“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” — Hermann Goering (1893-1946), reichsmarschall, Nazi Germany.
“A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.” --Proverbs 14:15.
The first quote was among notes I took months ago while researching the art of manipulation (not the art of the deal) of the public by elected leaders. The second quote, of course, is from the Scriptures. It’s on a desk clock given to me by a friend when I took office as a county commissioner.
They were lying there side by side on a newly decluttered desk next to my computer this week as I worked through ideas for a column: What is left to say after an end to the longest shutdown of the government of the United States? I took the hint.
The juxtaposition of the two quotes begs the question, what is leadership? The first quote is attributed to a morally bankrupt man who was a “leader” of Hitler’s war machine. A few ruthless men were manipulating the German public with The Big Lie. The second quote came from a follower of the Highest power, leading us to essential truths.
I don’t think of Goering as a leader. He was artfully following the darkness of a maniac mining the fear of a dispirited population. Germany was struggling to emerge from the disgrace of defeat in a previous war and the deprivations of economic depression. Hitler and his henchmen tied their wagon to a malevolent faction and were mistaken for leaders.
The “leaders” who took over the government had the support of a fearful and angry minority emboldened by the apathy — and underestimation — of the general population. They rode the decline to chaos as a runaway cart rolls off a mountain trail; it was gravity, not leadership, that caused the result.
The quotation from Proverbs alludes to climbing above base intuitions; mind over matter, control of emotion and thought leading to an elevated result.
My point here is that each of us has a role in determining the course to be taken by the general population. Some have the charisma and communication skills to become icons for the aspirations of larger groups, but popular opinion ebbs and flows; ask any sports star who has struck out with the bases loaded. Hear the lament of the aging, once-dashing movie hero or the glamorous actress whose beauty has faded.
Love of justice and social order requires that we hold fast to substance and learn to adjust to the transitory tides of fortune.
In political terms, our democratic republic with a Constitution that separates the powers of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government are the substance — the safe harbor. The star powers of any given elected official or candidate are the transitory tides. The fickleness of an uninformed or apathetic population are the errant winds and rocky shores that can destroy the ship of state.
Identity politics is a storm. It will pass, and the nature of the change it leaves in its path will be part of history.
True leaders will use the trust given them to instill faith and confidence in the way forward, and not follow and exploit irrational and malicious fears that are designed to control, rather than lead, all the people, and not just a faction.
Bullies are not leaders. They divide. Holding government workers hostage in a battle of will and ego exposes weakness, not strength. And so the population should be giving thought to the prudence referred to in the proverb.