Ostensibly because virtue matters, Bret Stephens openly admits that he wishes Hillary Clinton was president. Somehow still with her in 2018, and apparently unaware or completely uninterested in her catalogue of scandals, the New York Times' newest conservative columnist believes she possess a higher moral character than Donald Trump.
No one disagrees that virtuous leaders make better presidents, and the columnist is correct to point out that the culture of the White House shapes politics and colors our society. But magnanimity of one man is actually the requisite virtue of monarchy. The chief virtue of democracy is the prudence of the electorate, the ability of the people to weigh changing circumstances in light of permanent principle.
With clear eyes and conflicted consciences, many voters pulled the lever for an unethical man. They didn’t dismiss his failings — as the exit polls hint, they were well aware of them. And they contextualized them.
The voters were more offended by the systematic bullying of sexual assault victims by Clinton than by Trump's habitual womanizing and unseemly bragging. They had more faith in an admitted serial adulterer than in a woman who lied continually about everything from sniper fire in Bosnia to a dead ambassador in Benghazi. In short, they distrusted her more than they disliked him.
Whether or not they made the correct decision remains to be seen. As Stephens points out, there has been a Trump scandal to go with every Trump accomplishment: a dismissed James Comey with an appointed Neil Gorsuch, historic tax cuts with infamous attacks on the free press, a deregulated economy with an ethically challenged administration.
But add up all those pluses and minuses outside Manhattan and it’s hard to argue that life isn’t improving for the people. You know, that one group government is specifically instituted to represent and benefit.
Don’t misunderstand. This isn’t to argue that the ends justify the means. It is only to say that, confronted with two bad choices, the electorate quickly arrived at the obvious conclusion that Clinton was less trustworthy than Trump, and accordingly, made a decision. They subsequently placed their faith in a constitutional system designed to check the ambitions and excess of human nature.
And so far, it’s pretty much worked out that way. The judiciary has shown itself capable of pushing back executive overreach. Congress has channeled White House energy into generally conservative legislation for the common good. Journalists have aggressively policed the administration. In short, the checks are balancing and the system is working.
The story would be different had Trump been crowned at the inauguration, establishing a monarchy to be populated by his multi-mothered offspring. All that would matter then would be his benevolent magnanimity.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Trump will occupy the Oval Office only so long as he serves the interest of the people — either three more or seven more years at most.
And democracy will endure because the dusty politicos who started this whole experiment in self-government designed a constitutional system driven by a sovereign people. Their genius was in creating incentives for self-interested men to make the right decisions, even for the wrong reasons.
So buck up, Bret. And remember, courage will always be a virtue, breathless exaggeration a vice.