Real leaders help the rest of us to transcend a moment, with light, rather than descend with it into the darkness
As Catholics, we know that, as the psalmist says, “It is better to put your trust in the Lord, than to trust in princes.” (Psalm 118:9)
We know that such trust can never be misplaced; we know the Lord is always faithful, and we know, as St. Philip Neri said, that “All of God’s purposes are to the good, and although we may not always understand this, we can trust in it.”
If we put our faith and our trust in the Lord, we can adapt to the long view of things; we can care about injustice, economic disparity, victims of violence but also remain detached from some of the tempting calls-to-action that too often descend into mere chaos for its own sakes.
At this moment, three days after an election that no one is actually disputing as improper or stolen, the people who put their faith in princes are having a hard time settling down, mostly because they are either full of fear, or because they don’t really trust in much at all.
So, this is happening: There are peaceful demonstrations and absurd calls for death; children are bullying other children; many are feeling threatened; some are physically attacked; a few are filing hoax reports — apparently they don’t want to miss out on all the angst — which have the deleterious effect of making it more difficult for the real, authentic victims out there to be believed. As you can read in these links, while the protestors are doing more damage, both sides are getting in their licks. The familiar words and phrases are all ringing out, once again — all the same labels people spit at others when they feel defeated and fearful. There is graffiti urging the assassination of a man. Today I saw a photo of some graffiti which declared, “Your vote is a hate crime.”
In a world where real hate crimes exist, there is something depressingly banal and lazy about that scrawled idea, addressed to those about whom nothing is actually known — because as Maggie Kosloski writes, ignorance of the other facilitates hatred, so it is better not to get to actually know the people you wish to keep hating. And there is something almost traditional and predictable about the calls for assassination, which some might recall being urged on George W. Bush (“Snipers wanted”) before he was even the formal GOP candidate in 2000. Back then, it was shocking.
And all of this, of course, goes both ways. It is much easier to talk about “deporting all of them,” when you don’t know a single one of “them.” It’s easier to talk about “deplorables” if you have never lived in a depressed rural area where jobs have fled. It is easier to call someone some sort of “-ist” engaged in some nefarious “-ism” than to spend real time getting to know why people think as they do, or whether one’s own assumptions might be just a tad tainted, intellectually indolent, and expedient to the cause. The people who voted — twice — for America’s first African American president are suddenly “racists,” and therefore fair game. That’s certainly an easy way to oversimplify complex humans, but it’s also a cheap displacement of rage that people would rather direct at the new president-elect, if they could.
All of that being true, it is appalling that neither Secretary Clinton — now a private citizen but nothing like an ordinary one — nor President-elect Trump, have made a public statement calling their fans and followers into something like order. Both of them emphatically called themselves “leaders” throughout the overlong and over-ugly campaign of 2016, and “leaders” do not remain silent while their ideological compatriots destroy civic property, bully others, shout racism, physically attack, or advocate murder. Leaders speak up. Leaders — if they are truly great ones — help the rest of us to transcend a moment, with light, rather than descend with it into the darkness.
Yet both Trump and Clinton are silent. Clinton may be smarting from her recent defeat, and happy to think, “it’s your country now, you run it,” but that would fly in the face of her own words in her fine concession speech, when she offered to “work with” Trump on behalf of the country, and urged her followers to keep “an open mind.” A leader leads. A leader unites.
Meanwhile, what is Trump doing to urge the nation, including some of his over-exuberant followers, toward its better angels, and to try to unite? Well, his Twitter privileges have been restored, so last night, he Tweeted that the unrest he was watching was “unfair.”
Perhaps it is, but it is also his to help address and settle. This morning, he (or someone on his staff) tweeted enthusiasm for the voter’s “passion.”
It was too abrupt a pivot. If he’s going to lead, he has to find the leadership sweetspot wherein there is neither whining nor condescension, but a thoughtful balance.
Let’s pray he finds it quickly, for all our sakes. A balanced response could be, If your passion moves you to protest, stay safe yourselves, and don’t let anyone else get hurt. That would recognize their rights, and show some human concern. He could Tweet that and still have 45 characters left.
In the meantime, considering the inability or unwillingness for either of these leaders to address the unrest, I cannot help but remember England’s Lord de l’Isle and Dudley, and wish they had a scintilla of his patriotic vision.
Who was Lord de l’Isle and Dudley? I don’t know. Even the brilliant Leo Rosten did not know much about him, but he knew this, which I copy from his superlative and sadly out-of-print book, People I Have Loved, Known or Admired:
In England, after the war, (Lord de l’Isle and Dudley) organized a legal defense fund for German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, who was being tried as a war criminal. (…)
When reporters asked Lord de l’Isle and Dudley to explain why he had launched his puzzling philanthropy, he replied, “Had I met General von Manstein during the war, I would have shot him on sight…I am not concerned with whether von Manstein is guilty or not,” milord continued. “I simply want sufficient money to insure that he will be properly represented in his trial, by a British barrister…I want Britain’s reputation upheld.”
He wanted England never to have anything to be ashamed of.
We can only hope that, as a weekend heavy with time and potential tumult approaches, one or both of Tuesday’s princes decides that they never want the party or the people they have desired to serve to have anything to be ashamed of, and will speak accordingly.
Speak up, Mr. Trump, and lead a whole nation; speak up, Mrs. Clinton, to give the assist you promised, before someone gets killed out there.