Matt Johnson, CCL
Source: Matt Johnson, CCL

Making judgments about the character of others can be very difficult, given the fact that we cannot see into their hearts. However, we make such judgments all the time, and we need to do so. We must judge whether or not others have integrity, for example, to make our way in the world. If my physician, nurse, teacher, or banker behaves in dishonest ways, then rationality requires that I take this into account. As a wise teacher once said, "By their fruits you will know them." It would be unwise to place our trust in someone who seems untrustworthy.

The same applies to our political leaders, including our current president. If he displays behavior that seems to be the fruit of a particular vice, then we have good reason for thinking that he possesses that vice, at least to a degree. Of course, we should spend more time thinking through and seeking to correct our own character flaws. Yet when someone holds power over others, it would be irresponsible to ignore evidence of a flawed character. In light of this, consider an ancient commentary on the vice of pride as it relates to President Trump:

"He must either talk or burst....He hungers and thirsts after hearers, to whom he may vaunt his vanities, to whom he may pour forth all his feelings, to whom his character and greatness may become known....Opinions fly around, weighty words resound. He interrupts a questioner, he answers one who does not ask. He himself puts the questions, he himself solves them, he cuts short his fellow speaker's unfinished words....He does not care to teach you, or to learn from you what he does not know, but to know that you know that he knows." —Bernard of Clairvaux1

An impartial viewing of yesterday's press conference provides ample evidence of these dispositions in Trump, as does his behavior during the campaign and the first month of his presidency. It does not make me happy to say this. As an American, I want every president to succeed. The problem is that the vice of pride has the potential to hinder not only Trump's success in office, but the well-being of many in this nation and around the world. This is why character, especially the character of leaders, is so important. It can impact others in deep and lasting ways, for better or worse.

Soon after the election, I had conversations with some who believed that Trump would change as he felt the weight of the Presidency, that he would rise to the expectations of the office. Unfortunately, there is there is very little evidence of this. For his sake, and the sake of the country, I hope that whatever better angels are present in his character begin to have more say.

We have never had a perfect president, and we never will. But a dose of humility would go a long way in making Donald Trump the kind of leader that is suited for the office.


1. The Steps of Humility (Cambridge University Press, 1940), p. 205.

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