Returning Character to American Leadership

anthony-garand-7rehTDIfR8o-unsplashAs a member of the McCain Institute, I have the honor of developing new character-driven leaders to carry forward Senator John McCain’s leadership vision of serving a cause greater than self.  I came to the United States as an immigrant and this amazing country gave me the opportunity to become an American Ambassador.  But not everyone in our country has been as blessed as I, as the recent tragedy in Minneapolis so powerfully reminds us.  The murder of George Floyd, a deadly pandemic, and the resultant economic crisis have all highlighted the dangerous absence of character-driven leadership in the White House.

In 2016, we opened a Pandora’s Box.   The legitimate fears of many Americans afraid for their future in a country of so much disparity led to the election of a man who offered simplistic panaceas while attacking key institutions of our democratic society.  Like so many other charlatans who throughout history have seen opportunity in the misfortune and fears of others, our president released some of the worst vices in Pandora’s infamous box.  

On Thanksgiving Day 2017, in my personal blog, I argued for all of us to accept individual responsibility for serving the greater good of our nation to overcome the divisive leadership of Donald J. Trump. Sadly, almost three years later, some of my worst fears over a self-centered and irresponsible presidency have been realized. A perfect storm of leadership challenges has swept over a leader utterly devoid of character and decency. 

But the answer to our challenges lies not in the complaints against the actions of this president, but in the articulation and most importantly, the decisive actions of character-driven leaders.  Character-driven leaders like John McCain, who sacrificed and suffered serving our country.   The senator lived the values enshrined in character-driven leadership:  truth, honor, decency, respect, humility, charity, and compassion.  The commitment to do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons.  John McCain taught us to know character when we see it. 

More than two centuries ago, at a time when the future of our new nation was anything but secure, another leader of character who would become our first President, called on all of us to be just, merciful, charitable and humble in shaping “a happy nation.” A century later, another president believed so strongly in the importance of preserving George Washington’s  “happy nation” that he was willing to commit the nation to civil war and to ending the stain of slavery.  The tragic loss of George Floyd is now moving so many of us to rise up again in demand of leadership that will deliver fully on the promise of our country’s founding aspirations.  We owe it to each other to lead responsibly and with compassion – in our communities, among our neighbors, in the streets in exercise of our civil rights, and at the ballot box.  Abdicating that responsibility to the current occupant of the White House will assure that character will not return to American leadership. 

The views expressed in this contribution are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the McCain Institute or Arizona State University. 


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Filed under American Values, Civil Society, U.S. Leadership

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