Donald Trump is in the news almost daily. This clearly pleases him, but is it a good thing? First his remarks on immigration, then his controversy with John McCain, and next…whatever. But we know there will be a next. Does this mean that Trump is a leader, or merely that he is an attention-seeker? Or is it both of the above?
We talk a great deal about leadership, but what do we mean?
The attributes of a leader are competence, courage of conviction, and care of subordinates.
− Bing West, author, Marine
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
− Peter Drucker, author, economist
As a former Marine, Bing West looks at leadership from a military perspective, where poor leadership can get you killed. Peter Drucker looks at leadership from a business perspective, where poor leadership can get you bankrupt. Both perspectives are useful when we are choosing our president.
Who among the announced candidates fulfills our definition of leader? Indeed, who even comes close? And then we can ask a related question: Why has Donald Trump rocketed to the top, or at least near the top, of Republican candidates?
We can argue about whether Trump exemplifies the qualities that West and Drucker enunciate. Some would say yes, some no. But I believe we can all agree on one point: Trump exudes strength, or at least the appearance of strength.
Strength is not the same as charisma. Many movie stars have charisma, but few – even those who portray superheroes on the screen – exhibit even the appearance of strength. Our eyes may automatically focus on them when they come on the scene, but would we turn to them for leadership in a time of crisis? Almost surely not.
When I say that Trump exudes the appearance of strength, what do I mean?
● First, there is physical size. Trump is 6’3” tall, which would make him about as tall as our tallest presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson. Trump has an erect posture and an imposing appearance. Still, Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum are also 6’3” tall, and George Pataki, though not a serious candidate, is 6’5”.
We have not yet seen Trump on a stage with the other candidates, but he surely would be at least as physically impressive, say, as Jeb Bush, who looks less tall because he is pudgy.
● Second, there is demeanor. When Trump arrives, all eyes shift to him because people expect him to do something, or say something, without delay. And they are not disappointed. Trump looks like he is accustomed to being in charge, because in his world of business he has actually been in charge.
True, appearing to be in charge and actually being in charge are two different things. Still, it is extremely difficult to be in charge when you don’t even look like you are. People are unlikely to follow a leader who appears timid and indecisive, especially in a time of crisis.
● Third, there is confidence. Trump speaks loudly and with broad gestures. Whether this is due to true confidence or well-hidden insecurity we do not know, but I’m not sure it makes a difference. He looks self-assured to both friends and foes, and that is essential in a leader.
Question: Of all the candidates of either party, which one would you least want to antagonize? You see my point. And potential enemies would see it, too.
Question: If Republicans are as stupid as in 2012, and they allow the presidential debates to be “moderated” by a liberal activist, which of their candidates would be most likely to stand up to the harassment? Again, you see my point.
We cannot, in our wildest dreams, imagine Trump going on an Obama-like apology tour in foreign nations. Trump is not comfortable with apologizing, either for himself or for America. Perhaps the American people are sick and tired of watching politicians apologizing for America. Perhaps they are finally throwing off the undeserved guilt they were saddled with by leftist politicians. Perhaps they are ready to heed this wise advice:
Americans need to face the truth about themselves, no matter how pleasant it is.
– Jeane Kirkpatrick
● Fourth, Trump is unafraid to say things – and say them loudly – that most politicians dare to say only timidly, and often not at all.
Many people – including many in the black and Latino communities – are aware of the multiple problems caused by unlimited immigration, especially illegal immigration. They are all too aware of overwhelmed public hospitals, schools, jails, prisons, and welfare departments.
These people are personally affected by an unlimited supply of poorly educated immigrants willing to work for the minimum wage, or below it.
They are financially affected when unions (except public employees’ unions) are weakened by an influx of non-union workers.
They are directly affected when African Americans are pushed out of their traditional neighborhoods by immigrants, and when fried-chicken restaurants are replaced – one by one – by taco stands.
They are intimately affected when they and their children are required to speak Spanish (and sometimes other languages) in preference to English, and to adapt to foreign customs and values, rather than the immigrants adapting to American customs and values.
They are deeply affected when they watch Latino students march around a California high school with Mexican flags on Cinco de Mayo, while American students are forbidden to wear American-flag tee shirts. Diversity? Diversity of what? Those who owe allegiance to our nation, and those who owe allegiance to another nation? Is that diverse enough for you?
They are tragically affected when loved ones or friends are murdered or assaulted by illegal immigrants who have been deported, often multiple times, but who return as if nothing had happened. Kathryn Steinle was only one of 121 murder victims on this tear-stained list.
But until Trump showed up on the scene, almost no one voiced these complaints, even timidly. So you can understand people’s surprise and pleasure when Trump voices them loudly. And he is stimulating others to speak loudly. Witness Ted Cruz on the Senate floor, or Carly Fiorina on CNN.
Yes, Trump sometimes speaks too loudly and exaggerates. He is to politics what Ann Coulter is to political commentary. They speak loudly in order to counterbalance the silence of so many others, who should speak out but who do not. Indeed, Trump and Coulter speak loudly because they are speaking for millions of ordinary people, for whom no one else is speaking at all.
Trump reminds me of the man who was hitting his mule over the head with a board. A passer-by asked why he was punishing the mule. The man replied, “I’m not punishing him, I’m just trying to get his attention.” But mules and politicians are notoriously willful, stubborn, and barren, and it is terribly difficult for ordinary citizens to get their attention.
Is Donald Trump a leader or a self-promoter – or both? This remains to be seen. Would Trump make a good president? I don’t know. He seems too erratic and short-tempered. He has flip-flopped on important issues, including immigration. In 2012 he criticized Romney for being “mean-spirited” on immigration, raising questions about where he really stands versus what he believes his audience wants to hear. Still, I would rather have an insincere president who listens to the voters, rather than a sincere president who thinks the voters are fools and disregards them while he pursues his agenda – as we now have in the White House.
An optimist might say that it is fortunate indeed that at long last, Americans have finally found someone unafraid to speak up for them. A pessimist might say that it is sad indeed that it took a loud-mouthed showman to say what millions have been thinking, but until now could find no one who dared to say it. Ultimately, however, these are two ways of saying the same thing.
Even if Trump fails as a candidate, he is already succeeding in focusing our national attention on crucial problems like immigration. If this is all he accomplishes, he will have performed an invaluable public service. Sometimes we get a bit mulish. Sometimes it takes a Trump to get our attention.
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