What is it about reality? Have many of us have lost our capacity to discern fact from fiction? Or, does right or wrong follow an indelible path imprinted by our ethnicity or political party or some loudmouth performative liar? Or some wayward professor whose education has seldom ventured beyond polemicists portrayed as intellectuals?
I am gobsmacked by those who can find anything redeeming about Hamas. Or Russia under Putin. Or the Ayatollah’s Iran. Evil exists. And for geopolitical and economic reasons, evil can find allies among arms sellers, a variety of terrorist groups and ultimate pragmatists like Turkey’s Recep Erdogan or Hungary’s Victor Orban. Or Xi’s China. Maybe they consider war to be ugly, but business is business.
Most alarming, if you believe in the fertile soil of freedom and opportunity, can America actually be led by someone who says they just want America to be left alone? I wonder what happens when you have chosen to be left alone and then find yourself in need.
Can you say that if America closets itself between the Atlantic and Pacific we can command enough strength to live peacefully and prosperously? If you see isolation as a benign condition, then you skipped History 101. Then there is 21st Century technology which can convert what appears to be local threats into international threats to humanity.
We live in the 21st Century. While at its most basic it is a number; it’s also a condition of opportunity and threat. The time in which we now live makes isolation a daft dream. Integrated production is international. Satellites track our movements. Networks store what we do and say. Propaganda is now ubiquitous, seeping into everything. Armaments, well, evil intent underwrites their propagation. North Korea and Iran’s export goods—weapons.
Perhaps retreat from this maelstrom on an individual level is possible, but collectively it is not. A principled and coherent foundation is a must and enlightened leadership is not optional. A schizophrenic national posture will steadily erode our strength.
Americans have a rich inheritance. We are mostly a free people, served by a prosperous economy on a foundation articulated by farsighted founders and secured by freedom—loving patriots. But then each generation has to decide and act to protect our legacy.
Should we be worried? Has modernity left too much behind? Are there departures from traditions that undermine us? I like to believe that millions are looking for something else, a fabric of belief that will result in revitalization of our founding principles.
In a democracy revitalization is conditioned on citizens—animate not inanimate ones. But maybe it’s too early to reverse the slide because incumbents don’t give up power and its benefits without a fight. And maybe America’s 21st Century leadership is at least five years away. It seems so, as millions look for new leadership while tens of millions seem content with what one writer calls “an unpopularity contest.” Yes, our dominant political parties seem insistent on replaying yesterday’s political insults—2016’s hits.
Democrats dismiss Donald Trump as a soon to be convicted criminal. Republicans dismiss Joe Biden as a daft oldster. In my view they are both showing alarming signs of age’s unyielding nature. Unsteadiness would be my layman’s description. This view seems to be baked into Biden’s poll numbers, but I would suggest that Trump should not get a pass. He has recently said he can settle the Ukraine war in 24 hours. Really?
We have one President at a time. And even though breathless commentators make it seem like the next Presidential race is just months away, President Biden has over 13 months remaining in office. The question to be answered in November, 2024, is who is ready to provide America with gifted leadership in 2025, 2026, 2027 and 2028. Think about those cascading twelve month increments. Is there somebody who can unite us or at least unite a majority? Is there somebody who can understand the opportunities and threats of Artificial Intelligence because by 2029 most of the patterns and rules will have been written? Is there somebody who can lead America toward fiscal sanity? In short, is there somebody who can lead?
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.