Like all previous presidents in my lifetime, President Trump ran against “Washington” and not incidentally, against the elites. This approach is Campaign Strategy 101 for all first-term candidates who had not been vice president first.
But Trump’s was also a populist campaign, which appealed to non-hyphenated Americans, particularly those living in the middle of the country, who have been left behind by prosperity. His supporters felt they found their voice through him – perhaps in part because like them, President Trump is a doer, not a thinker; a results man, not an idea man. He’s emotional, not cerebral.
Passion and action-orientation are important ingredients in leadership, as long as they are harnessed by the right ideas and values. In order to see the big picture and not just act, but act to reduce harm and produce the greatest good, leadership needs to be informed by reflection and thought.
America’s greatest leaders, the Founding Fathers, understood the importance to a well-functioning republic of balancing popular common sense with a broad, intellectual view. Most of the nation’s founders, though not all, were elites, college-educated in a time when that was rare. John Adams, John Dickinson, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and James Madison wrote extensively on political issues and political philosophy.
They thought and deliberated before they acted.
Thomas Jefferson, whose intellectual accomplishments were broad and deep, can be a model. An “egalitarian elitist,” Jefferson was a champion of popular wisdom, confident in the ordinary person’s intuitive sense of right and wrong. Nevertheless, he argued that complex questions of policy needed the hand of elites – educated and thoughtful citizens … people like himself, who was both a scientist and a philosopher.
Jefferson’s insight is even more relevant today, when life is so much faster and more complex than it was back then.
Let us learn from the Founding Fathers the lesson of respect for elites, for reflection and scholarship, for deep thinking and constructive deliberation.
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