What makes for good leadership? Effective leadership? Ethical leadership? You guessed it: Wisdom.
Unfortunately, Piers Morgan, the journalist/celebrity apprentice/anchorman missed it. What follows is what he said about both Trump and Boris Johnson (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) on the journalistic critique program, Reliable Sources on 4/20/2020. He lambasted Trump as being a self-serving man who is really screwing up his leadership during the time of the worst pandemic in decades and the worst economic contraction in a century, but again, when listing qualities he sees lacking in Trump and Johnson, wisdom somehow comes up missing.
Morgan was impressive in his rebuke of the poseur in the White House thusly (when asked about the similarities between Johnson and Trump):
“I think they’re very similar, actually, in that you’ve got two populist leaders. [Consider] all the tricks they used to become popular, win elections, and lead their countries; [now, in fact, they] are being tested in very different ways. It’s not about partisan politics anymore; it’s about plain, war/crisis leadership — which is a very different thing. With both Johnson and Trump, there is an apparent inability to segue into being war leaders; they’re still playing the old games of party politics. Donald Trump, in particular — I’ve known him a long time; I consider him to be a friend. But I’ve been watching these daily briefings with mounting horror, frankly, because this is not what the president should be doing.
He won’t welcome me saying this, but I’m going to say it anyway: the President of the United States right now is an incredibly important person — and not least to Americans, who are dying in the tens of thousands from a disease that we don’t know too much about yet. And all this requires from the president (and any world leader, frankly) is:
They’ve got to be calm; they need to show authority; they have to be honest; they have to be accurate and entirely factual; and they have to have the ability to show empathy.
On almost every level, at the moment, Donald Trump is failing the American people. He is turning these briefings into a self-aggrandizing, self-justifying, overly defensive, partisan — almost like a rally, to him.
Almost as though what is more important is winning the election in November.
No it’s not, Donald Trump! What’s more important right now is saving American lives. I believe the complacency that both the American and the British administrations showed in the first few weeks of this crisis has been extremely t0 both countries’ ability to deal with coronavirus.
But it’s not too late for them to now get a grip and actually make the attack on the virus their number one priority — not pumping themselves up, not telling us all day what a great job they’re doing, but actually focusing on what matters.
That is: human life.”
Wow, I almost applauded. Morgan’s off-the-cuff answer was a profound paean to prudent and proper leadership — not raw politics, personality disorder, and personal concern.
There is one thing he missed when he ticked off a pretty astute list of attributes and markers of good, effective leadership — wisdom.
First, quickly, though: Brian Seltzer is the host of the CNN program Reliable Sources. It’s not a news reporting program as much as it is a process-level, broad look at the role of the media vis-a-vis ethics, accuracy, effectiveness, propriety, etc. I think it is up there with Fareed Zakaria’s GPS as far as good programs that are above reproach (for CNN is sometimes accused of both repeating itself to fill the 24-hour news cycle, and also in crowing about things that serve its own interests (e.g., to inflate the importance of certain issues, to focus on certain issues rather than others — your basic critique of modern, mainstream media).
Anyway, Seltzer has an impressive segment in the beginning of the show in which he goes on to interview Morgan, and I wanted to just share it real quick because it is about wisdom and leadership, too, from the perspective of what the media’s role is in this crisis. In fact, Thomas Jefferson considered the media “the fourth estate”; that is, fourth in importance to the leadership of this country only after Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court. So, here is a plea to his fellow journalists, full of wisdom, responsibility, and vision:
“I want to talk about the role of ‘the press’ during a national emergency.
How should we properly advocate for you?
Newspapers, news outlets, magazines should reflect the public’s views, answer their questions, and inform their debates. In fact, that is what publishers have been doing ever since the days of the Boston News-Letter and the Pennsylvania Evening Post.
Now, these days, anyone can be a publisher through social media. But the professional press — newspapers, websites, magazines, shows like this one, and the like — still set the national and global conversation.
So, in my humble view, we should advocating not for a particular politician or party, but advocating for a safe, healthy, well-informed public. And we can do that by centering coverage of this pandemic not around politicians, but around the voters. We should focus on the bottom line: cover this story from the bottom, up. We’ve got to push elected officials to see what “locked-down life” is really like.“
So, back to Piers Morgan’s critique of Trump’s leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.
I think it was fair, accurate, and incisive. It was great commentary, especially during a verbal interview in which he was not reading a pre-written comment.
What is lacked, though, was the mention of wisdom.
What is leadership without wisdom? Think about that…
Can a leader such as Trump, during a crisis such as this, be accurate, empathic, factual, show good leadership, reassuring, and dignified — and yet not be wise? True, perhaps justice and vulnerability and morality are missing from Morgan’s characterization of a good leader, as well; but wisdom is notably absent.
The fact is, Trump evinces canniness and cunning and craftiness and contempt for convention, but not wisdom.
Dov Seidman of the How Institute for Society, has this to add:
“Great leaders trust people with the truth. And they make hard decisions guided by values and principles, not just politics, popularity or short-term profits. Great leaders understand that when so many vulnerable and scared people are so willing, so quickly, to put their livelihoods and even their lives in their leaders’ hands, and make sacrifices asked of them, they expect the truth and nothing but the truth in return. Leaders who trust people with the truth are trusted more in return. But you better not betray my trust — by not telling me the truth — when I have literally put my life in your hands.”
Wisdom cannot be detached from character, and it cannot be separated from vision.
Wisdom would help Trump see that lying is not going to be effective for the short term, when reporters and the American public and the world are watching and hanging on his every word, and when lives are at stake. Neither will lying put him in good stead for posterity; do you think that history, which will be immune from his power-politics or his “cult of personality” or his hucksterism and snake oil? Only the craven, partisan historian in thirty or forty years will try to paint Trump as a picture of the wise leader, above human foibles and petty partisan politics. Lying only seals the deal for all time that Trump would rather use evil means to obtain his desired ends than to take the road of character and principled leadership.
And of course, lying seems to fail to recognize that there are other means of obtaining true facts, beyond the White House Press Briefing. Yes, he may have pulled the wool over the eyes of twenty or thirty million people — a task which, incidentally, is truly Hitlerian in its scope, success, and significance. But fooling some of the people all of the time does not mean that there aren’t five hundred million people in the world who get news from sources other than Trump’s Twitter feed, or Fox News, or Breitbart, or Rush Limbaugh.
Most wise persons in this country and throughout the world laugh at what Rush Limbaugh says, not follow his playbook and kneel before his throne. These individuals see Trump as an unscrupulous con artist who manipulated the vulnerabilities in the U.S. political system and social milieu to feather his own nest. Unfortunately, gravely, we are stuck with him during this horrible pandemic in part because 53 Republican Senators were too wantonly immoral and self-serving to stand up for what is true and right. Only Mitt Romney passed that test of character. And so we have Trump to lead us through the worst situation since World War II or 9/11.
Wisdom should help someone in Trump’s position realize that it would be far better to tell the truth and demonstrate principled, proper leadership on live television than it would be to continue to hide in a labyrinth of lies and obfuscations. However, he has a blind spot where such wisdom would lay; he only sees the goal of avoiding criticism, basking in glory, achieving adulation, and enjoying admiration. Basically, the goals of any malignant narcissist. Unfortunately, gravely, we have Trump as our leader in what is amounting to one of the most critical challenges in this country’s history.
I wish to compare three statements of Trump to three statements of wiser persons, and you can easily see the difference, and will note why I believe that Morgan erred when he did not include wisdom as one of the cardinal virtues we need to see from our leader at a time such as this:
Marian Wright Edelman: “Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.”
Trump: “When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s got to be.”
Without courage, all other virtues lose their meaning.”
Trump: “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
Trump: “It’s freezing and snowing in New York — we need global warming!”
J.R.R. Tolkien: “All that is gold does not glitter/ Not all those who wander are lost/ The old who are strong do not whither/ Deep roots are not touched by the frost.”
Trump: “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, ‘The risk is low to the average American.’”
Serena Williams:“The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up. Make sure you’re very courageous: be strong, be extremely kind, and above all be humble.”
Trump: “Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say China, in a trade deal? I beat China all the time. All the time.“
Harriet Tubman: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Trump: “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”
My dad believed in honesty. Extreme honesty. That’s the biggest thing he taught me. I never lie, even to this day.”
Below, according to The Independent, is a veritable graph of Donald Trump’s unwise, unethical statements correlated with the growing threat posed by the virus. It’s disgusting. I’m going to stop writing this post, I’ve been here for 90 minutes and I now feel like I am wasting my goddamned day. Thank you for reading, and be well.