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Betsy Kneepkens: Painful election shows how much character matters in our elected leaders this year

Another presidential election is upon us. I have always been a bit of a political buff, even briefly majoring in the subject while in college. Politics as it relates to faith is a constant dialogue in our household, to the extreme that some of my children have asked for their birthday cake decorated as a politician’s yard sign.

As Catholics, we are called to be faithful citizens, which means to me not only being faithfully involved in the political process but taking our faith into the voting booth and engaging in the process all year long. I think this lesson is important for my children to know as well.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Being a faithful citizen is always challenging, but this election cycle has been particularly difficult for me. I feel a responsibility to engage my children in the process. Four of my six children are now voting age, but I am struggling to show them any clarity in regards to the issues. In many ways, I feel trepidation for the outcome of this election no matter how it ends up.

There is one election promise I have heard over and over again, and it is something that has been recited by all parties in nearly every election. The politicians always vow to be a leader that creates a better future for our children and grandchildren. Who wouldn’t want something like this? I have absolutely agreed with politicians when they said that — until this election cycle. I am now unsure of what people running for office mean by this statement. I worry that my vision of what a great future is may be different from what these politicians seek for our children.

A leader, by virtue of role, calls followers to follow them. If the starting point of change is the leader, then where these candidates may be leading my children and ultimately my grandchildren is a place I do not want them to go. Maybe for some reason I am more sensitive this election cycle than in others, but I have been hearing and seeing behavior I do not want my children to emulate — behavior which, if my children follow it, will lead to less virtuous and less fulfilling lives, rendering the hope of a better future nearly impossible.

I don’t want my children to follow people who say what their audience wants to hear and change what they say based on who might be listening. Children should see leaders taking a stand and proclaiming that position no matter the makeup of the audience. I am not saying that a politician can’t change their opinion, but the change should evolve as they learn more about the issue. More specifically, children should learn from leaders that you should never change your position solely based on what you can get from your constituents but rather because you found a better way to bring good to others. Sadly I think the lack of clarity in this election has little to do with principles and much more about getting votes and ultimately obtaining power.

As a leader, you should seek solutions and not use insults to carry you out of a disagreement. Our children and our grandchildren will get nowhere if it is more comfortable to insult than to solve. Worse yet, it seems untruthfulness is the common response to bad judgment or behavior, and invoking forgetfulness is the means of answering for falsehoods. If that were not bad enough, our leaders seem to be teaching our children that there is greater fault in how one finds misdeeds than in the transgressions themselves.

I have tried to teach my children that real character is doing the right thing when no one is looking; sadly they are learning from those much more powerful than I am to do as you please and make it so no one is looking. If your behavior might be discovered, conceal it from public view or destroy the record altogether.

What makes this whole situation even more disheartening for me is that the leaders who have emerged have been voted in by the populace. Do we want our children to live in a place that is comfortable using deception, insincerity, rudeness and a win-at all-costs mentality? Is this really what a better future for our children should look like? No question that the public arena is complicated, diverse and at times dangerous, but isn’t being a leader of virtue a great foundation for those solving larger problems?

Admittedly, I feel ill-equipped to navigate my children through this election process. We have grand problems that will make the future of our children challenging at best. But greater than the problems of policy this country faces is the lack of leadership with character at its core. It goes without saying that solving many of our nation’s problems we will require more money, more time and more resources, but to really make life better for our children, we need future generations to emulate leaders who show a consistent ethic, which ultimately leads to honoring each other. It is in this holding up of each other that these greater problems will be solved.

Although I am not skilled enough to steer my children out of this situation directly, I do know that I can show them that there is no better time to believe in the hope of Christ. As faithful Catholics, hope in Christ alone will circumvent whatever political rubbish we encounter, ensuring my children and my children’s children a future that is truly better. With that knowledge my children can withstand any political race they encounter.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.