Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak to a campaign rally, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, in Warren, Mich. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

America Has a Crisis of Leadership

The reaction to President Trump’s tweet-attack on San Juan Mayor Cruz was swift and overwhelmingly negative – as it should have been. Only a few isolated voices on the confused right weighed in to defend Trump, and even that seemed to come far more out of some awkward sense of obligation than it did passion.

But the real issue that Republicans have to confront is far more concerning than the horrible optics, though even a Kindergartener could recognize how bad they are: a Mayor wading through floodwaters with a bullhorn looking for survivors in her devastated city being criticized for wanting “everything done” for her by a President playing golf on a luxury course.

What the Republican Party has to face is that the de facto leader of their party is no leader at all. It’s one thing when the President is petulant and crabby with the mainstream press. Even when his verbal abuse of CNN or the New York Times is sometimes unwarranted from a man in his position, it is hard for anyone on the right who has endured decades of unfair, libelous, slanderous, and prejudiced treatment from those media titans to not feel some sense of satisfaction. But it is quite another thing when the President is so thin-skinned and insecure that he lashes out viciously at anyone and everyone who won’t sing his praises.

That’s what evinced itself again in his Saturday morning Twitter-tantrum; something that could quickly become one of the more defining moments of Trump’s first term. While enjoying yet another round of presidential golf at a luxury course, the President unleashed his inner-child on the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico for her criticism of his government’s response to the humanitarian crisis occurring on American soil.

Now, there is no doubt that the situation in Puerto Rico is desperate and devastating, and responding to it is far more complicated than what keyboard warriors on Twitter would have us believe. It is also true that Mayor Cruz may well be inept, and that she was exaggerated in her remarks. It is also fair to conclude that major media is desirous of turning the situation in Puerto Rico into Trump’s version of the Katrina debacle, not because they are truly trying to motivate the President to help people, but because they are truly trying to destroy him and his presidency.

All that may be true.  However, none of it – not a single word of it – stands as justification for a president to react like a schoolgirl scorned.

Leadership is not a trait divinely bestowed upon those who hold positions of authority. It is a gift that can be honed and enhanced by experience, but not learned. And this episode reveals the startling truth that Republicans did not nominate, and the country did not elect a leader.

Leaders accept that they will be credited with things they are not responsible for accomplishing, and will be blamed for things they are not responsible for causing. And it’s true that it takes a very gifted man or woman to be able to accept and respond to that inconvenient reality. We have had such leaders – even in recent memory.

In response to the attacks of September 11th, President George W. Bush watched his presidency become one defined by war and conflict on foreign shores. It would involve him making extraordinarily unpopular decisions and receiving an overabundance of personal attacks on his character and integrity. Rarely a night would go by that Cindy Sheehan’s protest outside Bush’s home wasn’t broadcast with vigor, Keith Olbermann wasn’t trashing him as the “Worst Person in the World,” or hurting parents of dead or wounded soldiers weren’t releasing their grief by attacking the Commander-in-Chief.

How did President Bush respond? Exactly like a true leader would:

One mom and dad of a dying soldier from the Caribbean were devastated, the mom beside herself with grief. She yelled at the president, wanting to know why it was her child and not his who lay in that hospital bed. Her husband tried to calm her and I noticed the president wasn’t in a hurry to leave—he tried offering comfort but then just stood and took it, like he expected and needed to hear the anguish, to try to soak up some of her suffering if he could.

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Later as we rode back on Marine One to the White House, no one spoke. But as the helicopter took off, the president looked at me and said, “That mama sure was mad at me.” Then he turned to look out the window of the helicopter. “And I don’t blame her a bit.” One tear slipped out the side of his eye and down his face. He didn’t wipe it away, and we flew back to the White House.

Contrast that response to President Trump’s recent tirade and you can’t help but see the alarming distinction. This isn’t about policy, it isn’t about platform, it isn’t about politics. It’s about living in a country with a glaring poverty of leadership at a time we truly need it.

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Peter Heck

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