“If you fail to honor your people, they will fail to honor you; It is said of a good leader that when the work is done, the aim fulfilled, the people will say, “We did this ourselves.” — Lao Tzu, 604-531 B. C., Founder of Taoism, Tao Te Ching
It is more than 18 months since President Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States (US). It’s been equally about the same duration President Obama peacefully and democratically handed over power as the 44th president of the US. The contrast is overwhelming. In this brief treatise, I will draw some distinctions of what admirable leadership entails from the style, pronouncements and accomplishes of the two US presidents.
Admirable leaders ought to be backed up by a strong moral sense. In each epoch and era, there is always a strong belief that leadership devoid of morality is a fraud. And there is no absence of justification when one considers the presidencies of Obama and Trump. When Obama was running for president, a majority of Americans touted his relationships with certain people, like Jeremiah Wright, and scrutinized his family or whether he measured up as a model father. It is believed that if he was found wanting in this regard, his presidential bid would have been thwarted.
The late John McCain came to Obama’s rescue when a woman grimed of Obama: “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, um, he’s an Arab.” And McCain’s response, “No, ma’am…He’s a decent family man (and) citizen that ... I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”
Compare this to Trump who in August 2017 commented regarding the white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville, saying they included “some very fine people”! Trump has paid prostitutes to shield his election campaign, bragged of groping women, racialized athletes, and called African nations “shitholes.” Obama, on the other hand, had defended women, remained faithful to his wife, and embraced all – no matter who they were or where they came from.
There is no denying that presidents are just human and prone to human weaknesses. That granted, it is also important that a leader of people be humble, and where she has flaws, acknowledge the help of other people. If possible, and where necessary, a leader of a people should be willing to exercise great restraint in sensual matters. The standard is not perfection; it is willingness to change.
Moral strength comes from spiritual or philosophical sources. Thus, in every nation, there is no poverty of wise guides and philosophers who provide moral ideals. Anyone aspiring to the highest office in the land must be guided by a sense of philosophy or spiritual principle that relishes the supremacy of God and the dignity of all human beings. This does not matter whether one is a Christian, Muslim or atheist. A sense of right and wrong is what perpetuates society to the next generation. A leader who thrives in the moment, sadly like Trump, is a danger not only to themselves and those who blindly follow them, but also to the future of sanity, order and solidarity. Nations flourish on the examples of their past torchbearers – leaders who provided direction during the nations most difficulty times. They were able to do so because they weighed what they said and did in public and guarded strongly their private thoughts.
Admitted, under Trump the US economy is prospering or continuing to prosper from what Obama had started. However, in the context of the total narrative, a leader will be considered a failure if he both provided food and poison to his people. Economic manumission should be balanced with the ideals of humanity, dignity and decency. Wealth without decency is like a skydiver without a parachute. Soon they will descend into self-destruction.
Nations that did not regard morality ended up destroying themselves from within. Leaders must subscribe to the moral imperative necessary to sustaining character, quality of life and human decency. They should rule by example, tame their tongues from profanity, educate their minds to speak truth and exercise due diligence in improving the economic livelihoods of the people. That kind of rule is referred to as “A Rule in Justice.” Proverbs 29:2 advises, “When justice rules a nation, everyone is glad; when injustice rules, everyone groans.” Obama exemplified that; so far, Trump is failing in this regard.
By Charles Mwewa
Law instructor in Canada and author of “Zambia – Struggles of My People” and other books.