn’t be there.” It is a sentiment that does not get voiced often in the nation anymore. After the outrageous behavior by Trump since 2015 and what we now know is acceptable to a certain segment of the electorate we might even conclude shame is dead.

But we know shame is a useful tool as it prods people in the larger context to act in accordance with values. We know slavery was our nation’s original sin, and the tug and pull to own up to that stain has produced an ongoing series of policies that still provokes and arouses passions. Shaming the federal and state governments and institutions to act for a better outcome has proved to be effective. How might leaders in our nation now arouse a sense of shame to counter the growing absurd behavior from the likes of Trump, Santos, and the far extremes in our politics?

Shelia Stubbs Temperament Problem: Use Of “Force” To Get Dane County Position A Non-Starter

Dane County is in the midst of a controversy. One that did not need to happen.

When it comes to vital jobs in Dane County no one doubts the very important role played by the Director of Human Services.  When it comes to powerful resumes many feel State Representative Shelia Stubbs is an ideal candidate for the open director position.  But, equally important, especially in this time when our basic political institutions come under attack, there is no way not to be concerned about the tone and temperament Stubbs openly displayed when trying to secure the job after Dane County Executive Joe Parsi named her to the position. 

Last week, Stubbs delivered an impassioned speech about the nomination to a gathering at End Times Ministries International, where she is a pastor and the church’s co-founder. A video of the speech was posted on Facebook last Wednesday and was viewed multiple times by a Wisconsin State Journal reporter, but it has since been deleted.  (Let us be honest. Any time a video needs to be removed from social media underscores the fact there is something that is considered damming enough to require deletion.)

In the video, Stubbs indicated that she would not resign her Assembly seat if she’s confirmed to the county position and said that County Board members calling for her to resign the Assembly seat need to be “shooken up.” (After some highly publicized criticism of her attempt to keep both jobs as stated in the video, and of course both salaries which were un-stated, there was then the throwing of a nameless intern under the bus for having supposedly written a wrong statement from her office. It is unbecoming when an elected official so cavalierly can toss aside a worker in the office. That behavior should be a lesson for the Dane County Board as they proceed with this matter in the days ahead.) 

“It’s going to get a little hot politically,” Stubbs said and called on those gathered to pressure the board to confirm her nomination.

“No one else had to go through the scrutiny that I am going through: The difference is I’m Black,” she said. (Skin color has nothing to do with the ethics problem of her voting on budgets and policies in the state assembly that may impact the job she would like to also hold as director. This should not be a complicated matter to ponder.)

“God gave me that job,” she said in the video. “All I need God’s people to do is pray, fast and believe with me, and I believe we’ll take it by force.” (This is where I threw the newspaper on the kitchen table and I think used a name for the one who was ‘giving her that job’ in vain.)

But those comments have prompted a rebuke from Patrick Miles, chair of the Dane County Board, which will decide whether to confirm Stubbs as head of the county DHS.

A speaker at the church prior to Stubbs said the congregation should “storm the Capitol” if Stubbs isn’t immediately confirmed and also accused Miles of stalling Stubbs’ confirmation.

Miles called the rhetoric from Stubbs and her church “disturbing” and said it echoes the run-up to the storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

“We’ve seen how such hyperbole and misinformation have led to threats against public servants and elected officials,” Miles said. “There’s no place for that kind of corrosive and dangerous behavior in county leadership, especially in the Human Services Department, which serves the most vulnerable populations.”

I absolutely echo the sentiments of Miles regarding Stubbs’ lack of proper tone and a clearer understanding of how the government has been under attack following the 2020 elections.  I am perplexed how Stubbs with many years of political experience could lower herself to the words she chose to speak in her church or create an environment of tensions and strife as a tool so to secure the director’s job.  That, in and of itself, is a most visible lack of sound temperament which places her at extreme odds with a job this county needs to be conducted with utmost credibility.

I well understand that some board members are coming under withering verbal attacks but they need to stand firm knowing, as do the residents of this county, that no one other than Shelia Stubbs created this controversy. One that did not need to happen. There are other competent people who vied for the director’s job and will handle the needs of the county with professionalism. Let us cut out the needless drama and get to the task this department undertakes to make our society stronger.

Quintez Cephus “Suspended Indefinitely” From NFL, Released By Detroit Lions, Might UW-Madison Have Helped Him Find Guardrails Of Life?

Well, here we go again. Character matters.

I often stress those two words when it comes to presidential candidates, strongly implied it just yesterday when talking about astronauts of my youth who so very much impressed me, and say it repeatedly when writing about athletes who have a bevy of youth looking up to them. I made it plain in 2019 when writing about Quintez Cephus that what was lacking in the larger story was the issue of character. For those who need a quick primer, he was accused by two women of sexual assault but was acquitted of those charges by a Dane County jury. This morning his name landed in my email box as a news feed from the Washington Post dealt with his time with Detroit Lions upended due to….yes….lack of character.

Quintez Cephus was “suspended indefinitely through at least the conclusion of the 2023 season for betting on NFL games in the 2022 season”. (By the time I reread this post for editing I learned the Detroit Lions had released him from the team.) While no one should take any glee about this news, as having a dream of any profession ripped apart is sad, there still can be a lesson learned from what happened to this man. The lack of constructing the guardrails of life, those ways of living and abiding with the proper conduct as one moves through society, while also not working to ante up on the character side of one’s personal ledger has a cost. What I found so glaring and lacking in this young man in 2019 are seemingly the ones that made him a headline today. Had there been a more strict application of the rules for this football player in 2019 might he have been alerted to the behavior changes required for adulthood?

My issue at the time this story made headlines galore was direct and can be summed up this way. Did Cephus honor the sports program, or the school where he was a student, when he went to a bedroom with two women, asked another man to join the trio, and where a photo was taken and then deleted from a phone?  Do these actions from a football player, and a UW student rise to the level of acceptable behavior for the university?

We all recall the tight restrictions and demands a high school coach would place on players about how they were to handle themselves when off the field.  It mattered in small towns and communities when a player, who made the local paper for a play in a Friday night game, was able to walk with dignity and self-respect down Main Street Wednesday evening.  Values mattered.  And they still must.

I stated in 2019 the obvious. Let us pretend that all other aspects concerning the Cephus controversy were equal.  If that only then left character as the determining factor any common-sense outcome to the question of his being readmitted to the university sports program would need to come back as negative.

I do not wish to be harsh to anyone wishing to gain higher education.  But there must be standards of behavior employed when one takes on the name of being a UW-Student.  Even more so when wearing a red jersey for the Badger Football team.  Given the out-sized role college football has in our culture the very least we should expect is for the players to exhibit a level of deportment that can be known about in the light of day.

There are many people who let Quintez Cephus down. First, and foremost, himself. But all those in sports programs who wished to use him for their wins and profits but seemed unwilling, or perhaps unable, to shape the type of character that makes for a winner on and off the field also must take ownership of today’s news.

(No, I am not a parent, but I think I might have been a good one.)

Clarence Thomas And Nikki Haley Try To Deceive With Numbers…Numbers That Do Not Lie

Sir Walter Scott may have arrived in 1808 at the best line for the conservative Republican Party in 2023.  He penned “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”   After reading the newspapers this weekend it appears both Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Nikki Haley have taken to heart the old quote and striving mightily to implement it in their daily lives. Thomas has been in the news lately for his severe lack of ethics and principles as a judge, namely for acceptance of hugely expensive trips from Harlan Crow, a major Republican donor for more than two decades. His lack of honor echoes when acting lewdly with his behavior regarding Anita Hill decades ago.  Meanwhile, Haley created a headline-making story that underscores what happens when detail-oriented work is tossed aside to chase a delusional case of Potomac Fever.

“Over the last two decades, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has reported on required financial disclosure forms that his family received rental income totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a firm called Ginger, Ltd., Partnership,” the Washington Post reports.

“But that company — a Nebraska real estate firm launched in the 1980s by his wife and her relatives — has not existed since 2006.”

“That year, the family real estate company was shut down and a separate firm was created, state incorporation records show. The similarly named firm assumed control of the shuttered company’s land leasing business, according to property records.”

“Since that time, however, Thomas has continued to report income from the defunct company — between $50,000 and $100,000 annually in recent years — and there is no mention of the newer firm, Ginger Holdings, LLC, on the forms.”

As if that slick numbers game was not enough for news readers on this cloudy, rainy, soon-to-be snowy day came a news story that is most telling about the GOP efforts at saying anything as they will believe it.

This morning it was reported that “The former U.N. ambassador’s campaign said it had raised $11 million between her mid-February launch and the end of the quarter on March 31. It got that figure by saying Haley’s campaign had $5.1 million in receipts, along with $4.4 million for Team Stand for America, a joint fundraising committee, and $1.2 million for Stand for America PAC, a Haley-launched leadership PAC.

“But after Haley filed her first-quarter report to the Federal Election Commission late Saturday, an altogether different story has emerged. Her campaign’s math didn’t add up.

“What Haley’s campaign and two affiliated groups actually raised was about $8.3 million. The discrepancy between the Haley campaign’s public statements and the numbers on the filings appear to be a case of double-counting.”

Haley got to $11 million by counting $2.7 million twice — once when it was taken in by her joint fundraising committee and again when it was transferred to two of the other committees.

These two cases are just the latest in a long list of what can be proven to have created the erosion of credibility that faces the Republican Party. Where once the GOP could be a place of think tanks and policy wonks (Jack Kemp) it has become nothing more than an exercise of ruthless power, both in attempting to amass it and then keeping it. As such, we can say the GOP is not only morally-adrift but also lacking in values. It is not news to my readers that the acceptance of lower standards from conservative Republicans is on the rise as many need to shape and morph their own moral and ethical beliefs to reduce differences with Donald Trump since 2016. Just another of the damaging consequences of Trump, which in and of itself is a topic on Caffeinated Politics, as the undermining of our political culture matters in a democracy. The longer-term problem, however, regarding lack of virtue as evidenced by the actions of Thomas for literally decades, to the recent out-right attempt at deception for a political narrative by Haley are glaring examples of what has befallen the party that once viewed Ronald Reagan as a model for pols. Or the decency of George H. W. Bush. That has now all been relegated to history books.

Incoming GOP House Speaker (Kevin McCarthy) Must Lower Hammer On George Santos, Show Nation Politics Must Stand With Values

In the several decades of following politics, I have never known of a story where lies so egregiously and grandiosely told and spun took place regarding a winning congressional candidate. Where in the private sector can lies be so wildly created about one’s resume and that employee not immediately be up for termination? Other than some fringe voters on Long Island who are now able to claim they are not a bigot because ‘I voted for George Santos, a gay man’ there is truly little reason that he should not be rejected by the GOP House caucus.

While we all know that some people in business and politics embellish a CV, it needs to be noted that Santos fabricated a MAJOR portion of his personal biography. While political conservatives like to say they are better than liberals, adhere to higher morals, and are far more interested in good government, they now have a major stage and a national audience to put those words into practice. I do not say that as a partisan, but rather as one who finds the lowering of the bar for our politics, which Santos has furthered, to be of deep concern. The incoming speaker of the House, presumably Kevin McCarty, along with the top GOP leadership must absolutely repudiate and scorn Santos, and push his outlandish behavior and legal issues onto the top of the agenda for the House Ethics Committee. As of this posting, the House Republican leadership has been absent from speaking to the nation about this national disgrace.

While my strong sentiment expressed above is what our political institutions in our country need, and the voters would like to see our politics return to, I admit the odds of that happening are slim to none. But lacking such public accountability by the GOP regarding Santos or taking the appropriate action means reporters and the public must continuously press this issue again and again. The reasons to continue stressing why Santos is not suited to sit in the House are clear for all to see.

After the Christmas holiday, Santos gave two interviews where he admitted never working directly for the financial firms Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, though he was not reluctant to strongly suggest that he had when asking for votes. He also told The New York Post that he didn’t graduate from any college or university, despite claiming he had degrees from Baruch College and New York University. One thing that Santos did want to stress, apart from being forced to fess up for his phenomenal lies, was his belief he had not committed any crimes and sure does wish to serve in Congress.

“I didn’t graduate from any institution of higher learning. I’m embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my resume,” he told the Post, adding that “we do stupid things in life”. Well, at age 34, the voters and the general public have every right to think that doing the ‘stupid things in life’ ended in those crazy college days. Oh, yeah, right, well, not in George’s case. Voters expect their elected representatives to have at least some self-dignity. A major political party simply must demand its elected members conduct themselves with a higher degree of credibility.

The news reports about Santos kept rolling in over the holidays, which included the claims about his grandparents “surviving the Holocaust” as Ukrainian Jewish refugees from Belgium. He had stated they changed their surname but his tale was contradicted by sources including family trees compiled by genealogy websites which undermined his lie. It was laughable to learn that the Santos “family firm’ that supposedly managed $80 million in assets was initially registered at a gynecologist’s office in a Florida office park. Most dishonorable is how Santos even gives conflicting accounts of his mother’s death!

He had told voters of his family-owned real estate portfolio of 13 properties but in the interviews after Christmas admitted he was not a landlord. He acknowledged owing thousands in unpaid rent. But in so doing a larger question then begs to be answered. If his money shortage is such that he has not paid rent how then in 2022 was he able to lend $700,000 to his congressional campaign? Intentionally omitting or misrepresenting information on a congressional financial disclosure is considered a federal crime. There is no way that Santos will be allowed to skirt away from this issue and if the GOP does not think they have a stink bomb attached to their neck with this embarrassment, they are only deluding themselves. Republicans must openly and forthrightly face the mess in their ranks.

Santos seems determined to point out that he had not committed a crime anywhere in the world. That would seem an odd statement to make, however, had it not been for The New York Times reporting they uncovered Brazilian court records showing that he had been charged with fraud as a young man after he was caught writing checks with a stolen checkbook.

The new House speaker, most likely Kevin McCarthy, will set a tone by deciding how to handle George Santos. The nation is watching to see if yet another deepening of the political basement will be allowed to occur. If Santos is seated and faces only bad headlines, it will send a clarion message to all who lack an ability for honesty to know, they too, can gain public office by falsifying their credentials. If Santos is seated and treated with only a slap to his hands it will further demonstrate the shallowness and hypocrisy of the message conservatives continually press. That would be a bad outcome for the GOP which has floundered with its national image since 2016. Worse yet, for the nation, where a strong majority desires that our political compass be recalibrated.

Compromising Principles Ugly To See When Pols Cannot Condemn Termination Of The Constitution

If we had a five-dollar bill for every time an elected Republican dismissively told a reporter, upon being questioned about a stunning statement from Donald Trump, that ‘he says lots of things’ we would be surprised at our pile of cash.  Over the years Trump has poured forth angry tweets about the way women look or how he should be reinstated to office, despite his being rejected by millions of voters in the 2020 election.  But this weekend Trump made a statement, that even by his ‘standards’, was supremely troubling.

Saturday, Trump made clear his desire for the termination of the Constitution’s election provisions so to mesh with his unfounded claims of mass electoral fraud in 2020. The words and tone of his comment were a prime example of what must never be allowed to gain a fraction of an inch in our democracy, especially since we already have suffered serious attacks on the foundations of the country. Such recent history only underscores why this treasonous comment merited quick and overwhelming repudiation. But only a few Republicans found their love of country and self-respect moved them to a microphone. Congressman Mike Turner from Ohio and newly elected congressman Mike Lawler from New York are to be applauded for knowing their high school civics still resonates.

But while watching ABC’s This Week Sunday morning I was truly taken aback by the guarded hesitation of the chair of the Republican Governance Group, Congressman Dave Joyce.  The exchange with George Stephanopoulos was one of those moments when the viewer is not sure whether it is best to cringe and keep going forward or look away and hope it ends soon.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I have to ask you a question about Donald Trump’s statement yesterday talking about suspending the Constitution. Your reaction?

JOYCE: Well, you know, when President Trump was in office, I didn’t make a habit of speaking out on his tweet du jour. I don’t know what came out on is – whatever his new social platform is. But, you know, people were not interested in looking backwards. The people who gave us the majority — and, again, we – we – we barely won it. We barely eked it out. So, let’s be straight about where we’re at. They gave us an opportunity, and we need to perform. And we need to care about the issues that they care about, which is, how do they lower the cost at the pump?

STEPHANOPOULOS: But Donald Trump was your nominee in 2016 and 2020. You voted for him in 2016 and 2020.

JOYCE: Uh-huh.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now he’s talking about suspending the Constitution. Can you support a candidate in 2024 who’s for suspending the Constitution?

JOYCE: Well, again, it’s early. I think there’s going to be a lot of people in the primary. I think, at the end of the day, you will — whoever the Republicans end up pick, I’ll fall in behind because that’s –

STEPHANOPOULOS: Even if it’s Donald Trump and he’s called for suspending the Constitution?

JOYCE: Well, again, I think it’s going to be a big field. I don’t think Donald Trump’s going to clear out the field like he did in ’16.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking you, if he’s the nominee, will you support him?

JOYCE: I will support whoever the Republican nominee is. And just don’t think that, at this point, he will be able to get there because I think there’s a lot of other good quality candidate out there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s a remarkable statement. You just – you’d support a candidate who’s come out for suspending the Constitution?

There is a lot to unpack from that dispiriting display by a member of the GOP who knows better than he allowed the nation to witness. The wish-washy pablum is a weak and dangerous response to the party base that requires some tough and honest conversations so to move the needle away from the lies and utter fabrications designed to smear the electoral process of 2020. Joyce makes the case for what is wrong with a huge portion of the Republican Party.

It is clear that Joyce does not subscribe to the lies about voter irregularities or massive fraud as purported by Trump and yet is willing to support a potential presidential candidate in spite of blatant and provable lies. A democracy can not abide this type of unreasonableness. Such tactics by Trump and his supporters are a direct assault on the foundations of the county and its political institutions.  So, yes, it is more than galling to hear the casual dismissal of Trump’s rant on the Constitution which then allows for his base to continue to claim ‘that’s just Trump being Trump’.

The former president of the United States said portions of the Constitution should be terminated, an open attack on American democracy.  Trump’s behavior over the past 6 years has allowed the GOP to become a cesspool of anti-democratic beliefs.  That was bad enough when he was the one fanning the flames. But when there is an allowance made for his dangerous rhetoric without an absolute and resounding rebuke to Trump’s rhetoric about the Constitution further alerts the majority in the nation that we have even more cause to be worried about our democracy.

Standing Up To Russia Too Big A Task For Modern Republican Party

The United States must continue to lead as a superpower.

History shows that weakness and cowardly behavior are not as wise a path in international affairs as resolve and firmness.  It is a lesson that should not need to be pondered long or tested periodically.  But, alas, here we go again, thanks to some of the ‘leaders’ in the Republican Party.

Playing to the foolish inward-looking elements of his party, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a loud and dangerous signal to the nation that should the GOP win the majority status, he and his fellow party colleagues will likely oppose more aid to stop Russian aggression against the sovereign nation of Ukraine.  This move would be a dreadful stain on our country and a damaging blow to international alliances such as NATO. It would also run counter to the moral high ground and bipartisan regard Congress proved with their unity in authorizing billions of dollars in both U.S. military and humanitarian assistance to help Ukraine and stop Russian President Putin.

It was simply bewildering to witness some of the comments made by very conservative members of the Republican Party regarding the fate of Ukraine as the tensions mounted in Eastern Europe.  The flippant and woefully short-sighted comments from the likes of Tucker Carlson on FOX News show what the Trump base was watching and listening to well before Russian troops amassed in huge numbers to charge into Ukraine.  

“I think we should probably take the side of Russia, if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.”

It was downright pathetic when those comments continued after Russia invaded its neighbor. We sadly need to recall the type of comments that found their way to headlines from the likes of former Republican Congressman Madison Hawthorn.

“Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and it is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

Perhaps most shocking of all, as it underscores how unprepared and uninformed one of the GOP senate nominees is about international policy comes this stunning statement from J. D. Vance.

“I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other.”

Siding with Putin and against Ukraine was always disgusting and will find scorn from those who write history and analyze what character lapses led to such outrageous positions to be held and articulated. It is not uncommon, sadly, for some of the modern elements of the GOP, and especially within the Trump base, to lean into and at times openly embrace authoritarianism while kicking at democracy.   

From a purely political aspect, it is most telling how removed the current GOP is from that place it once called a home base.  Ronald Reagan and those in his administration who knew the power of democracy along with the stench of communism would hurl upon those in the Republican Party who now are weak-kneed at stopping Russian aggression against a sovereign nation.

Reagan knew that power plays among nations do not come cheaply.  His massive arms buildup and military stands did cause, in part, the demise of the Soviet Union as their economy could not truly respond in kind.  I am certain as an American, and not a politico as I write this post, that Reagan would have championed and strongly advocated the authorization, thus far, of upward of $60 billion in aid to Ukraine from our nation.

The international consequences of Russia prevailing in this war of aggression must not be in any way marginalized.  The barbaric actions of Russian troops clearly demonstrate that there is no international agreement that Putin can be counted on to respect. That conduct must not be allowed to stand, be accepted, or be normalized.  China is watching.  Putin has made clear that destroying Ukraine is, for him, as has been widely reported for months an existential, goal.  Again, China is watching.

History proves unless force is met with equal determination a soulless tyrant will not cease pushing forward.  We need only note that Putin’s war and success in Crimea did not quell the appetite within the Kremlin.

I cannot understand how some people in the nation might see inflation and high energy prices in the offing as a reason to withdraw from our obligations as a superpower.  If left up to Fox News viewers much of the federal government would wither on the vine.  But we know from reading history that when lethargy is allowed to take hold, and isolationist policies are pursued there is never an ending that brings anyone pleasure.  Other than for the aggressor.

Qualities Voters Should Demand Of Candidates On Mid-Term Ballot

I have been thinking about the values voters should expect of candidates who ask us for our votes. I need not state the lack of character some candidates are demonstrating or the lack of any leadership being employed by party officials in making it clear there is behavior that simply can not be countenanced. Character and leadership matter in equal parts both during campaign time and also when serving in office. Those qualities can be measured and weighed within the context of history and in line with our shared American values.

“Young Abe Lincoln on Horseback” (Anna Hyatt Huntington, 1963)

Abraham Lincoln is the man I showcase below as he embodied leadership and empathy. I argue that Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War ran in sharp contrast to how Donald Trump abdicated responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. What Trump called ‘his war’. In making my points it becomes more clear what qualities candidates should embody and why voters should desire such people to be elected in the mid-term races.

Even the most jaded high school history student knows the first year of the Civil War was beset by the failures of the Union Army to marshall their military might or demonstrate a clear capacity to engage the Confederates. Bull Run was the most prominent battle in 1861 and we are very aware it was not a success for Lincoln.

The generals of the North were not always known for aggressive behavior. This led Lincoln to undertake a growing responsibility within the White House in waging war. He often changed generals and even championed a more forward-leaning engagement with the South in 1862. But how he came to the point where he felt comfortable within his own skin to use his office in such a manner is due to one factor that speaks volumes about Lincoln. And what we should desire from our elected class this fall, too.

Lincoln had limited military experience from his time in the Black Hawk War. Longtime readers know of my strong recommendation of A Self-Made Man by Sidney Blumenthal where that period of Lincoln’s life is researched and written about in much detail. So, to fill in the empty places of his education Lincoln got his hands on each and every military text he could find. He then read and studied them. He then consulted with his military advisors and learned from experts.

All of that is diametrically opposite to how Trump handled the pandemic, which killed over 1 million Americans. Those who lost their lives in 2021 were caught up in the absurdity of mocking science and adhering to the uneducated discourse which was started in the early months of 2020. By not immersing himself in the science and data, or heeding the advice of professionals in this nation we have all paid a price. What we witnessed was not only Trump’s desire to take no responsibility in dealing competently with the virus but also to not show any empathy for a staggering loss of life among the citizenry.

Lincoln, on the other hand, wore empathy on his sleeve. There could be a book on nothing other than Lincoln’s ability to put himself in the place of another, and the result would be a tome too heavy to lug around. If you want to be moved emotionally read the accounts of mothers who met with Lincoln and urged that their sons not be sent to war and how it pained him so much. Or read the words of his personal assistant, John Hay, regarding how Abe lingered long and hard over letters about those sentenced to die after a military tribunal so ordered it to be done.

What we must acknowledge is the importance that each candidate and elected officeholder must be a reader, a thinker, and have a deep well of empathy. Tribal politics has brought our nation to the dysfunctional place it now resides. Voters have an obligation to be more serious at undertaking their role in electing candidates with character and a compass pointing in the direction of reason and logic.