A Savior or a Leader?

Yesterday Martin wrote about how “the GOP base so easily dispenses with Republican ideology when it suits them.” I was reminded of the time, just a few years ago, when Tea Party activists used to show up at rallies in their tri-corner hats and claim to be the defenders of the Constitution developed by our founders. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gives us a couple of examples about how all of that went out the window.

…to protect us, he [Trump] advocates exactly what the terrorists advocate: dismantling the Constitution. A few days after the New York and New Jersey bombings, Trump grumbled that freedom of expression and freedom of the press contributed to the spread of terrorism in the United States. He claims he supports freedom of the press, but he also stated that we should not allow certain people to sell magazines: “Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech,’” Trump complained. “These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.”

Trump continued his attack on the Constitution by announcing Wednesday that he’d like to see a return of the “stop and frisk” policing policy to end violence in black communities. “They see somebody that’s suspicious, they will profile,” Trump said. “Look what’s going on: Do we really have a choice? We’re trying to be so politically correct in our country, and this is only going to get worse.” In other words, he endorses unreasonable searches without probable cause based on the color of one’s skin. The theory seems to be, “If you’re black, you’re probably guilty of something.” …Even more to the point, a federal judge found the policy unconstitutional.

We can add to that the fact that Donald Trump has blatantly advocated that the U.S. should commit war crimes (which are, by design, unconstitutional) in response to terrorism. As Abdul-Jabbar says, he is advocating “exactly what the terrorists advocate.”

Abdul-Jabbar goes on to blame this on the kind of cowardice and fear that has been stoked by Republicans for years now and reached its apex in their current presidential nominee. In other words, the journey to abandoning our Constitution has its roots in their post-policy positioning that is based on an emotional fear.

I was struck by how Abdul-Jabbar took it one step deeper with this as his conclusion:

We aren’t divided by political ideology as much as split between those blindly hoping for a savior and those rationally selecting a leader.

When he talks about those who are “hoping for a savior,” it harkens back to the fact that, during his convention speech, Trump described his view of “midnight in America” and then said, “I alone can fix it.” It is the ultimate in authoritarianism leading to tyranny.

Beyond being an indictment of Trump, this is a cautionary tale to those who place so much emphasis on the idea that any president can save us. We see the seeds of that in the Green Lanternism that undergirded too much of the criticism of President Obama. And so it behooves us to examine the alternative. What does it mean to select a leader? Here is how community organizer Marshall Ganz describes leadership in the civic arena:

Although we associate leaders with certain kinds of attributes (like power), a more useful way to look at leadership is as a kind of relationship. James McGregor Burns argues leadership can be understood as a relationship that emerges from repeated “exchanges” or “transactions” between leaders and followers or constituents. Leaders can provide resources constituents need to address their interests and constituents can provide resources leaders need to address theirs.

Another important distinction Burns makes…is that between leadership and domination. Effective leaders facilitate the interdependence or collaboration that can create more “power to” — based on the interests of all parties. Domination is the exercise of “power over” –a relationship that meets interests of the “power wielder” at the expense of everyone else.

I think that is an excellent description of what leadership means in a democracy – especially the distinction between leadership and dominance. The kind of leadership he’s talking about is very well captured in the campaign slogan, “Stronger Together.” What Ganz doesn’t say is that dominance eventually turns followers into victims because it robs them of their collective power. That is exactly what Martin was describing when he wrote this about why the Republican base rebelled:

The Republicans told folks that they’d end illegal immigration and stop gay marriage and ban abortion and crush terrorism and liberate Iraq and create enormous economic growth. They either failed or failed to even sincerely try to do those things. And people have noticed.

In other words, the Republicans promised dominance in a democracy – which requires interdependence and collaboration. Or as Abdul-Jabbar put it, they pretended to be saviors rather than leaders.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .