In a week in which we’ve “rendered unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are (April 15, tax day, having coincided with the beginning of Holy Week, whose end in turn coincided with Passover) — we also continued our discussion of the language and literature of leadership.
We began with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, whose characterization of 9/11 as “some people did something” in defense of her oppressed Muslim brethren was unfortunate at best and wrongheaded at worst. But then President Donald J. Trump’s attempted to demonize he, yet another example of the divisiveness that defines his presidency and his poor leadership. The Mueller Report only underscored this, even though the Trumpettes fatuously tried to spin it as an example of the system working, because White House staffers saved Trump from his worst instincts behind his back. That’s like saying your boss is a thief, but hey, the good news is that his secretary dissuaded him from burning down the office to cover his crime.
And then there was the master builder in chief’s comment in response to the heartbreak of Notre-Dame de Paris in flames. Tragedy is not Trump’s strong suit. For one thing, it requires an empathy that he lacks. For another, he has no eloquence. But perhaps most important, he lacks the industry and organizational skills to do even a competent job. To be in the building/real estate trade and to think you can just dump water from a plane on a delicate but enduring medieval icon and add “must act quickly” betrays a lack of historical perspective as well as the hypercritical nature that characterizes the narcissist, for whom no one and nothing is ever any good.
Contrast this with the response of French President Emmanuel Macron, who went on TV April 15 — Reconciliation Monday in the Roman Catholic Church — and told his people:
"Notre-Dame is our history; it's our literature; it's our imagery. It's the place where we live our greatest moments, from wars to pandemics to liberations ... I'm telling you all tonight: We will rebuild this cathedral together. This is probably part of the French destiny."
This is what a great leader does: He, or she, sets a goal larger than what any one individual can accomplish, one in which all the participants will benefit. And not only will they benefit, but they will transcend in achieving it.. People have scoffed at the more than $1 billion dollars that has been raised thus far by luxe Parisian companies as well as Americans who remember the country that helped us toward independence and gave us the Statue of Liberty. I’m no apologist for the 1 percenters — and there’s nothing to suggest that everyone who’s donating to rebuild the cathedral is rich — but they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t, aren’t they? If the rich don’t contribute, some people will say, “Look at those selfish cheapskates.” If they do, others swill ay, “What about the poor?” With some six billion people in the world and trillions of dollars, there’s enough for our necessities and our luxuries. As the playwright George Bernard Shaw observed, We need our symphonies as well as our hospitals.
People also scoff at Macron saying Notre-Dame will be rebuilt in five years, but effective leaders also set deadlines. Didn’t President John F. Kennedy tell Americans that we would put an American on the moon within a decade? And by God, we did it.
It’s worth quoting the end of the speech — which Kennedy gave Sept. 12, 1962 at Rice Stadium — as it captures the strength in adversity aspect of leadership:
“….We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone and one we intend to win….”
Think of British Prime MinisterWinston Churchill’s first speech to the House of Commons, May 13, 1940, as England stood alone against the Nazis:
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.
“You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalog of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word — victory. Victory at all costs — victory in spite of all terror — victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”
Now think of Trump’s speeches, in which though everything is horrible, fixing things is always going to be easy, because he has the best plans and his opponents have nothing to offer. These are the ideas of the pandering, snake oil-selling demagogue to the mindless, fearful rabble.
Now contrast that tone and demeanor with the words of Jesus, whose Resurrection Christians celebrate tomorrow on Easter Sunday:
"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”