Monday, April 17, 2017

How Do Leaders Emerge?

Never took a history course in college.  That is a blind spot in my own education I've tried to fill by reading, but I have the distinct sense I am missing something, still blind, because I have never heard a real historian talk about, say, Lincoln, beyond the gabbing of a Doris Kearns Goodwin, being interviewed on TV or someone on Public Television talking about their new book about Teddy Roosevelt or whoever.
And most importantly, I have never had the opportunity to grill an historian about how she knows what she knows.

All the historians I see on TV, Michael Bechloss, the whole pantheon of academics they typically trot out on The News Hour, seem to be nothing much more than well groomed gossips.

In her preface to White Trash, Nancy Isenberg says that history is not a bedtime story; it is trudging around in musty archives, squinting at hand written letters and trying to connect a lot of dots.
This means to me, history is ultimately an exercise in imagination. Trying to imagine what people were actually like, based on their letters or what other people were saying about them in their letters, I imagine how historians would try to reconstruct my life from sources like that and I am sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, they would not come within a country mile of the real me.

So it must be so for  Lincoln, Lenin, Roosevelt, Hitler, Churchill.

When you ask, "How did Hitler come to power?" or "What was it about Lenin which made him so important?" you are in the realm of scholarship cum fantasy.

What made Obama the right man for his time?  What catapulted Trump into the Presidency?

We can interrogate all the pundits; we can read all about it, but we cannot really know. 
Yes, people from the top to bottom of the economic and intellectual scale could see George W. Bush was too stupid to be an effective President. And yet they elected and re elected him. 
And when President Obama ran against an inarticulate, dumbed down President as an articulate, scaled up intellect, you could see he was the anti-W. He was not running against McCain; he was running against W.

And Trump was the anti-Obama, simplistic where Obama saw paralyzing complexity, Trump saw easy solutions:  chanting phrases--Build the Wall! or Lock her Up--where Obama dealt in umms and ahs.

But I have to believe it was important for Lenin and Hitler and Churchill and Roosevelt, for all of them, to have groups of people thinking about politics and economics and philosophy, talking about it, arguing the positions before the seeds of any one of these flowers called Trump or Lenin could bloom.

Today, in the United States, there are innumerable gardens where thinkers are tilling the rich loam of thought in which the next candidate will be planted, from talk radio, Limbaugh, Hannity, to The Federalist Society and The American Enterprise Institute to the John Birch Society.
But where are the thinkers on the left?


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