Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, father figure, Fourth of July, George Washington, Lyndon Johnson, political leadership, Richard Nixon
July Fourth is usually a good chance to reflect on the state of the American republic, but that has become somewhat depressing lately. Political participation is high, and so is partisanship. I have advocated less partisanship, and efforts to find political leaders who do not live in Washington.
Yet that’s where they live, and people seem to want to pay attention to them. For a long time now, our country has needed leaders who do not live in the Capitol. Morning Joe‘s hosts criticized the president, so Trump tweeted this one:
I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
Followed by another reference to goings on at Mar-a-Lago. When you scan through Trump’s Twitter feed, these two tweets do not seem to stand out that much. Mainstream media does not care for them, to say the least. The Daily Mail headlined an ‘astonishing personal attack’, and several other outlets followed with their own sense that Trump had gone over the line again. Why should a personal attack from Donald Trump seem astonishing, though, and why should we care about a line the media drew in the first place?
Well, we want our president’s to be sane, stable, and paragons. After long political campaigns and even longer careers in public, we still expect individuals who step into the president’s office to change, to be our new George Washington and father figure. We thought Lyndon Johnson wouldn’t lie anymore, that Richard Nixon wouldn’t be paranoid, resentful and defensive, that Clinton would stop his skirt chasing, and that Trump would somehow stop bullying and ridiculing people. It doesn’t happen. The person you elect in November is the same person who moves into the White House on Inauguration Day.
You know you won’t find a defense of Trump’s behavior from me. Occasionally he is entertaining, but he is obviously not a good leader. Yet mainstream media and the rest of us want to make the president someone he is not. If the president is a poor leader, don’t follow him. If he is an incompetent liar who has nothing valuable to say, ignore him. Why do we want to waste our time thinking about someone who cares far more for himself than he does about us? Is that the kind of leader you want?
Nothing in the Constitution says we have to pay attention to the president. You can say, “But look at all the power he has!” I’ll tell you something, the amount of power he has derives from the amount of attention he receives from us. His constitutional powers in civil affairs are actually quite limited. By the Constitution, he can do practically nothing without Congress. He only appears powerful because we give him influence. He appears powerful because we want him to be George Washington. Not everyone has the same moral authority as our country’s first president, though.
For a modern example of how quickly a public figure’s moral authority can collapse, consider the case of Bill Cosby. He was America’s Dad. Millions looked to him as a model, for advice about how to be a good family man. Then Hannibal Buress refers to him as a rapist during a performance, the video goes viral, victims and accusers emerge. Victims and accusers are numerous and credible. The whole country goes from disbelief to dismay, then to contempt in a few weeks.
The same thing can happen to our government, and to the so-called leaders who populate it. All we have to do is believe the people who accuse it of criminal behavior, starting with our president’s murder in 1963. Does truth and reconciliation work? I doubt it. Does simple belief in true accusations make a difference? Yes, it does. Donald Trump is not responsible for crimes committed before he was elected president, but he sought leadership of the government that committed them. Do you want to follow him?
Let’s look for our leaders elsewhere.