The anti-leader

40. He couldn’t lead his way out of a paper bag

The president of the United States has sometimes been called “the leader of the free world.” Not the current president, obviously, but more than one of the former ones. It’s an imprecise, largely unwarranted appellation that carries more than a faint whiff of jingoism, but it cannot be denied that U.S. presidents have on occasion exercised a remarkable ability to lead. Think of Carter’s exceptional diplomacy during the run-up to the Camp David accord or of FDR boldly pursuing his vision to save the nation, first from economic ruin and then from the dual concurrent threats of imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Think of LBJ, acutely aware that the blowback on Democrats would be severe, putting principle over party by pushing for and ultimately signing the Voting Rights Act because it was the right thing to do. Think of Teddy Roosevelt singlehandedly preserving 230 million acres of the country’s most stunning landscapes for the good of future generations. Is it possible to imagine DT attempting anything so ambitiously beneficent, let alone succeeding? The only place this man is capable of leading us is down the road to destruction.

Leadership is an art, and true leaders are few and far between. The exact qualities that constitute an effective leader are perhaps open to debate, but they surely include intelligence, empathy, eloquence, and the ability to see the big picture even when immersed in minor details. Unfortunately, these are all attributes that DT lacks. This is a shame, because in a time of unprecedented existential threats to the nation and the planet, effective leadership is sorely needed. Instead, we’re offered no leadership at all, just an continual barrage of insulting tweets punctuated by press conferences wherein the would-be leader stands there telling lie after baldfaced lie.

To survive the pandemic and restore the social cohesiveness and sense of hope that allow Americans even the mere hope of prospering will require leadership. We need a leader who will guide us, one who will use his bully pulpit for good, not evil. One who will appoint qualified experts, not third-rate ideologues, to positions of power. One who will embrace scientific findings instead of balking at them whenever they’re inconvenient. One who has the best interests of the American people, in all their diversity, at heart. In other words, we need someone other than DT.

Leaders don’t have revolving doors

In modern history, and perhaps all the way back to the nation’s founding, no presidential administration has seen as much staff turnover as the current one. Since January 2017, there has been a constant stream of cabinet secretaries, press secretaries, national security advisors, and assorted lesser officials moving in and out of the West Wing and associated agencies. Some have lasted a year or more, others only a few days. Some left because they were incompetent to such an extent that even DT could recognize it; others were relatively competent and were shown the door because their competence was a thorn in his side that revealed his own deficiencies simply through contrast.

The ones who have left fall into two categories: those who have spoken out about the administration’s grave failings and those who have kept their mouths shut. Most fall into the latter category, whether out of fear of reprisal or simple blind loyalty (like the dog who defends the master who beats it). The few who have spoken out have been remarkably uniform in their negative assessment of their former boss. I won’t call him their leader.