I’ve said it so often, I occasionally need to be reminded that I didn’t coin the phrase. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus did, when he observed “ethos anthropoi daimon,” most often translated as “man’s character is his fate.”
Character is one of those topics, like culture or morality, that everyone strongly supports yet also argues about. When James Q. Wilson, one of the greatest social scientists of the last half-century, turned his scholarly attention to character, many of his colleagues in academia were repulsed. Even though every one of them surely believed in some notion of good character, it was assumed that to talk of it, let alone seek a definition of it or a plan for how to cultivate it, would be an exercise in lending aid and comfort to the moralizers of the right.
Weirdly, it’s gotten to the point that when I say President Trump is not a man of good character, I feel like I should preface it with a trigger warning for many of my fellow conservatives.
To be sure, ideology plays a role. It amplifies the anger from both his left-wing critics and his transactional defenders. Many of the liberal critics shrieking about the betrayal of the Kurds implicit in his decision to withdraw from Syria would be applauding if a President Clinton had made the same decision. And many of the conservatives celebrating the move would be condemning it.
So trump has a bad character. Tell us something that we don’t already know.
Still, what does it say about America that we elected him?