Leadership Redefined, a 2020 Odd-dyssey

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

 

Of course, in this very traumatic and odd year that has been 2020, it should be no surprise that an asteroid will be zooming past Earth right before one of the most contentious Election Days in modern American political history.

As well, everything that screams “2020” includes the triggering of angst and online protocol (like remembering not to take a shower during a team meeting, a “rule” not heeded in Pittsburgh recently) with the mention of the word “Zoom”.

Those trigger words and phrases could also include “masks”, “social distancing”, “data”, “flatten the curve” (a long-forgotten phrase that apparently has no meaning anymore) – and “leadership”.

If the oddities of Americans masking up alone in their own cars and inexplicably hoarding toilet paper to the point of national shortage highlight the impact of the pandemic-ridden and protest-driven events of the year, the void of historic leadership reflect the failures of our nation throughout it all.

The hopes of many Republicans looking for 4 more years of a Republican White House resonate with concerns that its standard-bearer cannot refrain from the types of statements (both verbal and electronic) that will invigorate voters against the ticket (as was mentioned on RED + BLACK this week.) In many ways, the bar for leadership and statesmanship is low, signified by a hope that an appropriate blend of “crunchy” feistiness (a Kira Davis descriptor, again as noted on RED + BLACK) and political tact wins the day for the tone of campaign strategy.

However, as the Democrats’ Convention showed this past week, the bar for leadership is low on their end as well.

Success for their presidential nominee has been defined as getting through the nomination speech without a major gaffe while reading an oft-prepared script. Success for their vice-presidential nominee has been defined to date as reversing the likability deficits that she endured with Black voters just months ago. Success for their convention has been defined as both pandering to disenchanted Republicans with speakers (such as Secretary Powell and Governor Kasich) while also playing to the base with speakers such as Billy Porter – an odd blend of tactics that yielded mixed results and a nominal convention bump.  Success for their movement right now has been defined as keeping leaders from the far left (e.g., AOC) from deviating from the election plan (as it did in 2016) or having the increasingly-present demands of protestors become a driver for a “law-and-order” vote against Biden-Harris akin to 1968.

The bar is low while the stakes remain high throughout 2020.

Right now, we cannot count on our elected officials to be consistent with their “guidance” concerning the COVID19 response, as we have learned once again in Pennsylvania with the hypocrisy revealed. “COVID-spreading concerns” now involve backroom deals to avoid capacity mandates for some while shutting down businesses and scholastic sports for others. We cannot count on direction from elected officials from local government on up, aside from the obligatory swipe at the other side of the aisle, as shown by Democrats in leadership blaming Trump for the police issues in their communities despite the history of discrimination during their tenures. We cannot count on elected officials to lead our communities with vision and trust in the people to re-open their economies fully, strategically allow schools to figure out the best ways to re-open this fall without involving politics, or work with any sense of transparency and cooperation with other elected officials in these times of crisis – even to the point of economic bullying by withholding federal emergency funds to establish “who’s the boss”.

We cannot continue this way. Someone on either side of the political divide needs to lead, not just win, in 2020. Ideally, we will see this on both sides of the aisle.

Over the past 20 years, we have allowed the definition of political leadership to primarily include the ability to stimulate an emotional reaction against a political group or social entity, usually one that devoid of facts, vision, or plans for a better nation. We have allowed the definition of thought leadership to include the ability to be louder, bolder, more brash, and more divisive at a time when the need for unity is at a premium, as America faces more threats domestically and internationally than we have since the end of the Cold War. We have allowed leadership through debate and disagreement to be redefined as the one best capable of sowing division and discord, where hope for unity has been lost in the smoke of burning buildings and the fog of standoffs in Nevada and New York City alike. We have allowed visionaries to be the ones that can lead us to a “50% + 1 America”, where long-standing standards such as the Electoral College and cloture are now seen as impediments to victories, not guard rails of temperance within a democratic republic.

We cannot continue down this path. The Democrats’ virtual convention over the past week provided an opportunity to show a new vision of leadership – one past their current model that primarily denotes how evil the Republicans are and how bad Trump is. It failed in many regards to provide this for voters outside of their established 2020 base.

A revitalized American cannot rise from the ashes of a pandemic, a crumpled economy, and heightened (and non-partisan) racial tensions with the driving force being an anti-Trump vote (or an anti-Biden vote). Leadership is never merely the opposite of a reality or an opponent; it has always been for something very specific, very tangible, and very relatable. Leadership is never the opposite of a perceived negative; it must always be the advancement of an undeniable positive – a force for good, for justice, for advancement, and for peace. In this very odd and tenuous year, there has been a collective failure for most “leaders” to be historic in their leadership. The focus –to calm, to instill confidence, to keep safe, to restore losses, to ensure justice, and to inspire hope past our current woes – is simply not there. This past week’s convention did not change that reality for millions of Americans, just as this upcoming week’s convention may not do the same for millions more. However, for the remainder of 2020, it is vital that, moving forward, leadership becomes redefined once again – not just for the election of a president and other notable elected officials, but for the hopes of a rebound in America that will not leave a generation of Americans behind.