Answering the Kennedys’ Call
The congressional impeachment hearings illustrate one overwhelming fact; America has a leadership problem. President Trump is a very weak leader. He asked the newly-elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (extortion or bribery are the legal terms) to publicly announce that the Ukraine would investigate Joe and son Hunter Biden for potential conflicts of interest; in order to aid his reelection campaign.
Multiple sources reported he did so reportedly at the suggestion of former Campaign Manager and convicted felon Paul Manafort’s former business partner, Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian operative.
Where is an American leader that will stand up to Russian oligarchs and Putin, instead of Trump’s open support of Putin’s foreign policy objectives; such as Trump’s reluctance to enforce sanctions first imposed under President Obama for Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine, or the weakening of our foreign alliances, including NATO that protect the peace?
This has further endangered a young democracy invaded by a Russian-backed army that has cost some 13,000 Ukrainian lives to date, and weakened their position in any negotiated peace settlement.
It is a perhaps disconcerting fact that America’s greatest leaders only came forward at the time of our greatest perils; whether it was George Washington winning the Revolutionary War, or Abraham Lincoln leading us through the Civil War, or Franklin D Roosevelt who led us through the Great Depression and World War II.
It is an even sadder thought to imagine what would have happened to the United States of America without these and other leaders that have grown American democracy? Our best leaders have always attempted to keep us united and the world at peace.
In a recent essay, Thomas Caruthers, Sr. Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace write how the U.S. has kept the peace:
“In the late Cold War and early post–Cold War years, the United States took the lead in projecting a vision of global democracy and making it a core foreign policy priority. Successive U.S. administrations devoted significant diplomatic capital to supporting the spread of democracy, often building coalitions among governments and within multilateral organizations to help mobilize support for democratizing governments or pressure backsliding ones.
This is while our weakest leaders—from Lincoln’s successor Vice President Andrew Johnson to Donald Trump—have intentionally or inadvertently increased our divisions. Johnson was impeached by allowing cronyism and the corruption of his officials that prevented implementation of the post-civil war Reconstruction effort, or Trump’s outright appeal to the worst of our natures that has divided Americans.
It is therefore no coincidence that Johnson was impeached, and Trump is about to be impeached for the abuse of their Presidential powers. Whether Trump will be removed from office depends on a very partisan, Republican Senate that doesn’t see such weak leadership right in front of them that will weaken the Republican Party as well.
There is also a growing danger that democracy is in decline in many other parts of the world. Chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov and Thor Halvorssen of the Human Rights Foundation detailed the current sad state of participatory democracies in a recent Washington Post article:
“At present, the authoritarianism business is booming. According to the Human Rights Foundation’s research, the citizens of 94 countries suffer under non-democratic regimes, meaning that 3.97 billion people are currently controlled by tyrants, absolute monarchs, military juntas or competitive authoritarians. That’s 53 percent of the world’s population. Statistically, then, authoritarianism is one of the largest — if not the largest — challenges facing humanity.”
Are we now approaching another period of greater peril for America and participatory democracy in general? It has called forth great leaders in the past. What about today? We know the requirements of great leadership from our history—the requirement above all that to survive as a democracy and not become an autocracy ruled by the few, we are all in this together.
Harlan Green © 2019
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