Dr. Ed Moore: Would-Be Leaders Offering Americans Vitriol, Not Vision

“Politics ain’t beanbag.” That’s an aphorism coined in the 19th Century by Finley Peter Dunne, a writer who spoke through an imaginary character named Mr. Dooley. Dooley held forth in an Irish pub in Chicago where politics, more than any topic, was the topic of the day. Dooley actually said, “Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohibitionists’ do well to keep out iv it.”

In our modern era, not only would the bar be closed down for such talk, but Dunne and the newspapers that published his column would be vilified. We would see advertiser boycotts and long picket lines, for those kind of words. The insensitivity of satire is a lost art.

Today we get speeches from would-be-leaders with far more vitriol, yet just as much lacking substance. Former President Donald Trump made an art form of the more subtle former President Barack Obama‘s techniques of dividing through words.

Now President Joe Biden has decided to pour fuel on the social fabric. When you are barely staying afloat, you will grasp at anything to keep your head above water. Biden’s recent speech, designed for exactly what I am not sure, is destined to be his seminal message, his lasting legacy of words. Someone in his coterie of strategists must have decided the only way to win is by using subtraction and division, by making Trump magically be on the November ballot, and by demonizing a significant portion of the American electorate. They fail to realize that a far larger chunk of the electorate is looking for leadership and vision, for addition and multiplication. Don’t expect anything like that anytime soon.

All we ever need to do, especially when political bombshells are dropped, is to wait a while and give some people the opportunity to show who they truly are. Many critics, who screamed about Trump’s rhetoric since he stepped upon the national stage in 2015, are now supporters of the divisive vitriol spewed by Biden. Their primary defense of his words is the old, worn-out tool of “whataboutism,” as if their anger at Trump’s tactics somehow make it acceptable to use those same tactics, only this time aimed at those without their circle of friends with common perceptions. Consistency is getting harder to find. I recall Ralph Waldo Emerson’s admonition that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen, and philosophers and divines.” He would contend that small-minded people refuse to rethink prior beliefs. I would add the sin of refusing to be critical of wrong acts when wrong acts are done; no matter who does them.

I have taken some fire since 2016 when I wrote columns criticizing Trump. I am not referring to his acts as president or as a candidate regarding policies or appointments. I am referring to demeanor, wearing the mantle of leadership, and displaying the character we demand of our neighbors and require of our children. It was his schtick to poke and prod, to find a weak point in his adversaries, and continue to press on wounds. It was not, and is not, becoming of one who leads a nation. I wrote quite a few and am a lucky one to have this tool for writing my thoughts and sharing them with others. I think I was correct then in my comments, and contrary to Emerson, I will remain consistent in my strong belief how and what one says or writes reveals a lot about one’s character and temperament. However, now I am seeing a much more divisive and vitriolic stance by politicians, those who not too long ago criticized the words and tone of others. Now it is coming from a president without a strong committed base, seeking any way he can to rile up the troops. Pardon my cynicism, but the transparency of this effort shines through, and I give the electorate far more credit than the Biden coterie seems to grant. It will push far more people away from engagement and leave them further away from caring.

How all this plays out remains to be seen. We really do not need to wait very long. November is the third ‘R’ month. We will get some strong clues in less than two months about where we might be headed as a nation. We will also see how the vast, disparate electorate across the states either rejects or accepts how candidates purport themselves.

As for me, I will continue to seek a leader with vision, one who inspires and points to a stronger tomorrow. Our history is not replete with them. They are rare, but they are here, and we must do what we can to find them and push them forward. Right now, tomorrow is a long way away, but the clock never stops.

In this era, Obama began the harsh rhetoric, although his was more subtle and wisely dispersed. Now he seems tame. Trump poured fuel on how Americans viewed one another, expanding the divide. That is how he emerged from political obscurity and to the highest office in the land. Biden has chosen to make the divide a canyon. Perhaps he saw how Trump’s path was greased by attacking opponents, although Trump is a far greater showman then Biden has ever been. Biden, in his prime, had some interesting tricks of his own. Now I expect him to holler from the White House portico across the grassy lawn to kids in the park to get off the lawn. I fear that his words, if not tamed, if not polished and more worthy of a leader, will do great damage to our nation.

What do we choose to do? Are we listening, and do enough of us really care? History is filled with calculated words, all too often designed to divide and create false enemies. It is a well-worn tactic, and it has worked, for a while, when used in the past. You do not lead towards a brighter future that way. Even when those who seek to manipulate win, we all lose. The next two months will be unpleasant to watch. Do I pray, or do I fear that we get the results we deserve? Who speaks for a better, more prosperous future? So far, I hear the sounds of silence.

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