The conventions are over. Trump and Clinton have delivered their acceptance speeches outlining their visions for America. Now, you must judge those visions. Which one are you prepared to follow? Which one would you be proud following?
In 2008, I wrote a book entitled Want Get Fooled Again: A Voter’s Guide to Seeing Through the Lies, Getting Past the Propaganda, and Choosing the Best Leaders (Amacom, 2008) In chapter six of that book, I discuss how to evaluate a leader’s vision. I call this the Values Test.
In my book, I discuss two types of ethical dilemmas we all face and that leaders, in particular, face: choices between right and wrong and choices between right and right.
Codes of ethics usually steer you and should steer leaders in the proper direction when it comes to right vs. wrong. Every religion in the world provides rules for how we should respond when faced with a right vs wrong decision.
Here are some.
- African Traditional—One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts. Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)
- Baha’i—Oh Son of Being! Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it. Arabic Hidden Words 29
- Buddhism—Comparing oneself to others in such terms as “Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I,” he should neither kill nor cause others to kill. Sutta Nipta 705
- Christianity—Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. Bible, Matthew 7:12
- Confucianism—Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself and you will find that is the shortest way to benevolence. Mencius VII.A4 and Tsetung asked, “Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?” Confucius replied, “It is the word shu—reciprocity: Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” Analects 15.23
- Hinduism—One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality. All other activities are due to selfish desire. Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 113.8
- Islam—Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 13
- Jainism—A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated.
- Judaism—When he went to Hillel, he said to him, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn.” Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
- Taoism—Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain and your neighbor’s loss as your loss. T’ai-shang Kang-ying P’ien
Right vs Wrong decisions should be pretty easy. Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal.
But what about other types of ethical dilemmas, right vs right? Here are some of those:
- It is right to protect the endangered spotted owl in the old-growth forests of the American Northwest—and right to provide jobs for loggers.
- It is right to provide our children with the finest public schools available—and right to prevent the constant upward ratcheting of state and local taxes.
- It is right to extend equal social services to everyone regardless of race or ethnic origin—and right to pay special attention to those whose cultural backgrounds may have deprived them of past opportunities.
- It is right to refrain from meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign nations—and right to help protect the undefended in warring regions where they are subject to slaughter.
- It is right to resist the importation of products made in developing nations to the detriment of the environment and/or loss of American jobs—and right to provide jobs, even at low wages, for citizens of those nations.
- It is right to engage in pre-emptive war if by doing so you can protect the lives and property of millions—and right to go to war only as a last resort.
- It is right to allow corporations the maximum freedom to make money for their stockholders and right to insist that they not do so at the expense of their employees, the environment and/or the communities in which they operate.
- It is right to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent another 9/11 type terrorist attack and right not to use torture to get information from suspected terrorists.
We all expect, or at least I hope we expect, anyone offering themselves to become President of the United States to have a strong sense of moral values to guide them in making right vs wrong decisions. But, how do they answer the right vs right ones. More importantly, by voting for them you are signing onto their vision. Are you comfortable with the way they propose that we as a nation resolve the inherit conflict between right vs. right?
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Will the implementation of the vision involve the commission of immoral, unethical and/or illegal acts? Are you comfortable not just with the goal of the leader's vision but how he/she proposes to achieve that goal?
- Who wins and loses if the vision is implemented and succeeds? What are the net benefits and costs and to whom? Does the vision maximize social benefits and minimize social injuries? Are people treated fairly?
- Is the vision consistent with the moral rights of those whom it will affect? How will minorities be impacted? Do we have a special obligation to protect the weak and powerless? Will their rights be protected?
- Will implementation of the vision result in people being tricked, deceived, or exploited in any way? Will there be full disclosure?
- Will the people who will be impacted by the vision have a choice of whether or not to comply with the vision? Is their choice a realistic and meaningful one? Could they actually choose not to comply with the requirements of the vision?
- Will the vision lead to a just distribution of benefits and burdens or will some individuals or groups be unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged?
- Is the vision based upon fundamental guiding principles of conduct everyone should follow? Would you want these principles to be applied to you?
While you are at it you might ask these additional questions:
- Would your mom follow the vision or tell your leader to stuff it? Would she be proud of you if you followed the vision?
Hope this helps as you decide how to vote this November.
 Adapted from Dalla Costa, The Ethical Imperative, 141-142.
 Except for the last six, these are listed in Rushworth M. Kidder, How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living, (New York: William Morrow, 1995): 16-17.
 Adapted from Manual G. Velasquez, Business Ethics: Concepts and Cases, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998):. 128.