‘What marks of a leader will we be looking for when we elect a new President in 17 months?’
SEVENTY-nine years ago today, the US Navy’s base in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese Imperial Navy in a surprise move that initially crippled the United States and left Japan masters of the Pacific. It was, Franklin Delano Roosevelt would intone, a “day that will live in infamy.” America was shocked by the attack, while Japan was jubilant. Eventually, however, the attack on Pearl Harbor spelled the doom of the Axis powers – not just Japan in Asia but Germany and Italy as well in Europe.
Credit in part should go to America’s leadership, led by Roosevelt, who had to chart a course through public sentiment that ranged from the isolationist to the gang-ho. Roosevelt also not only had to deal with contending politics factions – he, more importantly, needed to sell the idea that young Americans would have to die on foreign shores in defense of America’s interests. In the 1940s this was an idea warmly welcomed in most households throughout the 48 states of the United States; in many ways it was Roosevelt’s charisma that made it easier for American women to give up their husbands, brothers and sons for a noble cause.
A mark of a leader indeed.
In the 1988 US presidential campaign that pitted Vice President George HW Bush against Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, Dukakis is said to have lost votes when he appeared emotion-less during the question and answer portion of the Presidential debates.
Asked by then CNN anchor Bernard Shaw if he would be amenable to capital punishment if his wife were to have been a victim of rape, Dukakis stood his ground and stuck to his principles. No, he replied. “I’ve always been against capital punishment.”
While a leader would normally be cheered for sticking to his principles even if his family were involved in a situation, in this case the voters reacted differently. Dukakis was cold. He was unfeeling. He was without emotion. And thanks in part to the way the media played up that one single question and that one single answer, the Dukakis candidacy was doomed from then on.
Apparently, one mark of a leader is to also be human.
This is why many of my fellow NAC employees reacted emotionally when they received an email from our President and CEO containing his message to everyone for the month of December. It was in some ways a message you wouldn’t normally expect from leaders.
In a moment of candor not so frequent among leaders, NAC President and CEO Martin Antonio G. Zamora told his associates: “I have to admit that, with the pandemic coming as it did during my first full year as CEO, there were days when I feared that I would look back at my first year as CEO and feel sad about what transpired.” But, he added, “my fears, though brief and understandable, were proven to be unfounded” and proceeded to salute the men and women of NAC who helped ensure that 2020 would not be as bad a year for the company as it has been for many others. “Any CEO in my shoes could not have wished for a better team to work with when pushed against the wall.”
Said one employee to another in reaction to the above “Ang ganda ng message ni MGZ; tagos sa puso.”
A mark of a leader is being human, sharing your feelings or sharing in the feelings of others. “I feel your pain,” Bill Clinton intoned in 1992 on his way to his first four year term.
Even after the Lewinsky scandal broke, Clinton would win a second four year term because, well, he connected to his audience.
Which brings us to Donald Trump. No question that Trump connects with his audience. So much so that over $200 million has been donated to his effort to try to overturn the results of the 2020 elections, cash he can now use to fund a political action committee (PAC) that will keep his political fire burning.
The problem for Trump is that he chooses to connect with his audience, which is not America but just a slice of it. And in the process of playing to his base Trump is willing, it seems, to burn the house down – to damage beyond repair the public’s faith in the electoral process that is at the heart of American democracy.
Donald trumps America.
In 1962 after losing in the race to be governor of California, Richard Nixon told the assembled media “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” He then went into hibernation, only to reappear in 1968 and finally win the White House. If only Trump could learn a thing or two from his predecessors, Nixon would be a good one. He chose not to contest Kennedy’s ultra thin margin of victory in 1960, saying that America and the world could not afford a contested election. Two years later he accepted defeat again and moved offstage. And then in 1974 Nixon chose to resign the office of President rather than fight things out in court, damaging the Presidency even more.
Sometimes it is in the low points of defeat that a leader emerges when he puts the interests of the others ahead of his own.
What marks of a leader will we be looking for when we elect a new President in 17 months?