Sunday, August 13, 2017

Our Republic: We Better Start Keeping It. Fast.

I’m a political scientist—with an emphasis on the science.  I’ve viewed my role in the public sphere as inserting into debates what political scientists have learned about political processes and institutions—and to try to keep both sides faithful to the empirics. At heart, I’ve always been a skeptic and my training as a political scientist makes me even more so. I'm not one to join partisan frays. It's not my style. I just go where data lead.

The election of Donald Trump, someone who had zero political experience, certainly sent my skepticism into high gear given the data. Limited political experience does not often equate with political success. One major exception is Dwight David Eisenhower, but he is the exception who proves the rule. Eisenhower was an exceptional student of leadership and, as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, developed a well-honed ability to convince, negotiate and compromise with many talented, egoistic generals as they fought the Third Reich to rid the world of Nazism.

During the fall campaign, a video of historian David McCullough made the rounds on social media. I’ve long admired McCullough’s accessible and well-written history, especially his biography of Truman.

In the video, McCullough draws our attention to Eisenhower’s four qualities of leadership, noting that Trump exhibited none of those qualities. He had neither character, ability, experience, nor responsibility. In short, McCullough did not believe Trump was suited for the presidency. He was especially not suited to articulating a clear moral purpose and acting as the conciliator in chief in times of national sorrow and crisis.

Trump’s repeated failure as a leader over the past eight months should not surprise. He was as prepared for the presidency as I am to do any kind of home or car repair.

Yet the president can be a poor leader and the nation can survive: We managed the ineptitude of Hoover and Carter. What is most troubling is that Trump himself, through apparently carefully contrived acts, may be encouraging values antithetical to the Republic itself.

That causes me great alarm and concern, as it should every American regardless of party.

There are certain moral certainties, bright lines in the sand, that are not debated in civilized society. Racism, white supremacy, and support for Nazism are among them. No race, no people, no ethnicity is superior to any other. Advocating violence against someone else because they are different than you is wrong. Killing innocent people is wrong. Full stop.

An easy test of leadership, methinks, is denouncing yesterday’s terrible events in Charlottesville with clarity and precision. “Nazism, racism, and violence are acts of terrorism, and have no place in our Republic and receive my strongest condemnation” would’ve been a good start. Perhaps you might have taken a cue from Vice President Pence, who had no problem naming who was the blame for yesterday's events: "We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK," said Pence, calling them "dangerous fringe groups" today in Colombia.

Instead, the President issued a statement that was ambiguous at best, but spoke volumes: Calling out racism, Nazism, and white supremacy wasn’t on the table. Best case? He’s a coward and inept. I'm less inclined to believe this is the case: He's spoken out clearly concerning acts of terrorism undertaken by Muslims in the past. And Trump certainly has no trouble telling us what he thinks most of the time. That leaves the worst case: He’s sympathetic to their cause.

Many Americans voted for Trump because they were angry at what they believe our country had become. Others voted for Trump simply because he was the Republican nominee. Still others voted for him because they couldn’t stomach Hillary Clinton. It is not for me to judge a person who voted for Trump. That’s their business, and frankly, that’s water under the bridge

We’ve seen Trump can’t stomach doing what’s right when the path is clear, and may be conspiring with forces seeking to undermine the very foundation of our Republic. It doesn’t matter how you voted, but how you answer the question: “What now?”

If you are troubled with what you’ve seen, at least we have a constitutional system with multiple points of access. Write to the president; tell him how you feel (although I'm skeptical that would matter). Write to your congressional delegation: Remember, ambition counters ambition in our system of separated (but shared) powers. Write to your state parties and tell them to make changes to the primary system that will make it more likely better candidates survive the nomination process (ironically, that may mean a little less democracy in the primaries and more control to party elites who were overwhelmingly opposed to Trump). But do something. Be heard, while you still can.

We have a democracy. That is, as Ben Franklin said, as long as we can keep it. We’ve kept it for more than 200 years.

Whether we keep it for another 200 depends on the choices you make now.

Just in case you need a refresher course on leadership, here’s how great leaders should behave:

1.       Responsibility. Eisenhower, on the eve of D-Day, prepared this statement should the landings fail:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I
 have  withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on  the  best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

2.       Character. George W. Bush after 9-11.

3.       Ability and Experience. LBJ and the Voting Rights Act.

4.       Fortitude. Ronald Reagan in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gates.

5.       All of the Above. Churchill. 1940, as France fell and Britain stood alone.

Ask our members of Congress to display the leadership our President will not.