Leadership in good times means little.
Leadership in bad times means everything.
And these times, they are indisputably bad. Grim, grinding, grotesque. For the rest of our lives, we will all remember the dark days of 2020, when nothing was again the same. Everyone, everything, everywhere: it’s all different, now.
“All changed, changed utterly,” Yeats wrote in Easter 1916, and which he could write again in Easter 2020, if he was still here. (No “terrible beauty,” though.)
When times are this bad, we learn things about ourselves. We learn things about our leaders, too.
For this writer, few leaders are as inspiring as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. No adjectives, no spin, no homilies: in that New Yorker’s brusque dialect, Cuomo sits there every day, no notes, and simply offers up the truth.
He emotes honesty. He tells it as is; he does not give false hope. And he seemingly knows everything.
More than once, I’ve been driving my Jeep – to locate toilet paper, to pick up some canned food my little band of survivors – and I’ve pulled over to the side of the road to listen to Cuomo. In the way that my grandmother told me that she and her seven children would stop everything, and gather around the radio to listen to Winston Churchill during World War Two. Giving hope, giving faith, giving a path forward.
Doug Ford, too. He’s given hope, and he’s shown no small amount of strength and decency. Even his detractors now admit that Ontario’s Premier has revealed himself to be an inspirational voice. One they did not expect.
On the subject of Ford, I’m biased. (He has been a friend, and I’ve done a couple writing assignments for his government.) So don’t take my word for it. Former NDP Premier Bob Rae: “With the Premier on this.” Current Ontario Liberal leader Stephen Del Duca: “Ontario Liberals support the government’s decision to shut down non-essential business.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, on the so-called Right, BC Premier John Horgan on the Left: they, too, have stepped up in a way that their political adversaries did not expect.
Our federal leaders, not as much. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative leadership frontrunner Peter MacKay have disappointed, lately.
Trudeau did so well at the outset of the pandemic, and then – when he perhaps thought no one would be looking – he tried to seize unprecedented, and unnecessary, spending and taxation powers. The outcry was immediate and came from across the political and media spectrum.
The Prime Minister lost in ten minutes what had taken ten weeks to build up. His partisan adversaries are unlikely to fully trust him anytime soon.
Peter MacKay, too, seemed more preoccupied with power than the general good. With the pandemic raging – rendering hundreds of Canadians sick, killing dozens – MacKay stubbornly refused calls for his party’s leadership race to be paused.
No one was paying attention to the Tory leadership race. No one cared about it. But MacKay insisted that it continue, because no less than “democracy” was at stake.
He looked like a fool. Last week, his party completely rejected his demands, and thereby did the right thing.
The missteps of Justin Trudeau and Peter MacKay are nothing, however, when compared to Donald Trump’s tyrannical reign of error. Trudeau and MacKay were merely self-serving. Trump is far, far worse.
In a devastating ad, leading Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden documented Trump’s serial lies about the growing coronavirus threat – how Trump said “we have it totally under control.” How he said “it will disappear like a miracle.” How the virus was “a hoax.”
Trump’s fans will say that he is popular, now. And it is true: polls show Americans are currently prepared to give their “president” the benefit of the doubt.
But Jimmy Carter’s popularity soared, too, after the hostages were seized in Iran four decades ago.
From the New York Times on December 10, 1979: “Public approval of President Carter’s performance in office has increased dramatically in the month since the United States Embassy in Teheran was seized and hostages held by militant students, according to a poll by the Gallup Organization. The percentage of people who approved of Mr. Carter’s handling of the Presidency jumped from 32, in a Gallup survey, to 61 in the latest poll.”
Jimmy Carter’s presidency would ultimately be destroyed by the Iranian hostage crisis. So will Donald Trump’s, by this new crisis, and for how he has mismanaged it.
It is always this way: political careers are made in times of crisis.
But they can be ended by crises, too.