“Where there is unity there is always victory.”
– Publilius Syrus
Monday was Memorial Day and in my DOB last Friday I shared with you the importance of remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. There is a small graveyard on Bainbridge Island and on Monday my children put small American flags on the gravestones of our veterans. My in-laws are buried there and they both served during World War II. I think the United States of America is an amazing country and I believe in American exceptionalism.
America is in the middle of a pandemic, the worst health crisis in over a century, and we have the highest unemployment rate since The Great Depression. We’ve all been in various levels of quarantine for a couple of months and more than 100,000 Americans have lost their life to COVID-19. The country is trying to find its way back to a healthy and safe place and start rebuilding our economy.
Times are tough, really tough, and we need leadership. I shared Lincoln’s speech last week because it represented a set of values that I believe in. Given that Lincoln was 28 when he gave that speech, it was an early indicator of his character and potential leadership skills. As it turned out he managed the country through the most difficult period in our nation’s history.
It was galling to have seen the pointless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Then made even worse by a series of riots that erupted across the country last night, including 7 people who were shot in Louisville. This morning I watched a news crew from CNN arrested on live TV while covering the riots.
If that was not enough to raise my sense of concern for the country, I was dismayed to see two incendiary tweets from the President in the last 24 hours. The first tweet was a retweet of a video in which a county commissioner that declared ‘The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,’ although the commissioner quickly recanted his position as a jest. While not likely to meet the standard of illegal speech defined by the U.S. Supreme court case, Brandenburg vs. Ohio, it is certainly not a representative example of quality leadership, decorum, and civility in our public discourse. Aren’t we all Americans, regardless of political affiliation?
The second tweet from the president was far more odious.
…”these THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
Read plainly, the President insinuating that the U.S. Military will be activated to assume control of Minneapolis and that if there is looting U.S. troops will, in an extrajudicial way, execute U.S. citizens?
There is a historical context to the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. During the late sixties, Miami police chief Walter Headley’s aggressive policing of black neighborhoods was denounced by civil-rights leaders. At a news conference in December 1967, as tensions simmered in response to months of police brutality, Headley threatened violent reprisals if the situation escalated. “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality. They haven’t seen anything yet,” …. “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Headley told reporters, according to media reports at the time.
Twitter tagged this last tweet as glorifying violence.
We all have a right to free speech, but it is not unfettered. You can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater, and you can’t incite people to violence or illegal activities. While the President’s conduct may not be illegal it is unbecoming of a leader. Lincoln feared that erosion of the rule of law could potentially unwind our great nation. The following is an excerpt from Lincoln’s Lyceum speech in the DOB last week.
The importance of the rule of law…
“I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny.”
Our great Presidents, Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy (to name a few), brought the country together in service of a higher purpose. I remember vividly the tragedy of 9/11 and how President Bush, with decorum and grace, brought our country together. The three first words in the Constitution of the United States of America in large font reads … “WE THE PEOPLE.”
Let’s go be great!