Do the times shape leaders? Or do leaders shape the times? Maybe both.
America has had some great leaders. Washington, Lincoln, Teddy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan. America has also had some not so great leaders; Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and I will add Herbert Hoover, albeit he lacks a critical distinction the other three have.
Lost in the discussion, or debate, depending on how you choose to view it, over Trump’s decision to redeploy the 50 U.S. soldiers in Syria, and whether it is a wise decision or an immoral one, is how this American President perceives terrorism 18 years after 9/11.
Should he see it the way Christ viewed the poor, circa AD33? You might recall what Jesus said to his critics in Bethany when Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, used expensive perfume to wash His feet. The criticism over Mary’s act of worship stemmed from the belief by some of those in the room that rather than use expensive oils and perfumes to wash Jesus’ feet, she should have sold them and used the money to help the poor.
Jesus had this response for Mary’s detractors, “the poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”
Well, Jesus was right, obviously, for the past 2,000 years, the poor have always been with us. And Jesus was only with his followers for a very brief time.
And this begs the following question, will terrorism always be with us? Perhaps. I suppose as long as there is a clash of civilizations, which seems like irreconcilable differences between Islam and Judeo Christianity, tension will exist, giving birth to violence.
But what should an American President say about this issue on the eve of the third decade of the third millennium? Perhaps President Reagan provides us the right answer.
In 1981, speaking at Notre Dame University, Reagan said the following, “the West won’t contain communism, it will transcend communism. It won’t bother to dismiss or denounce it; it will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.”
How did Reagan know? How did he know that Communism would collapse?
I believe he knew because he understood what millions of seemingly hopeless Soviets understood; the empire had no clothes. It was at odds with human nature.
Well, today, the Caliphate also has no clothes. And so it too will collapse. It may try and rise from the ashes, in the wake of Trump’s decision to leave the region where it once thrived, but because it’s built on an immoral foundation, one that is at odds with the human spirit, which is freedom, it will always be nothing more than a sad, and bizarre religious ideology destined to end up on the ash heap of history.
But, to make sure of that, America must remain the indispensable nation, a beacon of freedom, that shining city on a hill that Reagan spoke of so eloquently. And that means rejecting our isolationist impulses and committing instead to a moral and muscular internationalism rather than a self-centered, bordering on paranoid, nationalism.
Churchill and Roosevelt were the men of the 20th century; Reagan and Thatcher were the moral leaders of the decade in which they lead the free world. Trump should commit his presidency to a purpose and a doctrine worthy of a great nation and essential to an ethical and moral cause.
And that cause should be prosperity, and not just prosperity for Americans, but prosperity for all people and in all places. Because the morality inherent in prosperity won’t merely contain global poverty or terrorism, both of which thrive on political and religious instability, it will transcend them.
And so we shouldn’t be content to denounce these evil twins of hopelessness and despair, we should dismiss them, and reorganize and commit our cause and our purpose to make sure prosperity reaches every person, in every nation, in every corner of the globe.
That is not just a moral cause worth fighting for; it is a goal worthy of a great country and a moral nation.
Or perhaps, once more, Reagan said it best in his speech at Notre Dame; “for the West, for America, the time has come to dare to show to the world that our civilized ideas, our traditions, our values, are not—like the ideology and war machine of totalitarian societies—just a facade of strength. It is time for the world to know our intellectual and spiritual values are rooted in the source of all strength, a belief in a Supreme Being, and a law higher than our own.”