As a cast of thousands begins assembling to audition for 2020, each trying to win our hearts and minds, let us use our time wisely to be more thoughtful, for a change, about what we are seeking in he or she who would lead us.
Let us cast aside partisan divides and the issues that harden us each against the other and think instead about what it is that we have admired about our great leaders in the past.
Who among us did not feel sadness during the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush about the loss of a man of decency and civility. A man of kindness and gentleness, and yet a man who stood firmly for his principles, a man who was beloved by leaders of many factions and mourned not just by a nation but a world.
Even without a world war or economic upheaval, our age feels chaotic, unmoored, frightening. We yearn for someone distinguished, resolute and brave, someone other nations will trust for having the good of all mankind in his or her heart.
It is impossibly ironic that in the televised, social media frenzy we live in, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt and many more of our classiest leaders probably could not be elected. Wooden teeth. Lankiness taken to a new height. A wheelchair. Bulk taken to an unprecedented width.
What do we want to see in this new millennium, in our next generation of leaders in an era where the Earth is smaller than ever, when we may again loose its surly bonds to explore such exotic locales as Mars, but need to take better care of Earth’s own inhabitants.
It is not complicated. We want loyalty to country, family, friends. We want honesty to each of us, to the world, to himself or herself. We want intelligence to know the real from the fake, the absurd from the plausible, the facile from the true.
We want empathy, the ability to feel what others feel, whether it be joy or pain.
We want someone who does not make excuses but who is able to take blame, to express contrition, to issue a heart-felt apology. We need someone who understands that failure is a part of life but who refuses to be defined by failure.
We need someone who is without malice, someone who is able to laugh with humor and who has a sense of fun, always in a spirit of friendship.
We want someone with great energy and optimism but also thoughtfulness, someone able to make decisions with certitude but only after weighing all the options.
We want someone who respects our institutions and values life, who does not ask the ultimate sacrifice from those at his or her command unless it is absolutely necessary, always as the last resort.
We want sincerity, humility and nobility, someone able to bring people together, to forge compromises, to inspire loyalty, someone able to see further into the future than most.
Yes, we want someone who is strong and tough, not for himself or herself, but for the good of the country, an honorable man or woman who does the “right thing” for the right reasons.
As we seek to do when choosing a life partner – someone who makes us better, smarter, happier, stronger, kinder, we want someone who makes us like who we are as a nation when we are led by him or her. We want someone who makes us proud to be Americans, not just because we are militarily stronger or forceful or richer or take what we want, but because we stand for compassion, morality, courage, justice, equality and freedom.
We yearn for someone who cherishes our traditions, is dignified in manner and believes wholeheartedly in democracy – that the few should not dominate the many but that the least of us is as important as the greatest. We want someone who believes in being fair. We want someone who keeps his or her word.
It is a big responsibility but we have two years to search and choose, to test and ponder, to weigh and watch. Let us get it right.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.