For the last few months, the “Death Eaters” of the Republican Party have suggested that being president of this country was to a certain extent about leadership. And although I'm not interested in responding to their attacks on our current President, I've been here watching for the past seven years, and I believe without hesitation, that being president of this country is entirely about leadership. For the record, I do not think it’s just about saying popular things regardless of the consequences and I don’t understand how any, let alone a fair number, of my fellow citizens can think that the knee-jerk, foolish, “fifth-grade boy” sort of thing currently being said in any way represents the kind of response which We, The People, should expect from serious candidates for the highest office in the land. That sort of thing is beyond my ability to explain, except to suggest that “it feels so good.” It allows us to use the anger and disgust we all feel over acts of outrageous violence in an emotionally satisfying way. However, is this really what we desire from our leaders? Is the “fifth-grade boy” response all that we, as a nation, are capable of expressing? I confess that I don’t think I fully appreciated the implications of this sort of response very recently.
America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say “You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man who's words make your blood boil, and who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.
I've observed some of our “Death Eaters” for years. And I've been operating under the assumption that the reason they have devoted so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that they simply didn't get it. Well, I think I was wrong. Their problem isn't that they don't get it. Their problem is that they can't sell it.
We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you the “Death Eaters” are not the least bit interested in solving it. They are interested in two things, and two things only: Making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income, mostly White, mostly evangelistic voters who remember with longing an easier, seemingly safer time, and you talk to them about family and American values and religion and you scream about a distorted view of patriotism. You tell them “the Muslims” are to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call them evil and anyone who doesn’t agree with you weak.
We've got serious problems, and we need serious people. And if you want to talk about real leadership, you'd better come at us with more than your assertion that a small minority of the membership of the world’s second largest religion engaging in acts which even their own religion rejects and preaches against represent the entirety of that religion. I would agree that extremism can lead to religious intolerance and even violence. Recent history, however, would suggest that religious-based intolerance and violence has not been limited to followers of Islam. It has, in fact, also been practiced by good “Christians.” Yet they claim to be the only true Americans.
There are people who are willing and able to discuss the results of the kind of rhetoric which the “Death Eaters” have been engaging in much better than I. Some of them are also running for political office, but some of them who are not, are still aware of the fact that the Constitution forbids a religious test for holding “… any office or public trust under the United States.” They also know that the Supreme Court has ruled, “… that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’ Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.”
If the “Death Eaters” haven’t read the Constitution, and related rulings, perhaps they should. If they wish to suggest that intelligent argument and debate is weakness, they have that right. But, in a globally aware world, they should be aware of the effect this sort of stupidity has on the world’s view of us. The rest of the world is unlikely to sit quietly by while the United States engages in intolerance, bullying and behavior which is inherently offensive to much of it. They are also likely to react with horror to the idea that the US should engage in the willy-nilly, perhaps even nuclear, destruction of large amounts of territory and a sizable percentage of the world’s population in order to protect OUR “freedom.” They understand that a feeding frenzy of religious-based hatred is likely to make the world less safe, rather than more so. All I can say to the “Death Eaters” is that this a time for serious people, and your fifteen minutes are up.
Perhaps it’s time to stop giving the hate-mongers the free time on the air and in the press and start giving some of it to the people who we should be taking seriously; those who actually represent the majority of Americans. These folks may well not be quite such a good “story,” but they actually represent the values which made the United States a world-leading nation and are prepared to recognize that we are NOT going to “lead the world” by playing to the lowest common denominator, but by dealing with the rest of the world as though they matter, too.
I understand that the news media is, of course, dominated by the search for the latest “hot” story. After all, “hot” stories attract audiences and face time is what the media is all about. Still, I find it more than a bit disconcerting that so much time and attention is devoted to “He Who Will Not Be Named” and his colleagues. Since the equal time provisions, as well as those requiring fairness in the public interest, have been at least effectively abolished by cable TV and the Internet, it seems that the media now have the right to report that which they desire, not that which serves the public interest.
It seems to me that the excessive search for the “hot” story (which serves little purpose as news, but gives the pundits something to fill up all that time on their networks) has led to rewarding the outrageous and the flamboyant and little to no time for those people who are at least attempting to advocate the sort of leadership which is more than just emotionally satisfying bullying. REAL leadership is doing the hard work of trying to understand others and finding a path towards mutual understanding and agreement. I believe that the time for real leaders is now! Let’s hope that those who are the real potential leaders will be thought of as worthy of actually being a “story” and given some time on the air and in the press. Isn’t it at least worth a try?