Having principles vs. being principled

A snip of the the New York Times website on Jan. 11, 2024, quoting a Trump voter who likes his man because "he has principles."

“He’s got principles, that’s the key feature here,” says this guy. But having principles ain’t being principled, as Donald Trump has demonstrated all his life.

The caption of this New York Times story, found on its homepage today, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2024, caught my eye. Not to pick on Jan Altena, a 69-year-old grandfather from Orange City, Iowa — he’s entitled to his opinions.

But it’s important to distinguish “he’s got principles” with “he’s principled.”

Donald Trump certainly has principles. They include:

  • It’s fine to mock prisoners of war and the physically challenged.
  • It’s OK to (allegedly) sleep with a porn star when my wife is pregnant.
  • Cheating is fine as long as I don’t get caught.
  • Telling lies is no sweat as long as it advances my personal cause.
  • My personal cause is paramount to all other considerations, always.

To be principled, on the other hand, means to behave in an honest and moral way.

Donald Trump has principles.

So did Stalin, Pol Pot, and the Unabomber.

None of them was principled — particularly in what I would guess is in the traditional, good-people, Midwestern way Altena in all probability espouses personally.

Trump is not principled.

Having principles is not a precondition for successful democratic leadership. Being principled should be.