Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has often promised that, if elected, he will recruit the very ‘best people’ to improve the federal government. To those who favor a smaller, smarter federal government, it’s an appealing idea. It also appeals because our need for ‘the best people’ to run the republic is old and enduring. Representative government is only as good as the people in it: if people of low character become prevalent, the quality of representation suffers and the power delegated to officials ends up being misused.
Yet Trump is in a poor position, politically and morally, to bring the best people to government. Politically, he has set himself up as an antagonist of the establishment. For more than a year, he has railed against the political class, not limiting his attacks to issues of policy, but assailing the character and achievements of many people who have painstakingly built up a reputation for public service. Remarkably, Trump has not confined his attacks to members of the opposite party. He has also insulted many within the GOP, his own adopted party, which could normally be expected to supply talent for a Republican administration. Serving in a Trump administration would be politically risky. Many leading Republicans, in and out of government, have openly repudiated him, leaving one to imagine a Cabinet populated by hangers-on like Chris Christie, Trump’s own children, or his loyal lieutenant Kellyanne Conway.
It’s difficult to recruit ‘the best people’ without belonging to the best class oneself. Here Trump’s cratering social reputation will be felt. Last week, the media’s focus shifted from the implications of Trump’s political positions to his personal conduct and mores. Allegations of his sexual misconduct are multiplying, sparked by a leaked tape in which Trump boasted of his indecent behavior toward women in lewd and contemptuous terms. Whatever claim Trump had to personal decency has been destroyed. Respectable people are censuring him loudly.
The issue of social integrity is distinct from the issue of Trump’s politics. Who would care to sit next to him at a dinner party? Who would feel honored to shake his hand? Until lately a popular celebrity, Trump’s own words have supplied grounds for branding him a pariah. Were he to win in November, he would make a poor figurehead for a country whose creed is the equal enjoyment of inalienable rights.
To summarize: Trump arouses political and moral aversion in people who might otherwise be his supporters and colleagues. The aversion is not just to Trump’s views but to his very personality. Yes, Trump’s tactics and policies arouse aversion, but so do Ted Cruz’s. Cruz, though, combines political iconoclasm with some personal probity. In this, he resembles the antebellum radical John Calhoun, whose ultra pro-slavery views combined with a cold rectitude and formality that impressed even his political enemies. How different is Donald J. Trump, whose claims to social respectability are evaporating.
Were voters to catapult Trump to the top of the government, it’s difficult to imagine his improving on the caliber of the talent it attracts. How many able, forward-looking people of good character would decide that serving Trump is something worth doing? Shunned by the ‘best people,’ President Trump could find it tough to deliver on the promise of better government.
Image: Aerial of a winding mountain road,
© 2016 Susan Barsy