How do the manifestly unfit become leaders?
When I was a small boy — a very small boy — I came to awareness of international relations a bit more quickly than many kids, particularly kids growing up in the Muscogee Creek Nation. In those days, they were just “the Creeks” and I did not yet understand the significance of “Muscogee” except I was confused by the slightly different spelling of the city that would in a few years get a lot of attention from country music fans when Merle Haggard dubbed himself an “Okie from Muskogee.”
In the world to which I was born, people were conscious of being a product of international relations. Specifically, the treachery and duplicity of the United States of America had shaped our reality. After allotment destroyed the Cherokee Nation economy again, my Cherokee grandfather had left the Cherokee Nation to seek work where the work was at the time as the oil boom rippled across Oklahoma.
I understand now that taking a major chill from the weather can leave you weaker and therefore more vulnerable to an infection, but going out during inclement weather does not directly “cause” pneumonia. At the time, I absorbed the family folklore that Haney Teehee went out in bad weather and came back ill. My experience had already demonstrated doctors were only for “rich people,” as I thought of ordinary middle-class white folks living a few blocks away.
Haney Teehee’s death meant I would grow up without the music of the Cherokee language, “talking Indian” would mean Mvskoke, and even now I conflate Creek practices with Cherokee. I was a teenager before I knew that we had fought with the Creeks, shocking information to the “us and them” world view in which the Creeks were part of “us,” allied against the thieves who took our homelands in an involuntary transaction and then came back and took the lands we were forced to accept in exchange.
The settlers renamed Indian Territory for the territory with which it was combined to make a state, Oklahoma. Forty years later, I was born a boomer, we of the sexual explosion when the men came home from the Great War against the German barbarians. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the Germans were not in fact barbarians.
Those people we call the Founders who wrote the seminal documents to which the United States ever since tried to live up seemed divided between Anglophiles and Francophiles.
I was just a kid trying to locate myself in the history of Indian nations as well as the history of the U.S. settlers, so American history sucked in the likes of Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke, and John Locke on the Anglophile side and François-Marie Arouet (aka Voltaire), Denis Diderot, and Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu on the Francophile side.
The Germans were there the whole time, but were not strewn across my path like the English and the French. In addition to the humanities, the Germans stood at the forefront of both the hard sciences and engineering. In WWII, this led to Germans putting hardware in the field that was superior to anything the allies put into combat.
Germany sent up jets, which could only be beaten by ambush as they either took off or landed. Germans launched the first guided missiles against England. German small arms and tanks were without parallel except they were expensive to make and hard to repair. If one Tiger tank could destroy half a dozen Shermans the seventh Sherman would hit them in the spot where their armor was thinnest. Germany might very well have beaten the U.S. to deploying atomic weapons because German scientists were hot on the trail when our Manhattan Project hit pay dirt first.
So, I asked then and I ask now, if the Germans were exemplary thinkers, musicians, designers, and builders, how did such a complex and accomplished civilization come to be led by a half-educated thug like Adolf Hitler?
How did a people who gave the world Immanuel Kant, Max Weber, Martin Heidegger, and Hannah Arendt also give the world genocide on a grand scale? Even if we put Wagner aside because Hitler loved Wagner’s music, how can we hear Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, and Mendelssohn and conclude that Germans are barbarians?
Hitler was a flaming racist and Mein Kampf was so poorly written its pages would have lined the bottom of cat boxes had it not sold with raw power behind it. How does a third rate mind come to dominate a first-rate nation?
I’m not sure the United States is in a place to point fingers.
We are governed by a chief executive who ended his education with an undistinguished performance studying business, never held a position of public trust, and in positions of private trust he got caught stealing from students and from charitable givers.
His policies include encouraging police to use excessive force, purposely rendering children orphans, encouraging war crimes, glorifying sexual assault, and allowing personal financial interests to intrude in his conduct of public business.
I don’t think we are barbarians and I don’t think Mr. Trump can fairly be compared to Mr. Hitler. Mr. Trump operates on a level of international laughingstock rather than fearsome warlord. He has not yet attacked anyone capable of fighting back in any venue more deadly than Twitter.
Mr. Trump has demonstrated a preference for strongman government, but he is a classic bully. In his latest trip across the Atlantic, a circle of world leaders chatting over drinks got caught in a hot mic moment making fun of him. He left early, skipping the picture and not signing off on the closing statement. I guess he showed them.
To be governed by a clown is humiliating. If someone offered me a free ticket to Europe right now, I would not go. I’d rather pay for my own ticket after the laughter dies down. If I were a mere American tourist right now, I would feel like a guy walking in the parade behind the Clydesdales with a shovel.
Then I remember that this clown has custody of the nuclear codes, and I wonder if there is some child on the other side of the world not yet born who will think we were barbarians. Then, when the child is old enough to inventory our cultural and scientific achievements, the question will become how such a people came to be governed by a clownish bully who was capable of bungling into WWIII?
Previously published on medium
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