I’m no historian, but from the perspective of advancing age, I find fascinating that certain societies produce just the right leaders at just the right time.
Think Abraham Lincoln, for example, who evolved during his presidency from defender of the Union to emancipator of the oppressed, a transition marked by the Gettysburg Address, perhaps the greatest oration in American history.
Think FDR, who, despite his infirmities, shepherded the U.S. through back-to-back crises: the Great Depression and the Second World War. In the bargain, FDR envisioned a future worth living and fighting for, a future with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
Think Winston Churchill, whose stirring wartime radio addresses “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” steeled the British spine sufficiently to repulse Hitler against all odds, especially during the Battle of Britain, when “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Think Nelson Mandela, the only man on Earth capable of preventing South Africa from descending into civil war following the end of apartheid.
And then sometimes a nation gets it exactly wrong, producing just the wrong leader at the wrong time. Think Donald Trump.
At a time when we are more divided than ever, Trump has exploited race, religion, and ethnicity to further divide and conquer.
At a time when the mainstream media has fallen into “infotainment,” succumbed to “false equivalencies,” and “normalized” Trump’s pathological behaviors, and at a time when we drown in fake news, Donald Trump is further undermining the legitimate functions of the fourth estate. By praising Putin’s intimidation of journalists, by threatening harsher libel laws and lawsuits, by berating news outlets that call out his lies, and by choosing as his chief strategist Breitbart’s right-wing propagandist Steve Bannon, Tweeter-in-Chief Trump seeks to eviscerate all critical analysis of his positions and actions.
At a time when the viability of the planet hangs in the balance because of climate change, the Denier-in-Chief has appointed as energy secretary and secretary of state persons determined to release every last molecule of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.
At a time when the middle class has been decimated by 40 years of trickle-down economics, and the majority of Americans have lost faith in the American Dream, Trump is already shoring up the stranglehold of the oligarchy by stuffing his Cabinet with Wall Street banksters and corporate cronies.
And at a time when the world seems on hair trigger, Trump proposes enhancing our nuclear arsenal and has appointed a former general for the civilian position of secretary of defense.
“Make America Great Again” may seem a winning slogan to many, but it’s doomed to fail. Our nation is great only when it is good, and Trump has won office by appealing to our baser instincts rather than our better angels.
Early indications are that he will govern using the same scorched-earth strategy by which he was elected.
Mr. Pruett lives in Harrisonburg.