Our nation’s greatest times are often associated with the nation’s leaders. George Washington miraculously led revolutionary rebels to victory and exhibited the characteristics of a true leader by stepping down after two terms. Monuments stand in remembrance of Abraham Lincoln’s wise decisions preserved the future of the United States. JFK served less than three years, yet people still glorify his invitation to push the country to new limits and associate that era with a better age for the nation. Individuals who outrightly oppose Lincoln or JFK’s political policies honor these men as some of the greatest to have ever lived. Why then, is a leader’s policy more valuable than their characteristics when we reflect on what has truly made America great? Often, when criticizing the polarized state of this country, we cite the advice George Washington gave in his farewell address to abstain from political parties. He warned, “[political parties] are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people” . Over two hundred years have passed, and the very structure by which constituents elect candidates is reliant on political parties.
With the 2020 election well underway, Democrat presidential candidates are campaigning to see who will beat the Republican incumbent, President Trump. The party as a whole has moved to the left since the 2016 election, and President Trump, as the almost-guaranteed Republican nominee, has no incentive to budge in his personal ideology and campaign platform.
In June, the first round of debates between democratic candidates took place, and an anomaly occurred. In the midst of each candidate attempting to portray themselves as the ideal and obvious choice for voters, the moderators addressed candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Southbend, Indiana. He was given the perfect opportunity to defend himself in response to a Southbend police officer shooting citizen Eric Logan. Rather than casting himself as the hero, he gave a truthful response, saying, “because I couldn’t get it done…and I could walk you through all of the things that we have done as a community, all of the steps that we took, from bias training to de-escalation, but it didn’t save the life of Eric Logan”. This response may not seem to be the most strategic, especially from a candidate that is not a frontrunner concerning donations and ratings. But it is the type of response that comes from a candidate ready to lead this country away from division on ideological points and towards unification.
Another 2020 democratic candidate, Cory Booker, spoke to NPR about a mistake from his past. As mayor of Newark, New Jersey, he neglected to maintain a relationship with a young man who needed a figure to support and guide him. Senator Booker did not have to broadcast a mistake that led to the death of the young man, but he did. While reflecting, he said, “positions and titles come and go . . . .the biggest thing you can do in any day still will most likely be a small act of kindness, decency and love”. This is the attitude a leader should have about tragedy, rather than painting themselves as a victim by blaming others.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, was recognized worldwide for her response to the tragic shootings that took place in two mosques in New Zealand. When her country was in crisis, she was the leader that her people needed to bring them together and usher legislation in the direction needed for an appropriate response. Jacinda Arden was truly heartbroken for her people, and she did what it took in order to make the needed changes. In contrast, shootings in the United States are followed by blame-games and arguments about why problems are everyone else’s fault, and reasons why either party is to blame. When Prime Minister Arden of New Zealand responded to tragic events, even those who did not support her ideology supported her response, and those leadership qualities resulted in proper and effective legislation that was completely separate from any possible criticisms on policy positions.
Though radical to consider in today’s politics, what might our country begin to look like with a leader rather than a party-representative? Perhaps more constructive dialogue and conversation would happen as the leaders of our country become an example, an example for what constructive political dialogue can be. Perhaps America would no longer be an example of a broken partisan system, but would be an example and a beacon to the rest of the world of what good representation could look like. The endless flipping we experience between the two party extremes will only lead to a continuous spiral, impeding progress, as each party tries to undo the consequences of being the out-party for a term or two.
Many argue that what this country needs in 2020 is a good moderate, a good bipartisan candidate that can reach across the aisle. While this would help to reduce the division in this country, it is not enough. The American people are more in need of a leader than individuals on either side of the spectrum and can look at and say, “that is our president, that is our leader.” The president need not be the leader of the in-party only, but the leader of the American people. We need a president that wants to hear the complaints and concerns of all voters and all constituents, a leader that recognizes citizens both natural-born and naturalized, someone who considers both sides of the aisle and seeks to empathize with those whom he or she disagrees.
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