Retired four-star Adm. James Stavridis — the longest-serving combatant commander in recent United States history, who also served as the 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and received the Navy League John Paul Jones Award for inspirational leadership, along with more than 50 U.S. and international medals and decorations including 28 from foreign nations — recently stated, “The job of a leader is to bring order out of chaos.”
In other words, a real leader seeks to facilitate and bring stability and structure, not disorder and upheaval. If he or she does the latter, they’re failing at their job.
As is now well known, in one of the most mystifying actions by a U.S. president in recent memory, while giving a speech in our home state to bolster support for Republican United States senatorial candidate Luther Strange, President Donald Trump set off a verbal bomb by addressing an issue totally unrelated to the event at hand. He stated, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of a bitch off the field?’ He’s fired, he’s fired!!” He followed that with talk of the public adulation an owner would receive for carrying out such an act.
That wasn’t the end. “Because you know today if you hit too hard —15 yards!” he exclaimed. “Throw him out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys, just really beautiful tackle. Boom, 15 yards! The referee gets on television, his wife is sitting at home, she’s so proud of him. They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what they want to do. They want to hit! It is hurting the game.”
In a speech meant to endorse and get out the vote for a candidate, Trump did exactly what Adm. Stavridis said a leader shouldn’t do: He created chaos.
Like many people, I was stunned and taken aback that the president of the U.S. would refer to a fellow citizen as a “son of bitch” and imply that said citizen(s) were birthed by “bitches.”
That in and of itself is astounding on its own, but the fact that he would use his words to ignite a cultural firestorm is even more incredible. Surely he had to understand the toxic effect his words would have and the serious discord they would create.
In my Sept. 20 column I posed the question: “Why are we so often plagued with disunity rather than community?” Answering my own question, I stated, “I would submit the source of the problem is often found in those we choose to lead us. . . . We often elect and follow leaders that fan the flames of destructive difference and lead us to believe those that disagree with our side need to be vanquished and silenced, rather than understood and negotiated with. Instead of urging constructive difference that leads to dialogue and strengthens the bond of community, many leaders prefer the destructive difference that disintegrates community and erodes the humanity and dignity we all share.”
Two days after that column appeared, President Trump engaged in immense destructive difference, fanning the flames of division and disorder. Our leader chose to create chaos.
Some have argued that politically it’s a smart move because the majority of Americans support his stance. That may be.
But how often is a protest seen as favorable or approved by the majority? Normally protests are birthed because the majority has not seen an issue that’s being protested as one of vital concern and a minority feels it is.
During the civil rights era, the majority of white Americans felt lunch counter “sit-ins,” “freedom rides,” marches and other forms of civil rights protests WERE NOT helpful and were counterproductive.
After the 1963 March on Washington, South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond stated, “The Negroes in this country own more refrigerators and automobiles than they do in any other country.” Thurmond, along with the majority of white Americans, couldn’t understand why blacks were being ungrateful and not recognizing how good they had it in America.
My point is that just because the majority feel a certain way about protests doesn’t mean the majority is right. I can totally understand President Trump or anyone saying they could not and would not kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance. I’m a former service member and law enforcement officer and know that I personally could not take a knee. But as I’ve listened to those who express their motivations for doing so, and how it has nothing to do with dishonoring the flag or service members, but is a peaceful, nonviolent way they can call attention to the plight of those in the communities they come from, I can understand and respect their decision.
A few days ago, speaking to a veteran who had called in to his radio show, Nick Saban summed it up best: “I don’t think that what these people are doing is in any way, shape or form … meant to disrespect a veteran or somebody like yourself who has worked so hard, fought so hard, sacrificed so much for all of us to have the quality of life that we want to have.
“But one of the things that you also fought for and made sacrifice for was that we all could have the freedom to have choice, in terms of what we believe, what we did and what we said. … I have my opinion, in terms of what I would do and how I would do it.
“But I also respect individual differences that other people have, and I think they have the right to express those. Whether it’s our players or somebody else, whether I agree or disagree, I do think they have the right to do that.”
Those are the words President Trump should have said. It’s the leader’s job to not cause chaos.