These ideas are from my own research and thinking.
CHOOSING A GOOD LEADER
What do we need in a national leader? We need to look at more than political ideology and policies. Personal character and psychological functioning are also crucial. What a political candidate says and how the person behaves is crucial.
Our American democracy is built on freedom of speech, and, therefore, freedom of thought. Our nation thrives on dissent and differences of opinion. We choose among candidates who have differing views about governing. However, we should expect every candidate to have certain core values and human qualities. A good leader should have emotional maturity and stability, have self-confidence without a sense of entitlement, have realistic self-worth without unrealistic self-inflation, be disciplined without being rigid, and be committed to critical thinking.
A good leader should strive to be admired and valued without the exhibitionistic need for constant admiration and attention, have strong empathy for others and not exploit them, be reasonably trusting without being gullible or paranoid, and have the ability to make rational, reasoned decisions based on evidence without being impulsive or resorting to superstition or magical thinking. A good leader should never expect perfection in her/himself or in others and should be humble enough to admit faults and mistakes. A good leader must be honest with him/herself and the nation. To paraphrase President John F Kennedy, a good leader should “Ask not what your country can do for [him/her], but what [s/he] can do for [his/her] country.”
A confident, competent leader should have no need to demand unwavering loyalty. Let’s look at two outstanding examples. President Lincoln was known for his “team of rivals.” He was confident enough to welcome disagreement and questioning by cabinet members. He deliberately chose men for his cabinet who were the ablest. When President Kennedy faced the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, he surrounded himself with cabinet members and advisors who strenuously disagreed with one another on what to do. Some wanted immediate decisive military action. Others advised diplomacy. The Soviet foreign minister had already lied to Kennedy about the existence of missiles for which the U.S. had photographic proof. Messages from Moscow reflected attitudes of hard-liners and moderates. Kennedy wisely ignored the hard line messages and focused on understanding Khrushchev’s point of view. He also cultivated allies and bipartisan congressional support with honest communication – neither hyperbole nor minimization.
Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy welcomed and even insisted on a variety of opinions. They wanted questions and criticism. President Trump, by contrast, chooses his associates by their loyalty to him. His main criterion is whether he can trust their devotion, not whether they have any expertise. He has no one around him who can restrain any of his impulses. No one will give him bad news about anything.
Every US President has had flaws, and some have had significant psychological dysfunctions, including Richard Nixon’s increasing paranoia, secrecy and blatant disregard for the law (“When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal”). The US Congress was in the process of impeaching and removing Nixon when he resigned following disclosure of the White House tape recordings.
The US has been fortunate to escape a monumental disaster at the hands of an incompetent or dysfunctional president. Although military personnel who handle nuclear orders are assessed for fitness for duty, no such requirement exists for the commander in chief. Perhaps it’s time to call on experts in assessing deception and dangerousness – forensic psychiatrists and psychologists, and profilers from the CIA and FBI. For now, we have to rely on elections. We must not allow another person to be elected president who is as dangerously dysfunctional as Donald Trump.
“The life of the nation is secure only while the nation [and it’s leader] is honest, truthful, and virtuous.” Frederick Douglass