In the next six months we will know what kind of nation and what kind of world we will be in the future. Our very way of life could change completely. Our country could devolve into chaos; our world could pivot into mayhem. Oh, and there is the COVID-19 pandemic to deal with, too.
I am addressing a process just as significant to our future as the current health epidemic, the 2020 U.S. Presidential election. We need to choose a leader who has the fortitude to confront the challenges being spawned by this pandemic that is changing all our lives and to address the myriad complex issues changing the world.
First, we must choose a leader who tells the truth all the time in every situation. We don’t need a president who tells nearly 19,000 lies in a three-year period (check any of the non-partisan fact checking organizations—FactCheck, Politifact, ProPublica—for verification), even telling lies about telling lies.
“Honesty and integrity come first,” note Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, leadership experts, when reporting on the qualities of an effective leader based upon a 2019 survey of 20,000 people. Even the first point of the Boy Scout Law is to be “TRUSTWORTHY. Tell the truth and keep promises. People can depend on you.” We should expect no less from the person who occupies the Oval Office.
Next, we must elect a leader who is responsible and accepts responsibility. We do not need an individual who will not accept accountability for personal missteps or who blames others for his mistakes of judgment and actions. Alexander Pope’s pronouncement that “to err is human . . .” applies to presidents and other chiefs of governments just as it does to ordinary people. An inability to own up to one’s mistakes and weaknesses is a sign of a dangerous character disorder.
As important as the first two traits noted above is the quality of respect. We must elect a president who not only behaves and performs in ways worthy of respect from others but also who treats others with respect.
Our nation does not need a Commander-in-Chief who belittles those with whom he disagrees, who labels them with insolent epithets, who has so limited respect for others on his staff that he fires them from their positions via a Twitter posting, often at night, which, to me, marks such a person as a coward, afraid to face a person one-on-one.
“Want to demonstrate that you have what it takes to be an effective leader and have people follow your direction?” asks leadership educator John Baldoni.
“Be humble!” he answers. Such humility is an attribute one who leads a country must demonstrate.
Baldoni continues, “Leaders who want to inspire followership . . . need to demonstrate not simply their accomplishments but their character. Take pride in what you have done, but use it as a platform to bring people together to do greater things. Use your leadership for something other than self-aggrandizement.”
Our nation does not need to be further embarrassed by a pretentious chief representative of our country needing to be the center of attention by pushing aside the leader of another country for a photograph or who claims that only he has the giant intellectual capacity to solve the nation’s woes.
Furthermore, we must choose as our nation’s president a personage of conviction, one who stands firm. A person who waffles with the political wind, who makes one declaration on Friday and then contradicts it on the next Friday cannot inspire confidence from others in his abilities and competencies. An absence of certitude leads to mistrust and confusion, outcomes no true leader wants from those under his guidance.
The leader of our democracy must be able to inspire commitment and allegiance to the principles espoused in the Constitution and duly enacted laws of this nation. We do not need a chief executive who demands personal allegiance to him and his agenda from cabinet members and government staff.
Open-mindedness is a quality necessary for effective leadership; it is an essential characteristic for the sovereign of our nation. Two of our acknowledged powerful presidents demonstrated this trait that contributed to the successes of their presidencies.
In a previous column I wrote that “George Washington, both as the General of the Army in the war against Britain and as President, surrounded himself with people who thought differently and welcomed their views and their challenging him.”
In the same fashion Abraham Lincoln looked to his “Team of Rivals,” composed of both allies and adversaries, for counsel; hearing arguments from all sides of an issue, for and against, allowed Lincoln to make wise and informed decisions on the course of nation in turmoil. We do not need a gaggle of sycophantic cabinet members and presidential advisers who nod their approval in unison at every pronouncement tweeted from the West Wing.
For the first three weeks of the current pandemic in the United States, there was some sense of commonweal and unity that gave some sense of hope for coming through this battle bruised but not defeated.
This fourth week has shown that togetherness in a common purpose and commitment to attack this fatal disease has been derailed in favor of the divisiveness and anger that has characterized our nation during the last three years. Unity fades; virus prevails.
Six months from now, the U.S. president who will lead us for the next four years will have been elected. It is my hope that the citizenry of our country will have chosen a person who has proven leadership skills and experience to guide the United States through what will continue to be a most pressing and dangerous period, domestically and internationally.
Honesty. Responsibility. Respect. Humility. Conviction. Open-mindedness.
Choose well when you mail in your ballot or walk into your voting headquarters in November. In our current circumstances the observation “our very lives depend upon it” is not hyperbole.
Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].