My wife is taking a training program in Philadelphia this week on leadership in the workplace. It’s one of those corporate/university classes that are supposed to take you to the next level in your skills as a project manager by helping you recognize what true leadership is and how it can be applied effectively in your business relationships with coworkers in order to achieve success for both you, your team, and the organization you work for. Sounds good.
When she told me about it at dinner, my ears perked up.
“They started with a clip from the movie Gettysburg,” she said. “You know, the time when Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain got saddled with the guys who refused to serve out the rest of their enlistment time. They were from Maine, like Chamberlain was, so they put them in his lap.”
The book, The Killer Angels, by Michael Sharia, which was the genesis of the movie Gettysburg, ranks as one of finest novels ever written about the American Civil War. It surpassed Gone with the Wind in its authenticity and equaled Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage in its depiction of battle-field reality. Moreover, it convinced the reader that leadership, true leadership, must involve a commitment to self-sacrifice for and to the common good.
In today’s presidential campaign season, where we are privileged, as we have been for more than two centuries to exercise our constitutional franchise, we are presented with an important question: at this time in American history, unprecedented as it truly is with frightening national debt; real, and daunting threats to national security; a moral compass no longer to be relied upon in our schools, our churches, even within our own families; a White House sick with overreaching power; and a federal judiciary which has usurped the very idea of separation of powers and now rules with impunity over legitimate legislative authority – exactly what are we to do?
We come from good stock. Sure, our parents and grandparents had their share of troubles, their prejudices and mortal and venial sins. They fumbled the ball plenty of times and yet they understood that they did. There was always a mea culpa. A chance of redemption because they knew they could have been better and that a simple confession had the power to heal them.
Self-sacrifice was a commonality in our communities. Our ancestors didn’t whine about bad times; they gutted it up and made do with the little they had for the benefit of their children. Somehow, instinctively, they knew happiness in life was the smile on the face of their child despite the hardships that loomed over them. They would spit at adversity and celebrate the little and big things in their lives in grand style: a birthday, a wedding, a baptism, a first holy communion, a confirmation or a bar mitzvah, even a wake.
They were never, ever, victims.
Because they never saw themselves that way.
The John Wayne in All of Us
American history, for good or bad, depending on how you see it, is nevertheless replete with “Rugged Individualism.” You know, the spirit to embrace opportunity and make the most of it when you’ve only known governmental oppression and dictatorship. It was a breath of fresh air after centuries of being trod upon by old imperial regimes and a privileged aristocracy for many who came to our shores.
Our forefathers knew this feeling. It was one of the primary reasons for our War for Independence. Later, settlers and pioneers who carved a life out of the wilderness knew this and made freedom a reality. The immigrants who came by the millions to our shores in the 19th and 20th centuries knew this most of all.
These people neither sought nor wanted help or even a handout from the government. They relied on themselves, in their faith, in their own strength, and in their dreams. In an old John Wayne movie, Without Reservation (1946), I remembered a quote where he was taking a train ride across what we now call the “fly over states.” The Duke rebuked a liberal female author, Kitt Madden, (played by the lovely Claudette Colbert) who espoused a new world philosophy replete with modernist ideas of internationalist governmental authority. You know, the one-world stuff that has been pushed down our throats for the last hundred years. The Duke put her in her place with this:
“Have you ever heard of some fellows who first came over to this country? You know what they found? They found a howling wilderness, with summers too hot and winters freezing … Did they have insurance for their old age, for their crops, for their homes? They did not! They looked at the land, and the forest, and the rivers. They looked at their wives, their kids and their homes, and then they looked up at the sky and they said, “Thanks, God, we’ll take it from here.’”
Believe it or not, deride and make fun of it if you want to, as so many of our national politicians and journalists on both the left and the right have for months now, but Donald Trump is at center stage and may very well be our next president. Why? Because he embodies the ideals of American “Rugged Individualism.” Since this term is no longer taught in our schools and universities; since the major media has no clue as to what this is and never will, and since Trump’s rise is completely disarming to the political establishment in both parties, let me enlighten them: Donald Trump speaks to the soul of America. Again, why? Because America is “fed up.” There is a chasm separating blue collar workers and small business owners from academia and the elites within the beltway. The average Joe and Jane has been ridiculed for so many years now that the “melting pot” that truly is America is now boiling over. And, what was once called the “Silent Majority,” is rearing back on its haunches and roaring back. It feels trapped in a cage of red tape and bureaucratic mandates it neither desired nor approved of. Ergo, Mr. Trump, because he voiced the frustration of the American people in plain, oft times crass and vulgar language what needed to be heard in order to break the glass ceilings of our cells, incarcerated as we are, in a prison of politically correct group think. And people sense that this might be a chance to breathe free.
I, personally, have never supported the man. I thought he was a populist like “The Kingfish” Huey Long of Louisiana back in thirties during the Great Depression. Until I realized that title should be conferred upon Bernie Sanders. Trump is not this. He is something altogether different. But, he needs a leash.
When I was a kid, my best friend’s father taught me how to play pinochle. It can be a brutal game. You have to declare or “call trump” in order to take the lead and make as many “tricks” as possible in order to win the hand. It sounds easy but it’s not. If you fail to win the points you have declared, you lose. If you under estimate the points you’ve declared (sandbagging), and you win anyway, you lose the respect of your fellow players, and they will never let you forget it. In other words, a true win in pinochle means you have to beat your opponents honestly and to the best of your ability without demeaning them. No small thing.
Stirring up the Blood
I need not define the term of leadership. We all know what it means deep down in our hearts. We know it entails sacrifice both on the part of the leader and those that follow. Bear with me for a moment as I quote a passage from The Killer Angels spoken by Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain as he received the renegades who refused further service in the Union Army into his camp just before the most critical three days in the history of our nation:
“I’ve been ordered to take you men with me, I’m told that if you don’t come I can shoot you. Well, you know I won’t do that. Maybe somebody else will, but I won’t, so that’s that. Here’s the situation, the whole Reb army is up that road aways waiting for us, so this is no time for an argument like this, I tell you. We could surely use you fellahs, we’re now well below half strength. Whether you fight or not, that’s up to you, whether you come along is … well, you’re coming. You know who we are and what we are doing here, but if you are to fight alongside us there are a few things I want you to know. This regiment was formed last summer, in Maine. There were a thousand of us then, there are less than 300 hundred of us now. All of us volunteered to fight for the Union, just as you have. Some mainly came because we were bored at home, thought this looked like it might be fun. Some came because we were ashamed not to. And all of us have seen men die. This is a different kind of army. If you look back through history you will see men fighting for pay, for women, for some other kind of loot. They fight for land, power, because a king leads them, or just because they like killing. But we are here for something new, this has not happened much, in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, not divided by a line between slave states and free – all the way from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow. No man born to royalty. Here we judge by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land, there’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value – you and me. What we are fighting for, in the end, we’re fighting for each other. Sorry, I didn’t mean to preach. You go ahead and you talk for a while. If you chose to join us and you want your muskets back you can have them – nothing more will be said by anyone anywhere. If you chose not to join us well then you can come along under guard and when this is all over I will do what I can to ensure you get a fair trial, but for now we’re moving out. Gentlemen, I think if we lose this fight we lose the war, so if you choose to join us I will be personally very grateful.”
This stirs up my blood and makes me proud to be an American. To honestly believe in “American Exceptionalism,” in “Rugged Individualism,” and the flag we swear allegiance to. I just wonder if Donald Trump ever read and digested this. Because if he didn’t, he knows nothing about how to heal this nation and make it great again. He would know nothing about true leadership and what it really means.
And, oh, by the way, in case you never saw the movie Gettysburg, the guys who refused service did pick up their rifles in the thick of battle on a majestic place called “Little Round Top” and did their duty. Praise be.