Personally I am entirely dumfounded by the idea of a presidential candidate in the 21st century who openly talks this way. And not only does he talk this way but his supporters lap it up. The irony of a guy who a few days ago tried to position himself as the "law and order candidate" talking openly about using violence on his opponents is too rich to make up. Comedians and Hollywood screenwriters must just be beside themselves at the professional goldmine that this man provides on an almost daily basis. But a good swath of Americans must surely be irony impaired, because they just aren't getting it. But oligarchs, dictators, and so-called 'strong-armed' leaders have always been this way. They talk about law and order but what they really mean is silence and obedience. Or Else!
In the words of one of my very favourite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, "So it goes."
By way of contrast, I was thinking today about the most popular and, arguably, the most left-leaning president the US has ever seen: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Like any man, he had his faults. But when you contrast him with Donald Trump he seems almost saint-like. FDR was barely able to walk as a result of polio. And he went to great lengths to hide his disability from the public, a task that was conceivable in the age before television. Hiding his disability was understandable in those days. Even today, it is difficult to imagine a person with a significant disability getting elected president. But I suspect that FDR's disability is, in part, what made him the compassionate and socially conscious leader that he was.
|One of the only photos of FDR in a wheelchair.|
Trump lives in a world where men are still judged, by many, by their level of masculinity. His supporters, both men and women, like to hear him threaten people with violence because, in their eyes, it makes him manly and a good leader. Trump's popularity demonstrates how little we've really progressed in the past century.
The measure of person should never relate to how loud they speak, how angry they can get, how intimidating they can be. Physical courage can, indeed, be a useful trait. But without a conscience it easily becomes ruthlessness. Lincoln said, "No man is so tall as when he stoops to help a child." How is it that the first Republican president knew this lesson more than a hundred and fifty years ago, but the current Republican nominee has forgotten it entirely?
For some people, great leaders are people who have fought wars, or did "what they said they would do" (no matter how terrible that act might be). But for those of us who actually want to move into the 21st century, great leaders must be defined by their compassion and their empathy. We know how Trump will be judged on this scale.