Wait for the Ideal Leader? We’ll Have a Long Wait

By | October 17, 2016 | 0 Comments

King Arthur (N. C. Wyeth)

Much is being said – probably too much – about the obvious flaws of Donald Trump. Surely, we are told, he falls far short of our conception of the ideal president. Surely, we believe, he cannot compare with our great leaders of the past.

● George Washington was indispensable to founding the United States, but he owned slaves.

● Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, America’s mission statement, but he too owned slaves.

● Abraham Lincoln held the nation together through a terrible Civil War and thereby ended slavery, but he expressed what by modern standards would be considered racist views.

● Ulysses Grant as a general led the Union to victory in the Civil War, but as president was involved in a scandal and throughout was a heavy drinker.

● Franklin Roosevelt led us to victory in World War II, the worst war in history, but he carried on a long-term affair, boasted that there was “no Jewish blood in our veins,” and called a tax maneuver a “dirty Jewish trick.”

● Harry Truman was the first to recognize the reestablished state of Israel, but he referred to New York City as “kiketown.”

● John Kennedy led us through the Cuban Missile Crisis, but he was a compulsive, uncontrollable womanizer.

● Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but he carried on a long-term affair, cursed incessantly, and spoke to reporters while sitting on the toilet.

● Bill Clinton presided over a period of economic prosperity, but he carried on multiple affairs, was an accused sexual predator, and was disbarred for lying under oath.

Come to think of it, our country has never had what could be rightly called an ideal president. We had great presidents. We had indispensable presidents. We had presidents who led us through difficult, even terrible crises. But ideal? Not really.

If I insist on waiting for the ideal religion, the ideal spouse, the ideal friend, the ideal job, the ideal house, and the ideal car, I will wind up a Godless, unmarried, friendless, unemployed, homeless pedestrian. And if I insist on having a brand-new set of shiny tools before I begin work, I am unlikely to do anything at all. But if I am willing to do my best with the rusty tools at hand, I might surprise you with what I accomplish.

And if I am willing to team up with the people actually present for duty, imperfect though they may be, I can defend myself, my family, my country, and my beliefs against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Come to think of it, King Arthur himself was not an ideal leader. His vanity caused the magic sword Excalibur to break. His queen had an affair with his best friend, Sir Lancelot. But he fought for his people against their enemies, so his legend lives on. Why? Perhaps because, being human, we know we are flawed individuals, so we have the wisdom to accept a flawed leader who nevertheless is adequate to the task at hand.

Come to think of it, that idealized image of King Arthur looks vaguely familiar. Take away the beard, and there is just a hint of resemblance to a red-headed politician who often affects an angry facial expression. Or is it just my imagination?

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