Leadership: Bearing Witness

 

Ike Goes to Ohrdruf

President Dwight Eisenhower understood, long before he took office, that true leadership means dealing with the thorniest issues.

John Kennedy said the day before his inauguration, Eisenhower told him, “…no easy problems ever come to the President of the United States.”

We expect our leaders to tackle the tough ones and to be able to do so with conviction.

True conviction can come from many places but perhaps the strongest is personal experience.

Conviction driven by direct personal experience is a potent force, the kind required when a president must stand for human values and dignity.

It’s clear that Eisenhower fully understood that and intended to employ his conviction when, as Supreme Allied Commander, he immediately decided to visit concentration camps as the Third Reich expired in the Spring of 1945.

Eisenhower traveled to the Ohrdruf camp in Germany, along with both Generals Patton and Bradley, saying, “I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.”

We shouldn’t be surprised that his visit, and his words, have become part of the indisputable record of Nazi barbarity and depravity as his visit was intended for exactly that purpose.

How then, should we digest the news that President Donald Trump is refusing to listen to the audio tape recording of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of a Saudi kill team?

Jamal Kashoggi

Trump said in a Fox News interview that, “We have the tape. I don’t want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape.”

The Washington Post quotes Trump as also saying, “I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it . . . It was very violent, very vicious and terrible.”

Eisenhower would have begged to differ; it is precisely because it is violent, vicious and terrible that the President must listen to it in order to bear witness on our collective behalf.

His reasons for refusing to listen and the actions he might take if he did, stand apart from the refusal.

In declining to bear witness on our behalf he has forfeited both morality and legitimacy while also managing to appear weak, if not feckless.

And, appearance does matter.

Our opponents are right to now assume that if they act cruelly enough, the President will simply ignore them because it is somehow beneath him to give it notice, much less credence.

The consistent charge against Donald Trump is that he lacks the fundamental moral requisites to lead.

The abject refusal to forthrightly listen to the Khashoggi tape, even if he is eventually does, is all the proof we will ever need of that fact.

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