When faced with challenging circumstances I turn to ancient Chinese philosophy in search of answers. And when the issue is a matter of political leadership I often find myself thinking: what would Mencius say? And so, here are some thoughts on the prospect of Donald Trump as President of the United States from a Mencian point of view.
It is fairly safe to say that Mencius would consider Trump unfit for any sort of exemplary leadership position. Quite simply, Trump sets a bad example. To start, his career as an aggressive, selfish, profit-seeking wheeler-dealer is a problem for Mencius. Let's go to the text:
Yang Hu once said: "One who would be wealthy will not be humane; one who is humane would not be wealthy" [為富不仁矣，為仁不富矣]
This is perfectly in keeping with one of the main themes of the text: how the pursuit of profit destroys moral character. The very first passage of Mencius has him upbraiding a king: "Why must you use that word - "profit?"" And he expands upon the problem in passage 6B4, where he points out that invoking profit as a motive, even for a good cause like stopping a war, inevitably corrodes human relationships:
If you, starting from the point of profit, offer your persuasive counsels to the kings of Qin and Chu, and if those kings are pleased with the consideration of profit so as to stop the movements of their armies, then all belonging to those armies will rejoice in the cessation of war, and find their pleasure in the pursuit of profit. Ministers will serve their sovereign for the profit of which they cherish the thought; sons will serve their fathers, and younger brothers will serve their elder brothers, from the same consideration - and the issue will be, that, abandoning benevolence and righteousness, sovereign and minister, father and son, younger brother and elder, will carry on all their intercourse with this thought of profit cherished in their breasts. But never has there been such a state of society, without ruin being the result of it.
A person obsessed with profit-making will likely be a base and immoral person, unable to to understand more fundamental human qualities such as commiseration and humaneness and reciprocity. In this, Mencius is very much following his forerunner, Confucius. Remember Analects 4.12:
The Master said: "If profit guides your actions, there will be no end of resentment." 子曰：「放於利而行，多怨。」
This is not to say that all business people are, ipso facto, resentful and inhumane persons. Rather, if one is engaged in profit-seeking he or she must be ever vigilant in resisting the morally bad tendencies inherent in profit-seeking. A business person must work especially hard to fulfill the key Confucian virtues of humaneness (ren) and uprightness (yi).
Needless to say, Trump fails in this regard. There is no one in the public eye more crass and greedy and insensitive than Trump. He does not temper profit-seeking with conscientious care of others. Shallow and garish and narcissistic materialism is his very brand. Thus, from a Confucian point of view he is inhumane - bu ren - 不仁.
For Mencius, it is imperative to confront inhumane leaders. In his own time, the Warring States period of Chinese history, it was all too common for kings to be swept up in egotistical pursuits. And Mencius never shied from speaking truth to power and telling them they should get right with Confucian morality or give up their political power. The stakes were high (4A1):
Therefore only the humane should be in high positions. When one lacking in humaneness occupies a high position, his wickedness spreads to everyone. (Bloom translation) - 是以惟仁者宜在高位。不仁而在高位，是播其惡於眾也
It should be noted that all is not lost. While it is certainly bad to have an inhumane individual in a position of power, right-minded people can work to counteract his malign effect through constant public critique, which is what we will do.
Trump supporters might want to argue that we should not take his campaign rhetoric seriously: he was only doing what most politicians do in fighting to win office. But Trump is different. He has taken lying and deception and untruth to new levels, unseen before. And, for Mencius, that matters, as suggested by Bloom's translation of 4A22:
Mencius said: "A person who makes light with his words is not qualified to assume responsibility."
Trump should not assume responsibility because he is, quite clearly, irresponsible and inhumane. Were he a conscientious and well-meaning person he would recognize his own flaws and step away from office. But he won't; so, we will have to be like Mencius and continuously call out his inhumanity.