Leadership, Part 2 or Making Things Happen for the People

Posted on December 20, 2015

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A week ago we wrote an introductory piece on leadership. That subject should be on the minds of all readers and voters as we move—finally—into the last eleven months of the 2016 presidential campaign. I don’t know about you, but I plan to vote for the best leader in the gaggle running for president.

What does that mean? Being a good leader? Does it involve intelligence, morality, responsibility, integrity, and political ideology, for example, in an election to public office? Yes, of course, but it also involves being able to make things happen at the highest level in this country. And those things have to be for the good and welfare of the nation and its people, keeping in touch with our national culture and history.

Abraham Lincoln phrased it much better, for all times in fact, in his last line at the address he made to remember the fallen at the Battle of Gettysburg: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Last week I left you with the thought that good judgement—a sine qua non for a good leader—comes from long experience, and that often comes from bad decisions and judgements which then teach you what good ones should be.

An important ancillary of good leadership is that good leaders know how to reflect the pulse of the people. Now before you jump from that to “reading the polls,” let’s examine it a bit.

I am writing here of how thoughts and principles that are sometimes considered creative or novel or perceptive in different areas of society, religion, morality, or law for example are often received with great enthusiasm by readers or listeners because they reflect clearly the way people think.

Or, put another way, when Thomas Jefferson, for example, wrote into the Declaration of Independence that all men were created equal, and “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” Jefferson wasn’t just demonstrating a personal wealth of erudition, education and immense insight, but was also basically reflecting what his readers and peers and followers already were thinking. What made Jefferson’s expressions of political society so popular was that he reflected so clearly the thoughts of his readers.

That there was still slavery in American life, that women were still second class citizens, that only a relatively small percentage of privileged white men were allowed to exercise the franchise (i.e. vote and hold office) doesn’t detract from the fundamental premise that all men are created equal. It is a statement tied to the understanding that natural rights are inherent in all men (and women and children of course so as not offend any of you with p.c. antennae), notwithstanding the local or cultural circumstances of the times.

That the English Crown and Parliament took issue with the noble concept of liberty and independence of her American colonies led to the American Revolution. Who was right here? The issue was finally settled on the battlefields and seas.

I was brought around to this subject by two apparently different phenomena in our lives, one is general and one is personal. In general, the most prominent Republican candidate for president at the moment is Donald Trump. Why is he so popular? Regardless of what you think of him, he is reflecting the values and thinking of a lot of Americans and so they like him.

The same goes for Barack Obama, while I’m into presidents and presidents-wannabes. Regardless of where you stand on him, he reflects what many Americans think and want. We voted him into office.

Now, the other event/phenomenon that got me thinking was a remark that came via email from a Spanish friend of mine, an historian, writer and former colonel in the Spanish armed forces. He was wondering why the leader of the free and democratic world, the one that produced a Jefferson, a Lincoln, a Kennedy, was abandoning that leadership in the face of the rising radical Jihadist movement in the Islamic world. He wondered why Vladimir Putin was stepping up as the major player in the tide of violence and forced migrations in that part of the world.

Good question. It comes from a European observer, not an American Op-ed writer (me).

My friend is well aware that Europeans are being overwhelmed by Muslim immigrants—and let’s leave moralizing, religion, culture and politics aside for the moment—driven by the extreme and radical Islamic state of ISIS, ISIL, whatever you want to call their new Caliphate.

The Europeans want leadership from the Americans. Where is it?

Published in The Tuscaloosa News as Where is American Leadership? in my OpEd, The Port Rail, Sunday, December 20, 2015

Posted in: History, Politics