In his column in this morning’s NY Times David Brooks seems to suggest that we should evaluate the Trump presidency by dividing the president elect into two. On the one hand, we’ll have the Trump who will send out late night tweets, ranting and raving against those whom he sees as enemies, making strange policy pronouncements, commenting on product lines or movie stars (Trump #1). On the other, we’ll have the Trump who sits in the Oval Office and works with his staff, crafting the nation’s agenda and working to implement economic, domestic, and foreign policy (Trump #2). Brooks argues that we shouldn’t evaluate Trump #2 by what Trump #1 might say or tweet. Almost as if they are two different people, unconnected in all but appearance.
Certainly there is precedent for this idea. We have long understood that the private behavior of the president does not necessarily reflect on his ability to do the job, to lead the nation, to be the voice for all Americans. Bill Clinton’s indiscretions come to mind. So do JFK’s, the famous Camelot of early 60s Washington now tarnished by the probing scope of history. But there does seem to be a limit. Nixon’s image was irreparably damaged by Watergate, crossing the line from indiscretion to illegality the way he did. Nevertheless, at the end of the day evidence indicates that we want someone in the office who can do the job, whether or not they are a paradigm of moral rectitude and probity. Whether or not they are a person of integrity.
Of course integrity has another meaning, commonly the second definition you’ll find when you look it up in the dictionary. From its verb form, ‘to integrate,’ the word also means the state of being whole and undivided. That is to say that the outside of a person matches the inside, the public persona and private persona are one and the same. This is a challenge for members of the clergy. Publicly we espouse certain values, we sermonize about faith and our fellow man, we challenge our congregants to become better people (and for rabbis better Jews!). But privately we may struggle with our own faith. We may all too often give in to our baser instincts, over time souring and sinking in a sea of cynicism. We may begin to look at others and wonder what they want from us, instead of what we can give to them. This may be all too human, but it is not holy.
There is an old midrashic comment about the ark that contained the tablets that Moses brought down from Sinai. According to Torah text that ark was gilded with gold, both on the outside, and the inside. Of course the outside makes sense – that is what is visible to the world, so when the people looked at the ark they saw the beautiful gold gleaming in the sun. But why bother with gold on the inside, a part of the ark that no one saw? The answer, of course, is that the inside is just as important as the outside. At the end of the day the people we are most impressed with are those whose inner qualities shine through, creating a brighter light than any polished gold ever could.