There are consequences to leading badly — and consequences to following a bad leader. Followers look to their leaders. They are followers precisely because they trust their leaders. They believe them. They take a leap of faith when there is doubt, and the benefit of that doubt is given to the leader. Leaders lead by example, by their words, and by their passion.
With leadership comes great responsibility. Leadership requires the willingness to be bold, yes – but it also requires the ability to be circumspect, to weigh one’s words and carefully consider their impact.
Not all who claim this mantle are created equal. Some are driven by the desire to uplift us all; others are driven by the desire to bring attention to themselves. Some are thinkers and visionaries who build coalitions and gather us together around solutions; others are bullies whose only plan is to tear us apart.
Leaders, especially when they are running for the most important office in our nation — and given America’s prominence in the world — must have a sense of gravitas and understand their place in history. They must appreciate the trust being placed in them.
And they must appreciate the impact of their words and actions on our children. Hate is a very difficult lesson to unlearn.
Which brings me to Donald Trump. With his showman’s zeal for the spotlight and his instinct to go in for the kill, he says one outrageous, awful thing after another. Just when we think it can get no worse, he proves us wrong again and again. He purposefully stokes racial animosity, cultural bigotry, and fear of “the other.” At a time in history when we are among the most diverse nations on the face of the earth, we can show the world how inclusiveness works. Yet Trump views it as our Achilles heel – something that makes us “less great.” But in truth, it is the source of our greatness.
He uses his supporters as pawns, encouraging them to take his words of hate and division literally and act on them. Trump stirs his followers to intense anger, much as a matador waves a red flag before a raging bull, and then stands back, opens wide the gates, and claims innocence.
“There may be somebody with tomatoes in the audience. If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”
Of a protestor being escorted out of a rally in Las Vegas:
“I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell ya.”
Regarding the crowd kicking and punching a Black Lives Matter protestor in Alabama:
“Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
At rally in October in Miami:
“See the first group, I was nice. Oh, take your time. The second group, I was pretty nice. The third group, I’ll be a little more violent. And the fourth group, I’ll say get the hell out of here!”
On February 27, regarding protestors:
“In the good ol’ days, they’d have knocked him out of his seat so fast…Knock the crap out of them. Knock the hell. I promise you I will pay for the legal fees, I promise, I promise.”
At a February 23 Las Vegas rally:
“I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
Regarding the excuse that protestors started it – although there is no evidence of Trump supporters defending themselves from protestors:
“He was swinging, he was hitting people, and the audience hit back. That’s what we need more of.”
But wait. There’s more. It’s not just that we need more violence in our nation. We should also inflict more violence overseas. He tells his followers there’s a simple way to stop ISIS. Kill their families.
In December 2015:
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”
On February 7, when asked about waterboarding (which is illegal torture under international law):
“I think it’s great, but we don’t go far enough. It’s true. We don’t go far enough. We don’t go far enough.”
In South Carolina:
“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work — torture works. Okay, folks? Torture — you know, half these guys say: ‘Torture doesn’t work.’ Believe me, it works. Okay?”
And if you didn’t find those pronouncements especially bad, here’s what he said when explaining the power he wields over his supporters:
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
What does that tell you? That Donald Trump believes virtually anything goes. For him, there are not even occasional blurred lines that give him pause before he speaks; there is no line he will not cross. His remarks are filled with misstatements, exaggerations, and downright lies. He thinks none of this ultimately will matter, because he believes he holds infinite power over his supporters. And he is certain they will carry him into the White House.
But those of us who will never follow his twisted lead have power, too. We have the power not only to speak against him in protest – which is our right – but even more importantly, to give our voice to a different kind of leader, a different kind of leadership. That is our obligation. Our democracy is only as strong as those who act in support of worthy leaders. We must act.
This man is unworthy. So, speak the truth. Then roll up your sleeves and get to work for the candidate who can lead our country in a direction we can be proud of. Our children are watching.