Story by: Chapman Rackaway
Working for the Common Good During a Trump Presidency.
Donald Trump takes the oath of office this month to become the 45th president of the United States. What does his presidency mean for the exercise of leadership in our deeply divided country?
A leadership test that falls on all of us
In my pre-election dialogue with Michael Smith in the Fall edition of The Journal, I focused my attention on the first principle that the Kansas Leadership Center teaches: leadership as an act, more so than a position. Considering the public reaction to the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, it is high time to consider the idea of civic leadership in a larger context.
The presidency is a symbol of the United States. But as the federal government has grown in scope and importance, the national executive has transcended mere symbolism and become all too often the embodiment of the U.S. In embracing the “president as America,” we have perhaps allowed ourselves to lose sight of our role as leaders-in-action in favor of the president as leader-by-position.
I do see opportunities for President Donald Trump to exercise leadership by working across factions within his party and holding the U.S. to purpose. He faces the ire of Democrats and distrust from many within his own party. Being an effective president will seriously test his self-promoted negotiation skills. He’ll also need to keep the citizenry moving forward and not embrace the backward thinking on social progress embodied by the alt-right movement that his campaign often empowered.
But the real leadership test in this country falls more broadly, landing on all of us who care about our country.
If we truly lead from whatever positions we occupy, then the negative impact of any candidate winning that we did not support is softened a bit. We have become comfortable letting our politicians do the leading for us. Passively we quadrennially participate in elections, but we do precious little in between, even for other elections like primaries. We do not provide the guiding perspective and leadership to our elected officials in the interim, mostly because we have mistakenly convinced ourselves that our duty is only to select the candidates. You wouldn’t take your hands off the steering wheel 90 percent of the time while driving, and yet we expect to do the same with our government and not expect it to end up in the ditch.
With a president who by his nature is often divisive, the best way for the public to deal with the Trump era is to exert more of its natural leadership potential.
Chapman Rackaway is a political science professor at Fort Hays State University. He is an alumnus of Kansas Leadership Center programs.
Story by:Michael Smith
For loyal opponents, it’s time to use your exile well.
My colleague and dear friend Chapman Rackaway suggests that we face the Election Day shock by stepping up, as community leaders. I couldn’t agree more.
Leadership must rebuild broken institutions and broken faith in them, develop a culture of kindness, and give all Americans and all people places to go where they will be safe.
But there is more. There must be more. We’re Americans, dammit. We don’t just survive. We thrive.
In “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” Joseph Campbell cataloged myths from around the world to learn what makes a hero (at the KLC we would say leader instead, but Campbell was a traditionalist). One of the stages is living in exile, banished (spiritually, politically or literally) from one’s homeland, forced to cope with loss: dead, then reborn when we face our own shadows.
This cuts both ways. Nelson Mandela returned to make big changes after exile in a South African prison – but so did the Ayatollah Khomeini, upon his return to Iran from France. Providential timing plus our own moral codes will determine what happens next.
If President Donald Trump succeeds at healing some of the fissures his campaign exposed, then America will be great again. Otherwise, future leaders had better be ready, because we know not the hour when we will be called.
As a Democrat, I see myself as being part of the loyal opposition. I plan to spend my exile reading, meditating, rediscovering my faith, teaching, getting my body into shape and loving everyone I know with the deepest, kindest empathy and compassion I can muster. Dear reader (and leader), I hope you, too, use your exile well. We’re going to need you one day.
Michael Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University. He is an alumnus of Kansas Leadership Center programs.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. For a subscription to the printed edition of The Journal, visit klcjr.nl/amzsubscribe