You can hate Donald Trump or love him, agree or disagree with his policies, like or dislike his family and associates, but one thing about our 45th president is eminently clear: He is the least virtuous human being ever to occupy the Oval Office.
It only requires a cursory look at the seven cardinal virtues — prudence, chastity, temperance, charity, patience, kindness and humility — to see with unmistakable clarity where we have landed in the age of Trump: with arguably the least humane, least charitable, least humble and (perhaps worst of all) least kind leader of any nation in the free world. Instead, we have elected to lead us in this age of catastrophic inequality, ominous climactic reconfiguration and global religious and cultural conflict, a man whose character is as far from embodying our classical virtues as is Mother Teresa’s from Attila the Hun’s.
In my more than half a century as a full-fledged American voter, I must confess that — opposed as I may have been to some of their policies and ideas — I have never before despised an American president or vice president: not Richard Nixon, not Ronald Reagan, not George W. Bush, not even Spiro Agnew or Dan Quayle.
Although several among them have been small-minded, quasi-illiterate, narrow-thinking, even paranoid, it never occurred to me to actually hate a single one of them. But enter Trump — a man I have despised since I first set sight upon his animus-oozing face in the l970s — and suddenly, to quote the poet W. B. Yeats regarding the events of Ireland’s Easter Rising against British rule in 1916, all is “changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.”
Let me say it very plainly: I now, for the first time in my life, revile my nation’s president — not so much for his policies or his ethics or his deceitfulness and megalomania, but quite simply for who he is. He is a man patently and obviously without kindness or generosity or selflessness or nobility of spirit — an insult to every American president, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, who has served before him.
In his mere five months in office, examples of his almost congenital meanness, his disdain for women and the disabled, his utter lack of compassion and forgiveness, and his transparent greed, lust for power and obliviousness to the most basic principles of democratic governance are so legion as to exhaust the powers to describe. I’m visiting Europe, and the question I have been asked time and time again is: “How could you Americans elect a man like that?”
We Americans, to be sure, have had our share of less-than-saintly characters. Reagan gave us Iran-Contra; President John F. Kennedy nearly turned the White House into the Playboy Mansion; President Ulysses S. Grant gave us corruption and financial misconduct; President John Tyler became the first American head of state to face impeachment; Presidents Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore upheld the Fugitive Slave Act; President Warren Harding presided over the Teapot Dome Scandal and was hardly a model of presidential monogamy; Nixon, of course, gave us Watergate; and President Bill Clinton gave us Monica Lewinsky.
But, for sheer mendacity of character, for lack of concern for the poor, the unfortunate and the disabled, for open disdain and disrespect for women, for the complete absence of any of our cardinal virtues, our 45th president has no rival.
What is, in fact, amazing about Trump is that the ability to dislike him transcends politics, party, even some of the most basic disagreements that seem to so bitterly divide us. He certainly is one of kind — a kind, I pray fervently for all our sakes, we shall never see the likes of in our highest office again.
Blumenthal is retired as a visiting professor of law at West Virginia University.