Today’s Wall Street Journal features an article titled “Romney’s Lonely Challenge to Trump.” As the headline suggests, it’s about how Mitt Romney, the Republican standard bearer during the 2012 presidential campaign, is taking a path that others fear to tread. Romney is making no bones about it: he detests Donald Trump and fears that he if he becomes president he will be a danger to us all.
Romney describes Trump’s attacks on him as “constant and brutal.” But, Romney adds, he has no qualms about taking him on, though he stands nearly alone in vocal opposition. When asked why he is willing to be risk being relentlessly ridiculed by Trump – a few days ago Donald described Mitt as walking “like a penguin” – Romney says, “I wanted my grandkids to see that I simply couldn’t ignore what Mr. Trump was saying and doing, which revealed a character and temperament unfit for the leader of the free world.”
I have considerable admiration for what Romney is doing. He does not, however, go far enough. He does not lead.
It’s one thing to take a stand. It’s quite another to take a stand and to rouse others to join your cause. We know full well that Mitt Romney is not alone. Large numbers of Republicans strongly agree with his opinion of Trump. But for whatever constellation of reasons – fear, greed, and the pressure to conform high among them – they are staying silent or even, in large numbers, falling into line.
If Romney continues to speak out in opposition to Trump, he will do the nation a favor. But if he fails to find followers, a leader he will not be.
To those among us who find the idea of a Trump presidency as onerous as incredulous, Hillary Clinton is a heartbreaker. Not a shocker exactly, as her history of evasion and deception is long. Still, at this critical moment in our nation’s history many of us were willing to move on, not to forgive or forget exactly, but to move on, given the likely alternative. Given that the only likely presidential alternative is Donald Trump.
Hillary makes difficult if not impossible the thought of voting for her with even a modicum of enthusiasm. She’s too damned flawed.
Three of her greatest deficits are highlighted by the report of the State Department inspector general, which sharply criticized her exclusive use of a private e mail server while serving as secretary of state. The story is not new. But it does contain additional details which make it the more disturbing. In particular:
- Hillary Clinton violated the rules if not law by failing to keep proper records.
- Hillary Clinton secured staff members so cowed by her presence that they failed to speak truth to power.
- Hillary Clinton continues to deny, to obfuscate. She seems constitutionally unable to take responsibility – apology is not in her repertory.
“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”
“Bill” is one of the greatest songs in one of the greatest of all Broadway musicals – “Showboat.” The show – originally produced in 1927 and written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein – was immediately recognized as a watershed. It was one of the first story lines to mix seriousness and spectacle, one of the first popular entertainments to tackle the issue of race, and one of the first musicals to contribute to the culture a bevy of songs destined to endure as classics.
While some of these songs are as familiar as they are famous – “Ol Man River” is an example – others are less so. Others songs from “Showboat” are less familiar and less famous, though they are equally gorgeous – among them “Bill.”
“Bill” is a song of love, from a woman to a man, a man who is other than “god-like,” other than brilliant or fabulously handsome. To the contrary. This Bill, the Bill from “Showboat,” can’t play golf or tennis, he isn’t “tall or straight or slim, and he dresses far worse than Ted or Jim.” Rather this Bill is “an ordinary man,” nothing special, nothing to brag about. But he is, the song makes plain, a good man, a man who makes the woman singing the song feel good and “comfy.” He makes her feel secure and well loved, “because he’s just my Bill.”
The song came to mind as Hillary Clinton recently made plain yet again that her Bill, her husband Bill, Bill Clinton, was anything other than ordinary – he was extraordinary. Bill Clinton was so extraordinary, in fact, that if Hillary Clinton is elected president of the United States, she will, she said, put her husband “in charge of revitalizing the economy, because, you know, he knows how to do it.”
No mention of how exactly the former president would fit into a policy-making role in a second Clinton White House. No mention of precisely what part he would play alongside, say, the Secretary of the Treasury, or the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. No mention of what supposedly would be his portfolio. Instead her assumption is simple: her Bill is so remarkable a man that he can do something, successfully, that no one else has ever done before.
Here’s my view of it. Bill Clinton should be retired. He should retire himself, withdraw from consideration from any position in another Clinton administration. Nothing against either one of them. But if Hillary Clinton is elected president, one Clinton working in the White House will quite suffice, thank you.
Whatever his gifts may be, I at least have had quite enough. Enough of Bill Clinton extraordinary man. I pine for “Bill an ordinary man” – Bill who hasn’t got “a thing that I can brag about.”
I have written before about how leaders in business are coming to resemble leaders in government. Like the latter, the former are increasingly vulnerable to those who would challenge or even revoke their ability to lead.
The cast of characters – of CEO challengers – is large. It includes, for example, newly impatient and emboldened boards, newly impatient and emboldened customers, and newly impatient and emboldened shareholder activists.
Shareholder activism is a recent phenomenon and shareholder activists were, until recently, easy to identify. Now though things are changing. Now familiar shareholder activists are being joined by unfamiliar ones – further expanding the pool of those ready, willing, and able to take on even the most vaunted of chief executives.
Previously most shareholder activists were titans of hedge funds, men such as William Ackman and Daniel Loeb who gained further fame and (usually) additional fortune by taking on companies they judged mismanaged or undervalued. Now they are joined by a new group – single individuals acting in their own interest, who happen to own great gobs of a single stock.
A man by the name of David Sokol is an example. He owns 27% of an American community bank, Middleburg Financial. Recently Sokol pressured the bank to put itself on the chopping block – pressure that Middleburg has so far resisted. Instead Middleburg’s board offered Sokol a seat – which Sokol has so far similarly resisted. Stand-off between the bank’s leadership on the one side, and a single shareholder on the other.
Activism is clearly creeping, seeping, easing almost imperceptibly from the public sector into the private one. As one observer put it, “Activism has gone from being frowned upon, something that marks you out as a rogue or a maverick, to almost socially responsible…. Everyone else is respected for getting involved, so it is good that this is changing for shareholders too.” *
The fear and loathing permeating democratic electorates is worldwide. Trumpism or its rough analogue is not just an America phenomenon – it is everywhere.
We see in places other than our own that the people are pissed. We see in places other than our own that democracy is being stretched. We see in places other than our own that leaders associated with establishments are in trouble. We see in places other than our own that the time of trouble is affecting not only leaders in the public sector, but in the private and nonprofit ones as well. We see in places other than our own that threats – real or perceived – such as climate change, immigration, terrorism, and economic uncertainty are driving people nuts. We see in places other than our own that the system of liberalism we say we hold dear feels feeble.
Two days ago I wrote about the Philippines. Today I write about Austria. Austria – which, like several of its European counterparts, such as Poland and Hungary, just took a turn to the hard right.
In last month’s presidential elections, Austria’s governing party, the Social Democrats, suffered a stinging defeat in comparison with the stunning success of the right wing, anti-free trade, anti-immigrant Freedom Party. In direct consequence, on Monday Austria’s Chancellor, Werner Faymann, resigned. The reason he gave was the lack of confidence – the lack of confidence in his capacity to lead. “The question was thus,” Faymann said, “Did I have the full support of a strong backing from the party? I have to answer in the negative.”
What happens in Austria seems to most Americans not of utmost importance. But, it is. For what is happening in Austria is happening in much of the rest of Europe (see under Denmark). And it is happening in the United States as well. The end of leadership as we have known it? Not yet. Stay tuned.