Much has been said about President Trump’s weak leadership before and during this pandemic; his denial of reality and science, constant lies and disinformation, happy magical talk, lack of empathy and humility, self-aggrandizement, managerial incompetence, firing of able government officials and scientific experts, attacks on the media and intelligence community, undermining of the justice system, schoolyard bullying of political opponents, pandering to our nation’s worst instincts, and blaming others while taking no responsibility himself as President of the United States.
In contrast, I’ve been thinking much about what great leadership really is.
This May 10th marks the 80th anniversary of two pivotal events in world history. In his just-published and highly acclaimed history of Winston Churchill’s first year in office as Great Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, The Splendid and the Vile – A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz, Erik Larson writes of that day:
“The beauty of the day [in Britain] made a shocking contrast to all that had happened since dawn, when German forces stormed into Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg, using armor, dive-bombers, and parachute troops with overwhelming effect…. Churchill had been summoned by the King [George VI]…” that evening to become the next Prime Minister, a choice that saved England from being overwhelmed by the Nazi war machine and offered the world an historic example of great leadership in a time of existential national crisis.
Every subsequent Churchill address to Parliament and his nation began with a dire assessment of what Great Britain faced. He neither gilded the lily nor denied the truth and reality. He stated plainly the threat Britain faced before the Nazi onslaught. Churchill then explained what must be done, that sacrifice would be necessary, that much pain and suffering would be inevitable, and that the only result must be complete victory. He ended each speech with soaring eloquence and galvanized his people with a unified sense of purpose, mission, and hope.
In striking contrast with our inconsistent, self-serving, prevaricating, divisive, and hardhearted President Trump, Prime Minister Churchill carried his nation on his shoulders. His will was Britain’s will. His heart was England’s heart. His faith was the people’s faith. His strength was their strength.
For now until November, we Americans must rely upon our scientists, health care professionals, governors, mayors, Democratic Representatives and Senators in Congress and state legislators (and a few Republicans) for sane and responsible leadership. And we need to remember that the American people are inherently decent as demonstrated every day by so many caring for the sick and vulnerable.
Churchill said, “the future is unknowable but the past gives us hope.”
I hope that you and your dear ones stay well and that those who are sick heal quickly to fullness of health again.