You probably all know the story by now. President Biden drew chuckles on Friday during his speech welcoming the men’s recently victorious basketball team from the University of Connecticut. A baby in the audience began crying. The President interrupted himself saying, “That’s okay. Look, she’s allowed to do anything you want,” as the sound of cries became very audible in the background. “Kids rule in my house, okay?” the President told the audience. Then, addressing the infant he asked, “What’s the matter?” As the crying continued, he quipped, “I don’t blame you. I’m bored with me, too,” eliciting an explosion of laughter from the crowd.
It was an amusing moment, worthy of the quick wit and self-deprecating humour of John F. Kennedy. My first thought (after having a good laugh out loud) was to wonder how the MAGA crowd would use that against him. My second thought was I couldn’t imagine Donald Trump ever saying something like that.
In fact we already know he wouldn’t. When confronted with the same situation — a baby crying during one of his speeches — Trump showed he had no sense of humor at all. In fact you could tell it irritated him, even made him angry. Nobody, not even an infant child, interrupts Donald Trump.
Naturally defenders of Trump will say it has nothing to do with being an effective president. I say it has everything to do with being an effective president. Character matters, and the ability not to take oneself too seriously is a fundamental building block of character. So is the ability to tell the truth.
This is the point at which the MAGA crowd would say, “Oh yeah, what about Clinton?” Only for once they wouldn’t be talking about Hillary, they would be talking about Bill. “If character matters so much,” I can hear them say, “whatabout the time Bill Clinton lied to the nation and told us ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky’?” The answer is they are right. When Bill Clinton lied to us, it was a low moment in his presidency, a moment he rightly has never been fully forgiven for.
Moreover it was a deep reveal of Clinton’s character. If he would cheat on his wife, if he would disrespect his marriage vows, if he would lie to the nation about it, where did that leave us? Would he cheat on us? Would he break his solemn oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”? These were not rhetorical questions. Though I voted for him twice I, for one, never fully trusted Bill Clinton again.
It’s because character matters. Donald Trump cheated on every woman he ever had a relationship with. He is also a pathological liar. He also has absolutely no sense of humour about himself. Because of his ego and his inability to admit he was wrong about coronavirus, more than a million Americans died from the disease. To this day his followers disdain the vaccine because of Trump. Many of them have died because they refused to take it. In fact, it’s a statistical fact that most Americans who refuse to take the vaccine are Trump supporters. The ones who are still alive, that is.
It’s because character matters. A President’s personal flaws and strengths don’t exist in a vacuum. They profoundly impact the kind of leader he or she will be. President Biden’s calm indulgence of that baby provided an insight into the kind of man he is. He is the kind who made the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine a number one priority. The kind that saw him promise to deliver 100 million vaccine shots in 100 days. Instead he delivered 200 million.
The President’s compassion was what drove him to lower the cost of insulin for diabetics, to establish more new jobs than any other president, to end the senseless war in Afghanistan, to fight for a woman’s right to choose, to deliver the first effective infrastructure package in 20 years.
We all know the President’s record. We all know Trump’s record. Trump’s one legislative achievement was a trillion dollar tax break for corporations, millionaires and billionaires. His one big failed legislative attempt was to try to deny healthcare to 20 million Americans. He is a rotten, horrid person, and it’s revealed by his character. It’s revealed by the peevish, chickenshit messages he sends out on occasions like Mother’s Day and Christmas. Today, as I write this, is Memorial Day morning. No doubt he’ll surprise no with his utterances about this day too.
Because character matters. Character defines who you are. Men and women of character do not behave like Donald Trump. Men and women of character behave like Joe Biden. It really is that simple. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.