Lack of Leadership
In Turbulent Times

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, deals with four past presidents, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson and how each dealt with issues facing them in the turbulent times of their presidency. The first thing that came to mind was the parallels between Goodwin’s book and Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities.

Even more interesting was Dickens’ first paragraph, which was also a single and very long sentence.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Both the times, during the reign of Louis XVI in France and during the reign of Donald the Dumb in America, were times of turbulence. Therefore, Goodwin’s book could provide us insights that would seem applicable to our times in America today with Donald the Dumb. She picked a half dozen critically important traits, which she saw in each of the five presidents: empathy, resilience, communication, openness, impulse control, and relaxation. Each of these key factors help those presidents’ leadership…especially in their turbulent times.

In this essay, I want to deal with two of what Goodwin calls her guys, Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. It is apparent that those two presidents dealt with many of the similar turbulent issues that we are facing today. Teddy Roosevelt had money, but he was able to acquire empathy. Roosevelt’s time was a gilded age where there were the few opulently wealthy people compared to the masses who were far less fortunate. Roosevelt was driven, in spite of his wealth, to help the less fortunate. He wanted to provide everyone an opportunity to have a Square Deal. Teddy fought hard to help the poor. This is his famous paragraph from the Man in the Arena speech.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The other president that shared Teddy’s drive was Lyndon Johnson. LBJ possessed empathy early on in his life. LBJ’s first job after college was teaching the children of the inhabitants of a small town in Texas, Cotulla, made-up of a large number of Mexican Americans. He spent a great deal of time helping his students survive in the midst of poverty.

My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English, and I couldn't speak much Spanish. My students were poor, and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. And they knew, even in their youth, the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes. I often walked home late in the afternoon, after the classes were finished, wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that it might help them against the hardships that lay ahead.

And somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child. I never thought then, in 1928, that I would be standing here in 1965. It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country.

But now I do have that chance -- and I'll let you in on a secret -- I mean to use it.

Interestingly, I wrote about Bobby Kennedy who was a combination of Teddy and LBJ. While he came for wealth, his father nicknamed him the runt of the family. That quickly sensitized him, even with the family’s wealth, about those who faced discrimination and disadvantage.

The other issue that seems necessary in our time of turbulence is impulse control. Goodwin wrote about how Lincoln would become upset with the many including how poorly his general were functioning during the Civil War. When he got upset, especially with one general during the war, he wrote a scathing letter to that general explaining why the general’s lack of pursuing Lee prolonged the war. However, he didn’t send it.

Goodwin was impressed by Lincoln’s impulse control especially during the Civil War that killed nearly 700,000 Americans. President Obama did a similar venting process. He would write the letter, and then throw it away having vented his anger. Lincoln and Obama had impulse control during turbulent times.

Having written about Goodwin’s analysis of those four presidents that were in the Oval Office and who faced turbulent times, begs the question about Trump. In addition to what the world out there does, which creates turbulence for Trump, he is incapable of any form of empathy for anyone. He does possess empathy, but it is only for himself. The result is that he adds to the turbulence. Perhaps his immaturity caused him to be called a baby.

Additionally, there are few people in the world with less impulse control than Baby Donald, our fake president. His mind seems to respond to whatever comes across his personal radar screen. Much of his visceral responses to issues are not tied to national security issues but tied directly to how those issues personally affect him. He does act precisely like a baby.

While Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times is a well-informed research project, I don’t see Trump capable of first reading the book, let alone learning from it. Baby Donald’s lack of empathy and lack of impulse control concerns me greatly. He is like a baby who is only concerned about himself and flies into a rage when he doesn’t get his way. He is a loose cannon in his playpen called the White House. He is unable to reach out to others and can’t control himself.

Therefore, short of a revolution, the only option open to Americans is to vote. With democrats in control of the House of Representatives and hopefully Senate, they will be able to function as babysitters since the republicans can’t babysit for our fake and immature president.