You don’t have to hate Trump to want a better president

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Steer N' Stein bar at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 12, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/TNS)

It’s a common accusation: “You just hate Trump.” But this dismissive assertion always implies a subtext: “Your hatred of Trump blinds you to his virtues and accomplishments.”

Sometimes this “hatred” of Trump is called TDS—Trump Derangement Syndrome; again, your derangement has made it impossible for you to evaluate Donald Trump fairly.


But whether one is deranged or genuinely hates Trump is irrelevant to this essential fact: Putting aside for a moment his less-than-impressive four years in office and his burgeoning tendencies toward authoritarianism, Donald J. Trump is just not a good man.

Of course, this is only an assertion, and if you’re one of Trump’s millions of devoted supporters, you’ve already stopped reading.

But if you’re among those Americans who are as yet uncommitted to either side—the ones who may make the difference in the election of 2024—consider the role that a candidate’s basic character should have in how we choose who leads our nation.

I’m not an expert on the 45 men (Grover Cleveland was president twice) who we’ve elected to our highest office, but I’ve devoted part of the last few years to reading their biographies. I’ve made my way up through H.W. Brand’s “Reagan: The Life.” I haven’t skipped any, not even Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore.

The presidency has been occupied by many flawed men. Some have been slaveholders, Indian killers, drinkers, incompetents, adulterers, liars and corrupt cowards. Others have been decent, honest, skillful, hardworking family men, upright, honorable and principled.

Mostly, though, our presidents have been messy combinations of defects and virtues. In short, they’re like us, apt representatives of our complicated national psyche.

But in terms of basic character, have we ever had a president like Trump?

Richard Nixon was a liar, but he lied with purpose, to cover up, for example, his connection to Watergate. He never boasted about the size of the crowd at his inauguration to make himself look good.

John F. Kennedy was fond of women who were not his wife, but, as a rule, he didn’t treat women as disposable adjuncts to his ego. Other presidents were philanderers, as well, but none publicly ridiculed women for their looks or called them pigs, dogs or maggots.

And Ronald Reagan, who probably did more than anyone to create and propagate the dismissive contempt for the federal government that so many Americans feel, embodied a profound respect and appreciation for our constitutional system. It is impossible to imagine Reagan attempting to subvert a legitimate election because he couldn’t bear being called a loser.

In short, 44 men have served as president; then there’s Donald Trump.

Here’s the odd thing: I’m acquainted with some of the people who, in their defense of Trump, have accused me of hating him. They, as a rule, are not liars. They never cheat on their wives or, if they did, they would feel guilty and not brag about it. They care more about their children than they do about themselves.

They don’t contrive to defraud others. They pay their bills. They don’t brag. They’re generally able to accept defeat (except Trump’s, of course) without whining and complaint. They’ve never gone bankrupt and never been indicted for a slew of felonies.

No, the people who charge me with hating Trump are generally good people who have more character than the man they’re defending.

How much should character matter when we’re choosing a president? Trump’s defenders may argue that the quality of his administration compensates for his character flaws. But that’s a hard case to sustain in light of the wall he promised to build but never did, the $8 trillion that he added to the national debt, his shaky response to COVID and his promotion of a culture of disunity, anger, grievance and complaint.

In short, you don’t have to be filled with hatred or deranged to want someone in the White House with better character than Trump. Or to imagine that we could fill the office with a man — or woman! — who is at least as good as most of us are.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Texas and can be reached at