Leadership is about the character of a person: The intellectual and moral texture into which all our life long we have been weaving up the inward life that is in us (Oxford dictionary).
After the 2016 presidential election, someone asked how I made my decision on who to vote for. I replied that I assess a presidential candidate first by character and then by talent, experience, and policy positions.
A person of character models goodness: caring, empathy, and compassion for all of humanity. They are wise, brave, and emotionally mature. The character of a leader stands alone as the primary and essential requirement for presidential leadership. Donald Trump showed us no integrity as a candidate, and he has gone on to demonstrate his hollowness day after day for three years.
The Coronavirus threatens us. We see Trump try to lead the country in a real-time crisis. His performance does not inspire us as his deep flaws as a human being are illuminated. He’s not a person of character he’s not a leader, he’s not risen to the challenge, he has no moral authority, and he’s not worthy of our trust.
First, he denied the virus. Then he minimized the level of threat. A critical time for containing the virus was lost. He blamed others. He said he took no responsibility for the massive issues that face us and the nation’s lack of preparedness. He lied to us. He rates himself a “10” in his handling of the catastrophe. I don’t think so.
A reporter asked him what he would say to the millions of Americans who feel afraid—a softball of a question. This question was a perfect opportunity to connect with and speak from his heart to the American people. Instead, he angrily attacked the reporter and showed us that he is unable to speak from his heart or show empathy for suffering people.
D.H. Lawrence wrote that “the great virtue in life is real courage that knows how to face facts and live beyond them.”
Leaders of character like Governors Larry Hogan of Maryland, Gavin Newson of California, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Andrew Cuomo of New York, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Jay Inslee of Washington State, and Tim Walz of Minnesota do not attempt to run and hide from painful truths or frantically conceal symptoms of systemic problems with lies, cosmetic solutions, and empty words. They face difficulty with moral courage and honesty and transform the dangers they see into creative actions. Each is a unique combination of an eco-warrior, a servant, an artist, a teacher, a facilitator, and a philosopher. They have risen to the occasion. We trust them and others who model for us how to lead in a crisis.
Perhaps the most exceptional leader in these times is Dr. Anthony Fauci: Trump lies and says idiotic things, and Dr. Fauci stands up and speaks the truth to Trump and the rest of us. Dr. Fauci puts his 80-year-old life at risk trying to eradicate the virus and mitigate suffering.
Under high stress, many people regress to earlier stages of their development. We can choose to reject that response. We everyday people can make significant contributions to the future of humanity by doing what we can, no matter how small, to stand tall against the pandemic.
No one will rescue us; God won’t save us. We are responsible. We can rise to the occasion by being our best selves.