When I write about leaders and leadership, I would hope the readers of this column don’t feel that I am on the same schedule as the locust: every seven years.
Nevertheless, it seems that way. In June 2005 and then again in June 2012, I was inquiring, where are the leaders? My impression is it is not an issue that came about since the Trump administration took office in January 2017; it has been with us for some time and only getting worse.
President Trump may be looking to complete each and every one of his campaign promises, but that is not leadership – it is salesmanship. He may boast that he is doing exactly what he said he would during the 2016 presidential campaign and, by doing so, has created a huge vacuum in leadership along the way.
However, the lack of leadership does not begin or end with President Trump. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, there is also a leadership drought that predates Trump. How else can the members justify a year-in and year-out approval rating that hovers below 10%? There isn’t one member who could walk in the shoes of the great congressional leaders of several generations ago – and what is frightening is that the current members know they can’t.
While national political leaders may be in short supply or non-existent, the same is true elsewhere. Who are the leaders at the United Nations, the national labor unions, sports and entertainment, religious and civil rights, education and medicine and, of course, the military? And let’s not forget business.
In the latter, there are two heads of companies, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, who may be household names, but are they really the business leaders of times past? Or are they solely focused on their own companies and the devil with everyone else?
All of this is not to disparage the leadership that does exist in the classroom, on the soccer field, the hospital ward, the fire station, or on the factory floor. Leadership at that level has not changed – it gets passed on from generation to generation. It is the leadership at the highest levels that has disappeared over the years.
How else can one explain what happened in the Catholic Church? Or for that matter, in the nation’s leading financial institutions now paying out billions of dollars in fines. Where was the leadership in the airline, automobile, drug, cigarette and vaping companies, producing products, knowing full well such products would cause death or injury to millions?
And let’s not ignore the executives in Hollywood that, for years, protected the alleged sexual predator, Harvey Weinstein? The same can be asked of the leaders in charge of the U.S. Gymnastics team or at Penn State. Did the leaders of the national TV news/entertainment not know that their female employees were being preyed upon by their top billing personalities? They must have, but like so many other so-called leaders, they ignored the fact that they were there to lead.
The military, to a large degree, has given us some fine leaders. A more recent example is Gen. James Mattis who, along with fellow Marine Bing West, recently published “Call Sign Chaos,” Mattis’s memories of 40 years of being a Marine and, up until January of this year, secretary of the Department of Defense.
It was in the position as defense secretary that Mattis did what a fellow Marine from Rutland had done in 1947. Gen. Merritt Edson, one of the Corps most decorated Marines, told the Truman administration it was wrong in seeking to disband the Marine Corps. He resigned and came home to Vermont. Mattis told President Trump that he was wrong in Syria, then Mattis resigned and went home to the state of Washington.
Exceptional leaders don’t condone poor judgments and behavior; they first try to create change and if not, they leave.
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Don Keelan, a retired certified public accountant and resident of Arlington.