I’ve lived during the administrations of 12 presidents. Not one of them was a saint in office. Not one of them lived up to the highest standards of professional competence and moral integrity every day of their tenure.
Pause for a moment to re-read those lines carefully.
Would you disagree with me? I doubt it.
Every president is a human being and, consequently, imperfect. Some have reveled in their imperfections. Some have been oblivious to their most serious flaws. And some did their best to be their best and, despite best efforts, failed from time to time.
All of which has applied to me, too . . . and much of it still does.
If you read this blog with any frequency, you probably suspect that I’m not President Donald Trump’s biggest fan. You are correct.
And if you read with any frequency, I hope you understand why.
President Trump’s approach to public leadership is largely inconsistent with the model of public leadership I advocate for and seek to develop in those with whom I work. If I believe what I teach, and I do, then I’m not going to be impressed by our current president’s leadership style much of the time. And that’s okay: The president is under no obligation to follow my lead.
And neither am I obligated to follow his.
As I write, however, I feel compelled to do more than disagree with the president’s approach to public leadership.
Early Wednesday morning, President Trump retweeted unverified videos showing individuals and groups, purportedly Muslims, doing terrible things.
The two showing violence toward individuals are hideous. The video showing the destruction of a religious statue is offensive.
What we don’t know is whether the videos show what they claim to show. Neither appearances nor declarations prove that.
More importantly, even if these are Muslims, the videos tell us nothing about Muslims, any more than video from Stephen Paddock’s brutal assault on a Las Vegas concert tells us anything about whites, males, or people over 60. They only tell us about a small number of people who have engaged in hateful acts.
But that’s not how they are likely to be received by @RealDonaldTrump’s vast audience.
I have two fears. One is that President Trump does not understand that his statements, whether tweets or jokes or talk-show banter, are no longer simply his personal musings. Because he is the president of the United States, even his casual statements are statements on behalf of a government and, more critically, a nation. When the president smears a people with hateful propaganda, all Americans get spattered by the brush.
The other fear: that President Trump does understand all of this, that this is strategic communication to stimulate the worst instincts of some Americans by denying the legitimacy of millions of other Americans as Americans, and nearly 2 billion human beings as human.
Either way, Mr. President, let me be clear.
You do not speak for me.
Whether it’s from discerning this implicit power dynamic or a council meeting with your peers, there are leadership lessons to be learned wherever we look. Join Holly McPhail and me online for our On Demand webinar, Discovering Leadership, as we explore some of the inspirations behind the leadership lessons captured in my new book, More than Self. Click here to to access.