Saturday, October 3, 2020

Why personal character matters in political offices

I realized that in my recent posts on political offices, I haven't explicitly stated why I think that the character of a political candidate can make them unworthy of an office even if their opponent's policies seem unacceptable. Here's why.

When a person is in a position of power, the way they view power will affect how they use power. And that use will spread to other people in power. A corrupt president will breed more corruption. A leader who is guilty of - or even apathetic about - sexual violence will spawn more sexual violence. A racist leader will encourage more racism. There are very few political issues that can override these sorts of problems. Violence and corruption will ruin any society, no matter how "right" the leaders may be on any particular issue. But more to the point, individuals will suffer at the hands of their leaders if those leaders don't meet a certain bar of morality. So to uphold an immoral leader is to share responsibility for the suffering that they cause. Of course I'm not saying that you're responsible for every action of the people you vote for. But if you know that their world view justifies abuse of some group of people, and you support them anyway, then you are responsible.

I want to share a quote that I think is relevant here. It's from church, so I want to make it clear that I'm not claiming that the church endorses my position exactly. But here it is. It's from a letter from the First Presidency that is read in church (in this form or something very similar) pretty much whenever a major election is near:

...citizens are to seek out and then uphold leaders who will act with integrity and are wise, good, and honest.

Now if you read it in context, the candidate's morality isn't the only thing mentioned. Issues matter too. But to me, the fact that this doesn't say "seek out and then uphold leaders whose views are on the right side of the issues" is significant.

So, why would a good person vote for someone immoral? I'm afraid that one reason is that sometimes an immoral leader will benefit you. Their policies might actually grant you additional wealth, freedom, or (ick!) some special privilege over another group. Sometimes the opponent is even worse, and I understand the desire to vote for the lesser of two evils to prevent the larger one. But I fear that some people stop thinking even that way, and happily uphold leaders who are downright evil, because those leaders are (for the moment) providing some benefit. And of course, if you find yourself in that group, then you are absolutely responsible for the actions and policies that you are supporting.