I am going to violate one of my own self-imposed rules. I almost never take public issue with a sitting President of the United States. However, I am going to take issue with a former president and with the current president because they have both demonstrated poor leadership in one common way — they have both abused and bullied people from their “bully pulpit.”
First, Donald Trump. Of the seventeen candidates seeking the Republican nomination in 2016, Trump was choice #17 for me. I am not an “anti-Trumper” and, indeed, read the book he wrote a number of years ago. Still, he was my last choice.
During the campaign for the nomination, Candidate Trump insulted, mocked, denigrated, and bullied nearly every candidate for the nomination. While a large number of people rejoiced at this tactic, I found it distasteful and unseemly. He insulted, among others, a disabled man, a female news anchor, and a former prisoner of war and U.S. Senator. It was repugnant. He continued on this path during the presidential campaign.
When he was elected, he continued to debase and bully, it seemed, anyone and everyone who disagreed with him. His Twitter tweets became infamous and, I believe, his continual diatribes against opponents finally wore many voters down and cost him the re-election.
Last week in Atlanta, sitting President Joe Biden was Trump 2.0 in the way he argued for his proposed election reform bill. Without going into the merits or demerits of the bill, Biden ranted, lambasted, insulted, and bullied anyone and everyone, non-compliant Democrats included, who disagreed with him on whether the bill should be passed and whether or not the Senate filibuster should be jettisoned.
In Atlanta, arguably the civil rights capital of the nation, Biden said that if you oppose him, you are on the wrong side of history. He outlined those on the right side of history by naming John Lewis, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Those who oppose Biden on these issues are, according to his worldview, on the wrong side of history. Those cited as examples on the wrong side of history were Bull Conner, an Alabama segregationist politician, George Wallace, an Alabama governor who was also a segregationist, and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.
So, if you disagree with the proposed bill or wish to retain the Senate filibuster, you are a white segregationist and a neo-Confederate. By this definition, fellow Democrats, including Black people who have problems with the bill or wish to retain the historic filibuster, are also “white, segregationist, neo-Confederates.”
Most Southerners are not proud of the racism, segregation, and bigotry that was so prevalent in its history. But to come to modern Georgia and rub their noses in it was — well, let us just say not helpful.
Neither of the two presidents exercised good judgment, in my opinion, in dealing with those whose opinions differ from their own. Leaders, especially leaders who do not have financial power over their subordinates, have two legitimate tools to work with: influence and persuasion. If one is an employer, one has financial power. If one holds a measure of rank in the military, one has power. If one is a police officer, he or she has power. And on it goes. We do not live in a totalitarian state. Leaders do not automatically get their way. Nor should they.
Politicians, pastors and priests, athletic coaches, teachers in classrooms, leaders of volunteer organizations, and most others, all have limited power. Some have none, save the power of influence and persuasion. Properly understood and utilized, the power of influence and persuasion can help people meet goals and even achieve greatness.
However, all too often, the Trumps and Bidens of the world find that their influence is limited and then resort to name-calling and bullying. And that tactic works on some people.
Others, however, refuse to be bullied, dig their heels in, stand their ground, and ignore or even challenge the bully. I believe that if President Trump had simply reined in his bellicosity and treated people with respect, he would have never been impeached and would have been re-elected.
(Note: One is impeached by the House of Representatives and, if the vote to impeach passes, the person is, only then, considered “impeached.” The matter is then referred to the Senate which either convicts or acquits. Three U. S. Presidents have been successfully impeached: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump. No president has ever been convicted and removed from office.)
It is too early to tell what the long-term effect of Biden’s speech will have, but he clearly has crossed an invisible line and I believe that people will not soon forget it. Already, prominent Democrats are speculating who would be a suitable candidate for the Democratic nomination for 2024 and they are not talking about Joe Biden. Already, with only a year under his belt, people are floating the name of Hillary Clinton again.
When people are bullied, they normally have at least four choices. (1) They can give in to the bully time after time and lose respect for themselves. (2) They can, if the bully lacks true power, simply ignore the bully, and do whatever they believe is the best course of action. (3) They can leave the bully and/or the organization he or she leads. (4) It is also possible that the bully can be removed from leadership, which happened in one club with which I was associated.
I share all this as a former bullied person. At the age of fourteen, I stopped bowing to and becoming a punching bag for bullies, whoever they might be. I have no difficulty in recognizing a bully and one can find them in all professions and levels of society. Leaders in society who are influential or persuasive, if they have the right issue and if they are positive thinkers and encouraging to their people, do not have to shout, name-call, or bully people into coming over to their side or way of thinking.
Many years ago, a Peanuts comic strip featured Charlie Brown and Lucy walking home together after school. Lucy said, “I convinced a kid at school that my religion is better than his religion.”
“How did you do that?” asked Charlie Brown.
Lucy replied, “I hit him with my lunch box.”
Lunchbox evangelism does not work, of course. Lucy only beat the kid into silence, not compliance. In the real world, the kid will get his own lunchbox and then Lucy is in for some real trouble.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]