Does character matter anymore in electing the president of the United States? It certainly did not in this election.

Donald Trump’s stunning upset of Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s presidential election is evidence that people care little about character anymore. Those who voted for Trump care more about acting on their own insecurities or satisfying their own selfish needs: suppressing minorities, rounding up Muslims, turning back the clock to the ’50s, getting a big tax cut, deporting Mexicans who clean houses, mow lawns, or spread hot tar on roofs.

Trump’s sex tape? In this media-saturated world, why, that’s old news, seeing as it happened way back in October. Bigotry, sexual assault, xenophobia, it seems, are no longer a reflection of character and fitness for the highest office in the land. Outrageous behavior has become entertainment for the masses, with audiences expecting new revelations with every news cycle or they grow bored and indifferent.

There is nothing partisan in the observation that Trump is the most reprehensible character ever to win the presidency. Set aside his character flaws for a moment. He has no history of public service at any level at any time in his life. He hasn’t even played a politician on television.

Trump certainly is not the first imperfect character to be elected president, but he is unlike any other in his unapologetic defense of his racial, ethnic and cultural prejudices, his playing the tax code, cheating on his wives, treating other women like meat, and short-changing subcontractors and others in business transactions who are in no position to stand up to a billionaire bully.

Bill Clinton was elected president despite his own penchant for womanizing, as Trump hypocritically reminded us again and again when he could have been talking about himself. It would be ridiculous to compare Clinton to Trump in either comportment, intellect, or commitment to public service.

Hillary Clinton speaks to hundreds in attendance at Sunset Station. Photo by Scott Ball.
Hillary Clinton speaks to thousands of supporters at Sunset Station. Photo by Scott Ball.

Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, a successful governor of Arkansas, and an articulate, magnetic candidate with a clear agenda to move the country forward. He was presidential material, so voters overlooked his human failings.

Cable television journalists jockeying for ratings helped elect Trump with their wall-to-wall coverage of his candidacy, each outrageous and offensive sound bite building to the next one. There was no space, on stage or on air, for more moderate voices. One by one, Trump’s Republican primary adversaries grew more shrill, yet none could compete with the party’s new fearmonger.

Trump is the closest thing America has seen to a fascist, a nationalist with an uninformed, radical view of the world and an unmistakable authoritarian streak. Lock up Hillary, deport million of Mexicans, ban the entries of millions of Muslims, register Muslim citizens, bomb all our adversaries.

At a microphone or on Twitter, Trump cannot control himself, not his own self-exaggerations or his loathing for anyone who dares to challenge him. Only with the greatest effort were those surrounding Trump able to contain him in the closing days of the campaign. Only by making Trump seem like someone he is not were his handlers able to push him across the finish line to victory, even as he lost the popular vote.

Donald Trump looks behind his shoulder before he calls Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz to the podium to speak. Photo by Scott Ball.
Donald Trump looks behind his shoulder before he calls Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz to the podium to speak. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Trump the president-elect is no different than Trump the candidate. President Obama awkwardly grasped for words in calling on all Americans to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. With all due respect, Mr. President, it is Trump who must work to earn our respect. I doubt he can do it. Trump the candidate is a man to fear in the Oval Office. Now more than ever, he needs to be held accountable. Trump denying that he means what he says is not good enough. We do not believe him.

Trump bragging on tape about his perverted delight in openly groping and molesting women and having the power and wealth to do so with impunity stunned the nation — for a couple of weeks. Even after months of Trump 24/7, we were astonished by his off-camera vulgarity. The man who is now president-elect gleefully boasted about trying without success to score a quick ‘f—‘ with a married woman after bribing her with a furniture shopping spree even as his pregnant third wife waited at home.

We know what this says about President-elect Trump. What does it say about us?

Well, looking around Bexar County at the red precincts, it says that our wealthiest residents, the majority of whom voted for Trump, will forgive anything for a good tax break and less regulation of industry. It also says white, Christian voters, both in the suburbs and in the rural reaches of the county, voted for someone who behaves in ways, they believe, will be condemned for eternity in a burning hell. We get that they didn’t like Hillary. But how did born-again voters reconcile a Trump vote with their belief system? Somehow, the readings on Sunday moral compasses read differently on Election Tuesday.

Clinton supporters show concern as election results continue to come in.
Clinton supporters show concern as election results continue to come in. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

To be fair, those who voted for Hillary Clinton and shed tears at the election of Trump were more than willing to forgive Clinton her own transgressions. Hillary and Bill left the White House millions of dollars in debt in legal fees resulting from his own bad behavior. Yet in a relatively short time period, the Clintons have grown fabulously wealthy with a combined net worth estimated at $111 million. They didn’t do it the old-fashioned way. They peddled influence. Both delivered dozens and dozens of canned speeches for hundreds of thousands of dollars and more before audiences that coveted or needed access.

The Clinton Foundation has done incredible work around the world, especially in Africa, in helping to contain AIDS and other diseases, and by helping people few other international organizations or governments have cared to help. But it also is true that the foundation accepted significant contributions from corrupt tyrants. Foundation business was mixed with access to Secretary of State Clinton and the people around her.

Ardent Clinton supporters are guilty of minimizing such behavior. Still, Hillary was eminently more qualified than Trump to serve as president. Her public service résumé is stellar, Benghazi disinformation and private email server hysteria notwithstanding. Her achievements as a woman in a man’s world cannot be underestimated.

About 100 anti-Trump demonstrators gather outside the Grand Hyatt hotel before a private Trump fundraiser.
About 100 anti-Trump demonstrators gather outside the Grand Hyatt hotel before a private Trump fundraiser. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

No recent presidential contest has seen two less loved or admired candidates than Clinton and Trump, but it is Trump, the unfit candidate from reality television, who will take the oath as the 45th president on Jan. 20, 2017.

He is likely a one-term president. Americans always come to regret the consolidation of power by one political party. We have not seen such one-party domination of the three branches of government and the majority of the statehouses in generations.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Arizona earlier this year. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Arizona earlier this year. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

The pendulum eventually will swing back the other way. It always does. Until then, to borrow from Hillary, “This is painful, and it’s going to be for a long time,” at least for one side.

So we know what Trump represents. Even those who voted for him know, deep down, that he lacks the character to serve as commander-in-chief.

What does the election say about us, we the voters? The inescapable conclusion is that millions of Americans set aside character as a measure that matters in electing a new president. After four years of Trump, we can hope voters will be ready to restore traditional measures for choosing a president. Character might once again matter, both the character of the candidates and, looking into the mirror, the character of we voters.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.