As our governor launches his quest for the support of the Republican Party, and later the country as a whole, for his presidential aspirations, it would seem to be a good time to evaluate his qualifications for this position.
There are numerous ways to do this, many of which are obvious and would apply to anyone seeking high public office.
What offices has the candidate run for?
What offices has the candidate held?
What is the candidate’s record as an office holder?
What are the candidate’s positions on critical challenges facing our country?
All these are important things to know, and many more questions just like these come readily to mind. But knowing such nuts-and-bolts things about a candidate only gets us so far, I believe, particularly when the candidate is seeking the presidency of the United States of America.
In short, I think we need to do our best to know what sort of human being our candidate is — their values, their sense of right and wrong, their decency, their courage, their composure, their coolness under fire, if they have had occasion to display these things, a whole range of intangible qualities that, taken together, make up a person’s character.
An old-fashioned word, character, is not talked about as much as it used to be. We seem more transfixed, in this internet age, with glitter and glam and showmanship, with who is polling the best, who is pulling ahead in the horserace that political observers invariably tell us is picking up speed. I would readily admit to being a political junkie and reveling in this stuff along with most of my fellow citizens who obsessively follow our politics. But it isn’t really enough, is it?
We should, I think, look for moments that tell us something about the character of the candidate, and we have such a moment before us right now.
Over the last several days, two flights have touched down at airfields in Sacramento, California, carrying dozens of immigrants — men, women, and children seeking asylum in this country from unstable and violent Latin American countries like Venezuela and Columbia. They had made the incredibly dangerous trek across Central America and Mexico, had crossed into the United States at El Paso,Texas, and had received dates at various court locations around the country where, pursuant to government policy, their asylum cases could to be heard. These amazingly brave and desperate people were doing the right thing.
They were, however, approached in El Paso by two agents, reportedly speaking broken Spanish, who deceived them by promising transportation to a place where they would find jobs waiting for them. They had no idea where they were going until they got off the aircraft in California, and one group was unceremoniously dumped and abandoned outside the offices of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Sacramento (which had received no notification of their arrival and was closed at the time). Those agents, it turns out, represented the Division of Emergency Management of the state of Florida. Speaking to the press at the Arizona border on Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the flights Florida taxpayers paid for as a way to punish “sanctuary jurisdictions” and took obvious satisfaction in making states like California “very, very upset.” Retribution seems to be a guiding principle in Republican circles these days, no matter what the human cost.
So my question for the governor, is this: Will he be proud of this incident and what it tells us about his character?
Could he repeat these words, uttered by an earlier president toward the end of his tragically shortened time in office? “Moral cowardice,” Abraham Lincoln said, “is something which I think I never had.”
Charles B. Dew, a native of St. Petersburg, is Ephraim Williams Professor of American History, emeritus, at Williams College.