Leadership or Reflection?
By Mark Nolte
I’ll admit, as we come to the end of the sixth year of our country being led by President Bush, I still wake up every morning and say… “Really? How could this happen?”
Since the election in November, I have had much time to ponder how this happened and I have found myself asking a question that begs to be asked: Has America’s government ever led the country or do our elected officials simply mirror the merit of the people at that given point in history?
If you ask most people who our greatest presidents are they will no doubt give you the Mt. Rushmore Four: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. Others may throw in FDR and even JFK. Some would look for what it is about these men that give cause to their accolades. But, what if we look not at them, but at the will of the American people at the time of their service?
British colonists, appalled by their treatment, taxation and lack of rights, take up arms to fight for their freedom. Fathers standing shoulder to shoulder with brothers and sons; abdicating their businesses, farms and jobs to fight in unity. Willing to give their lives so that others may live free. It is these new Americans who chose Washington and Jefferson to represent their values.
Again in the 1800’s with Lincoln as their president, citizens so dedicated to principle that they take up arms and fight for their beliefs. Ultimately concluding that even with our differences, this country must remain whole.
As our country was growing into a world power about to be challenged in World War One, Roosevelt was holding the Oval Office. A time when Americans were willing to sacrifice, ration and pull together for the common goal.
In the face of fascism and depression, the American people again chose to rally their will and fight for change and opportunity. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the statesman and mouthpiece guiding the charge.
I write this not to diminish one iota of the legacy of courage and leadership these men exhibited, but simply to offer this hypothesis: When the American people are united, selfless and courageous we move forward. It is during these times that those who hold positions of leadership appear so magnificent.
By and large we have become a selfish society. Building fences, hording resources and moving to smaller and smaller sects of isolation. We live in an immediate, winner take all, no consequences structure. We spend without saving. We have chosen our own good above the common good, forsaking the interconnectedness that binds us together and thus together ignoring the long term ramifications of our current choices. Believing that it is our right as American’s to not have to make sacrifices. It is only now, during our time of weakness, that someone so inept, someone so bereft of courage, intelligence, compassion and honor, could be “chosen” to represent our great democracy. The vision in the mirror should come as a stark wake up call to the majority. Will it be heard?
Our future challenges are mounting and again we will have to fight. It may be ongoing terrorism stemming from exploitation of resources and a geopolitical environment that has created an angry pool of have not’s. It may be lack of water, global warming or an insufficient and unsafe supply of food. It could be something else or a combination of all of these.
Now is not the time to look towards the horizon, waiting for the next great leader to save us from ourselves. Now is the time to look in the mirror. We, as the diverse and powerful American people need to stand up and fight for what we believe in again or we jeopardize losing all that we cherish.
It is collective sacrifice that created and shaped this country. It is when this sacrifice is at its highest that our country is at its strongest. Our choice is to decide if we make modest sacrifices now, or wait until the choice is no longer ours and we are forced to take action.
I believe in this country and I believe us, its citizens. My prediction is this: Our next great leader, our next Mt. Rushmore worthy mug, will exist only after the American people have come together and learned that though unification, even if it means change and sacrifice (because it will), can we again prosper.
The future of our society remains in the simple question posed by John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.”
What can you do?