In a recent post about Presidential Candidate Donald Trump’s response to the bombings in Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday, Rachel Maddow notes that “crises are leadership tests.”
His response is clear but simplistic. She quotes him as saying, “This looks like a problem torture can solve.” Yet, she reminds us, his leadership solution (in his words, “fight fire with fire,”) brings us right into an old problem, with a solution that didn’t work in the first place.
She notes: “ In case anyone’s forgotten, when the Senate Intelligence Committee examined the Bush/Cheney administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” senators found torture was ineffective, illegal, brutal, and “provided extensive inaccurate information.” Trump, in other words, has no idea what he’s talking about.”
In his statement on the campaign, he said, “Folks, there’s something going on that’s really really bad. It’s bad. And we’d better get tough if we’re going to have a country left.”
Trump responds to fear tactics with fear tactics, falling right into the us vs. them camp and encouraging his followers to “get tough,” to protect our country, questioning the laws that prevent waterboarding because “they don’t have laws.”His leadership step up?: Vague threats for brutal, hawkish, personal retribution against terrorists.
Clinton called on multiple strategies, particularly creating alliances against terrorists, with statesmanlike compassion calling on the global picture while acknowledging the pain in the aftermath of the bombing.
Clinton’s step up?: A hawkish compassion that includes diplomacy, military action, and aid. She clearly has hold of the meaningful but practiced stock phrases that world leaders use to respond to crises, and also refers to the big picture, while focused on the “homeland” she vows to protect.
Maddow’s argument, that “when the pressure’s on, would-be presidents have an opportunity to demonstrate what kind of leadership they can and would provide if elected,” would lead us to believe that we’re looking at two hawkish alternatives, one proposing immediate eye-for-an-eye retribution, and the other proposing retribution as a last alternative built on global coalition.
Trump’s leadership goals one entirely focused on the US and our interests, and he is willing to move immediately to strategies that mirror violence, skipping diplomacy and compassion. We also see his strategic xenophobia in his signature say-it-like-it-is oversimplification, “it’s bad.” His followers respond to the unpracticed language he uses, apparently looking for a leader who speaks directly to them rather than using the ritual language of political commerce. His solutions, however, are unclear or aim at drama rather than a realistic response to the tragedy.
Clinton’s leadership goals are layered, and include a violent response to terrorist violence, while promising more diplomatic and united global responses, and acknowledging situational details, such as the heroism of the alert airport security forces who prevented many deaths. We also see her diplomatic and intelligence experience in her call for international cooperation as key to “keeping our country safe.” Her solutions reflect the proposals of other world leaders, already elected, and promise more flexible responses to this and other attacks of this kind.
So, who passes the leadership test Maddow sets? Both of them pass, and fail.
Trump fails in terms of his solution, which didn’t work before and won’t work now, but he passes in terms of engaging his eager followers by waking up their nationalism and anger. It’s not good leadership, by any means, any more than Hitler, who used the same strategy, was a good leader. But it’s effective engagement and brings him closer to his election goals.
Clinton succeeds in terms of her solutions, which are varied and built on cooperation rather than xenophobic isolation, which is probably the worst strategy to fight international terrorists. She also succeeds, as Trump did, in speaking to her followers, who want to see her as rational, experienced, and compassionately connected to the global world. But she fails in that she uses language that makes her seem like every other politician, making her nuanced response feel a little generic, less authentic a performance than her brash opponent.
It’s clear to me that we have two kinds of leaders vying for the White House. Clinton’s experienced, considered, connective style of leadership stands up as more presidential, compared to to Trump’s reactive, simplistic, nationalistic style which is more rhetorical and top-down. Both are clearly showing their professional roots, Clinton from government and Trump from the real estate/entertainment business.
Clinton’s insider role may seem less “authentic” and interesting, but more substantial next to Trump’s political outsider brand. Each has an appeal. It’s clear that these candidates are speaking to and for two factions of Americans, two Americas looking for different leaders.
It’s important to remember, though, that these presidential candidates will also be leading in the larger world. So their leadership styles, revealed as they step up in response to this tragedy, deserve and are getting both local and global attention.