When leaders disappoint: Two Battles for a Lifetime and Eternity

Leadership matters.

How we perceive leaders matters.

How leaders behave matters.

All too often we become enamored with a leader way too soon, way too fast. We project unto them what we wish they were and avoid seeing – believing – who they clearly are.

We all too often put leaders up on a pedestal only to see others tear them down, disparage them, belittle them, make fun of them; destroy them… And we watch in disbelief, only to realize later that they were duly criticized, that they belong in jail. That they duped us.

This happens in big and small ways. It happens with world leaders; it happens with community leaders; with family leaders; with politicians and faith leaders. And it happens over and over again.

And yet we continue doing the same thing, seemingly refusing to learn from history, from past events, from well-founded words of wisdom from friends and family.

And so it is today with so many of us.

In some cases we are part of the willing posse, buying into the illusion of leadership perfection. Friends warn us, yet we believe. It is how we were brought up. It is deep in our faith DNA.

In other cases we are in the resistance from the get-go and can not understand how our best of friends don’t see the clearly evident evil of  – in our eyes – a phony leader. We warn them, yet they persist in their unbending support for the leader because their fixation on a particular outcome, be it pro-life or judicial control.

As a practicing Catholic – that is, we are practicing but we don’t have it quite right yet – we are aghast with the blatant failure of our faith leaders to grasp the severity, emergency, and immediacy of the catastrophic age our Church is living through. These leaders are tone deaf. You want to give them the benefit of the doubt; you pray for them; you try to understand their meek statements and attempts at theological calisthenics.  Yet, it simply does not feel right. Rather it feels you are being played. It feels they are buying time. It feels they are about one thing and one thing only: Power.

And so it is, of course, with our premier national civic leader, the President of the United States of America. In his case, it seems it is not only about Power. It is only about himself. Nada mas. Nothing more. The criticism are many: The atrocities he says, his demeanor, the way he behaves, acts, talks; coupled with his evident lack of human decency, empathy, and authentic care for others; and, add to that his persistent lying and total disregard for empirical facts.

Yet many tell us to accept these undisputable shortcoming for the greater good. Many tell us that it is the results that count; keep the eye on the prize; don’t get swayed by the waves of criticism. Stay strong. Believe. America first. At all costs… These leaders will tell you they are the victims of deranged fanatics who want to destabilize the cherished institutions and question the bedrock of our core beliefs – be in our faith or our country.

They will instill doubt in our minds. They will question our allegiance, our commitments, our steadfastness to your core values if we dare disagree. They will insist that they have the answers for the greater good. Just trust them. Hang in there. There is a brighter future under their leadership. Their’s is the way. Remember you are the servant, they are the masters. Pray. Obey. They know best. You have incomplete, biased, and inaccurate information. Facts are in the eye of the beholder. They can best interpret facts for you. Beware of group-think. Remember the group-think people, the academics, scientists, and other self-proclaimed thinkers are all against us, these leaders will tell you. They will tell us that these “others”  don’t understand us, they want to tear us down…. These self-centered corrupt leaders will do whatever they have to do to make you think their authority is unquestionable. 

We, however, must say ENOUGH!

Leadership without informed, skeptic, questioning, discerning followers is not leadership: it is power grabbing; it is manipulative governance; it is authoritarianism.

Whether it is one specific leader at the top – as it is evident with the President of the United States – or it is a team of corrupt appointed leaders – as it is evident with some bishops and priests in the Catholic Church – we have a choice to make as participants in the flock, as residents of this Nation.

As with most things in life, three choices mark the extremes.

[1] Choice one: Leave – and disengage

[2] Choice two: Accept – and live on

[3] Choice three: Resist – and work for change

I choose the third.

The Catholic Church is my Church. It is far from perfect, but it has provided me the foundation for my life’s spiritual journey.  I am not going to let a bunch of criminals disguised as leaders to steal the beauty, grace, love which is the Catholic Church. These criminals belong in prison. I will work with every ounce of my spirit to see that we as a Church cleans our soul and focus on service as theology.

The U.S. is where I live. It is far from perfect, but it is where I am by happenstance of life.  I am not going to let this sorry excuse for a President that we have to steal the aspirational – if unfulfilled – ideals of this Country. I will resist with every ounce of my body to see to it that he does not perverse the ideals of the United States  into a warp sense of conceited ego-centric ‘me first’ nationalism.










We must build our public square on civil dialogue – an article I wish I had written

Two weeks after the mid-term elections, I have not had the ‘aha’ to write a new blog posting.

I did run across this article this morning in America Magazine that is very much the posting I wish I would have written.

Can we reclaim civility and decency in the public square? I hope – I pray – and I will act to do so… Easy? No. But indispensable if we are going to reclaim decorum and shape a new way of doing governance that invites discourse, manages disagreement, and respects all participants.

Here’s the article that appeared on America Magazine’s November 19th, 2018 edition, “We must build our public square on civil dialogue”, by Matt Malone, S.J.

We must build our public square on civil dialogue

The genius of the American founders lay in their ability to design institutions that would call forth the best in a fallen humanity while containing the worst. The separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution, novel for its time, is a good example of this theo-political balancing act: No single person can be trusted to wield power; therefore, power must be shared among many and policed by a legal system of checks and balances. Yet our founders also recognized that the U.S. Constitution is but one part of a larger whole called the American political economy. As I have previously noted in this space, while the United States does have a single document called “The Constitution,” with an uppercase T and C, the American system also presumes nonconstitutional values and customs that are just as vital, if not more vital to the health of our democracy.

Among these indispensable customs are decorum and civility in public argument, which largely distinguish a polity from a mere mob. A presupposition of our political economy is that reasonable people can and do disagree about important public matters and that they will do so through spirited yet civil public argument. Americans have not always been civil or decorous with one another, of course; but until recently this was the minimal expectation, and when one failed to meet it, some social penalty was often applied.

Yet the words of the previous paragraph now seem as quaint as a telegram. The public discourse has devolved to such an extent that the value of civility itself is now openly questioned as often as its conventions are routinely violated. “You talk about somebody that’s a loser,” President Trump recently said about a journalist. “She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing…. But she’s very nasty. And she shouldn’t be. She shouldn’t be. You’ve got to treat the White House and the office of the presidency with respect.”

That last bit is true. But the president should be treated with respect because all people should be treated with respect. That is the value that justifies civility. Embedded in the very notion of democracy, of a free and fair society, is the principle that we are all worthy of respect or none of us is. When challenged about his lack of decorum, Mr. Trump responds by telling us that he is the victim of slander and is therefore justified in employing a bombastic style. People hit him, so he hits them back, his handlers tell us. Yet that is the moral reasoning of a 12-year-old. Few parents would accept the excuse “Everybody else is doing it” from their children. So why do we accept this justification from the president? Why do some offer it in defense of his actions?

I am well aware that Mr. Trump is not the only demagogue in the country. A quick glance at my Twitter feed is enough to establish that sad fact. But Mr. Trump is the only one who happens to be president of the United States and, as such, has a greater duty than most to deploy his rhetoric with prudence, decorum and moral clarity, an extra-constitutional but nonetheless essential duty of his office, one he consistently fails to execute. While Mr. Trump is far from the only culprit in the demise of the civic discourse, he is the most visible; and, whether we like it or not, he establishes the standard for others. As we used to say growing up on Cape Cod, “a fish rots from the head.”

It is unlikely that Mr. Trump will change his ways. But we can—if we want to. I fear that too many of us, while loudly complaining about the polarization and coarseness in our public discourse, quietly rather enjoy it, even if only subconsciously. Deep down in places we don’t like to talk about, we seem to get a thrill from the politics of destruction. It makes us feel powerful, if only for a moment. Cain didn’t kill Abel, after all, over a mere difference of opinion. He killed him out of jealousy, arrogance and pride. So too do we.

Overcoming sin requires grace. Our founders knew that. They did not understand civility to be something like a social contract: We agree to treat each other a certain way; and if the other party breaks the deal, then we are released from the obligation. No, our founders understood that the duty to be civil is not rooted in social custom but in the divine command to love one another. And God didn’t say: “Since some of you are not loving one another, all bets are off.”

God doesn’t ask us, he orders us to love one another. Civility is one way we carry out that command. The task of every citizen, but especially the Christian citizen, is to testify to this divine command in all our public actions; to labor to build a public square that calls forth the best in a fallen humanity while containing the worst, a place where destructive confrontation yields to creative encounter, a place of true civil dialogue not for the sake of one but for the many.