Richard Rodriguez Looks at Leadership in America
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RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: In those days after Hurricane Katrina, many remembered Rudolph Giuliani. On Sep. 11, the clear blue sky had seemed to collapse, and the mayor of New York strode down the roiling street, barking orders, oblivious of his own safety.
He embodied the resilience of his city and whatever measure one had previously taken of the man, that day it was clear. There was a leader.
After Katrina, television cameras searched and searched but never found their Giuliani. And so the argument in the aftermath of the storm was about the failure of leadership.
History does not always test the powerful. Potentially great leaders fade into obscurity because they do not preside over calamity. But pity the powerful who are tested by history — and fail.
All of us can name people who are powerful in America. But who can name leaders from among their ranks? Whether in Washington or at the state capitol, whether on Wall Street or in some church hierarchy, there is power, not leadership.
From Rome there is news that the Vatican intends to purge homosexuals from the ranks of clergy in order to avoid future pedophilia scandals, but the greatest scandal within the Church has been the failure of bishops as moral leaders.
In corporate America, the CEO sells his stock before the plunge or rewards himself even as his company fails.
We have grown so used to seeing corporate America in handcuffs we are becoming a soft and cynical people. We are entertained by the vulgarity of Donald Trump and his humiliation of the underling.
DONALD TRUMP: All right. Brian, you’re fired.
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: The relationship of the powerful to the crowd is stuff of high drama. It was Shakespeare’s concern: the lives of kings and princes. We groundlings in the pit are not Prince Hal, but in becoming king, Hal learns to embody the character of his people.
In a democracy, we do not elect leaders exactly. We elect representatives to work the will of the people. But we like to think that we appraise the character of those we elect.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: A leader emerges often in times of duress by finding the true meaning of his position and task: As president, as governor, as mayor.
There is often a risk in leadership. The leader assumes the danger the crowd faces and more. The general leads his men into battle; the captain is the last to abandon the ship.
In today’s America, men and women of the working class are paid to fight wars the powerful never risk.
Princess Diana, dysfunctional, perhaps slightly mad, seemed to me a true leader, instinctive in ways that appropriate Queen Elizabeth will never be. Princess Diana could touch people — literally touch the wounded. And a nation recognized their suffering in her suffering.
The ritual of hands touching hands is a staple of modern politics. It derives from an ancient belief that the anointed hand of the royal had healing power. But what happens when this ceremony is only theatrical and the powerful inhabit a world unconnected in a common fate?
The failed Boston cardinal is awarded a palace in Rome; the ex-con has her TV show again. The floodwaters recede to reveal a network of contracts and cronies.
My concern here is not with the falling popularity of Republicans or with the failure of Democrats to say what they stand for beyond an envy of power. My concern here is with the disconnection between power and leadership in America.
In this time of the absence of leaders we groundlings in the pit might ask how we have come to have such kings and princes as these.
I’m Richard Rodriguez.