When voting, character counts. The health of the American republican depends on ballots being cast for the most honorable candidates.

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When you go to the polls to vote in Tuesday’s midterm election, if you didn’t vote early, keep one word in mind: character.

The critical importance of that under-emphasized virtue to the health of the republic is eloquently underscored in a wise (as always) essay by David French in The Atlantic magazine’s “The Third Rail” newsletter (available only by subscription).

In his piece, published Monday—“Make Character Great Again”—French, a conservative Christian who previously wrote for the arch-conservative National Review, castigates the appalling lack of character in leaders of Donald Trump’s MAGA (Make America Great Again) political movement and the dire threat they pose to the nation.

“While bad policy can be extraordinarily consequential, our current political dysfunctions are mainly due to bad character,” French writes. “And if you vote for bad character to stop bad policy, you’re making the sickness worse.”

He urged voters to consider the risks the MAGA mob’s bad character inflicts on the future of American democracy:

The conspiracies that culminated in the violent attempted coup on January 6 were entirely the product of one of the most colossal character failures in the history of the United States. Donald Trump’s malicious lies and will to power were the obvious first causes of the riot, but consider the cascading character failures that led to the attack.

Most of Trump’s staff folded. Rather than expose his corruption and resign, they stayed by his side and even joined in the effort to overturn an American election. Most of the Republicans in Congress followed suit. Even the most outspoken of congressional Christians either flatly lied to the American people or willingly followed Trump’s lead. They didn’t have the basic level of courage and integrity necessary to say the truth.

Almost the entire right-wing infotainment industry gave in, too.

This moral corruption driving the dystopian impulses of tens of millions of Americans is not nothing. It seeks to undermine the entire American system of government.

Ironically, French points out, character is what ultimately halted Trump’s shameful scheme to overturn the 2020 presidential election that demolished his re-election bid:

It was the character of judges—including Federalist Society judges [including some appointed by Trump]—who turned back dozens of election challenges. It was the character of members of Congress, including both Democratic and Republican leaders, who decided they would return to the House chamber and finish counting the electoral votes that would secure Joe Biden’s lawful electoral victory.

We can’t forget the character of Mike Pence. While I disagreed with Pence on countless occasions before January 6, he was at the eye of that hurricane, and he stood firm.

This moral corruption driving the dystopian impulses of tens of millions of Americans is not nothing. It seeks to undermine the entire American system of government.

A glaring absence of character in public life, French contends, is “the political equivalent of smoking three packs of cigarettes a day”:

Bad character makes the body politic unhealthy, but it does so often slowly and imperceptibly—until one day you realize that the nation is sick, but the addiction remains.

And that addiction is what puts damaging stressors on the health of democratic institutions, even democracy itself, and eventually can cause collapse.

In a post-January 6 essay, “America’s Near-Death Day,” French wrote that our democracy was one stressor away from complete collapse that fateful day.

But then Republican Vice President Mike Pence decided, albeit probably with some personal political calculation, to do the right thing—after being threatened with political death by his boss and with hanging by MAGA Capitol rioters. He then formally certified the 2020 election results in the U.S. House chamber that declared Joe Biden president of the United States.

French urges voters to vote for character Tuesday, to vote for the kinds of people who would protect, not endanger, American democracy, and who would nurture, not betray, the well-being of all its citizens, not just white, bigoted, Christian nationalist arch-conservatives who believe Donald Trump will take them to a character-optional promised land.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...