Of all the conundrums confounding relations between leaders and followers, none is as daunting as bad leadership. Bad leadership traps both leaders and followers in a vise from which neither is able easily to escape.
The leader behaves badly and then, typically, behaves even more badly. His followers are stymied – sometimes divided, invariably frightened. Frightened of the consequences of doing something and frightened of the consequences of doing nothing. And so generally they opt for the latter. Being a bystander is easier than being an activist – less draining and demanding, less unsettling and unnerving.
But when bad leadership becomes worse leadership, followers must act. If they do not, they are complicit in their own suffering. Americans have got to this point. After putting up with President Donald Trump’s rampant ignorance and outrageous malfeasance for two and a half years, time has come for every sentient citizen to put up or shut up.
Followers differ one from the other: they have different wants, needs, and wishes, and different resources and responsibilities. They are moreover situated in different contexts and they face different circumstances. Here I refer to a specific set of followers: those in the opposition and those best positioned to act against a president who has affronted our norms and violated our laws. I refer specifically to two categories of Democrats: those serving in the House of Representatives and those running for president of the United States.
In both cases women are the obvious leaders of the opposition, obvious leaders of opposing followers. First is Nancy Pelosi, who ought finally to throw caution to the wind. And second is Elizabeth Warren, who was first among Democratic candidates to call for Trump’s impeachment, and who was quick to repeat that call last night, in the wake of the president’s saying he would do again what he did before, accept information about an opponent from a foreign government. But Warren should do more than speak out. She should put out – she should take the lead in organizing at least some of her opponents in the race for the White House in order to present a united front. A united Democratic front for impeachment of the sitting Republican president.
The United States of America was forged in the crucible of opposition to bad leadership. Opposition so fierce it culminated in a revolt against the king of England. But, to get to that point, followers needed leaders filled with fury so great it fueled them for months and more months, and finally for years. No one ever said upending bad leaders was easy. It’s not. It’s hard. Really hard. But, it’s not impossible.
Thomas Paine’s revolutionary tract, Common Sense, published in 1776, has been described as the match that lit the Revolution:
Though I would carefully avoid giving unnecessary offence, yet I am inclined to believe that all those who espouse the doctrine of reconciliation may be included within the following descriptions. Interested men, who are not to be trusted; weak men who cannot see; prejudiced men who will not see; and a certain set of moderate men who … will be the cause of more calamities to this Continent than all the other three….
According to Paine then, of all the followers of bad leaders it is moderates who do the most harm. In the current situation moderates so pusillanimous they would fail to impeach a president who, as attested to by every scintilla of evidence, deserves nothing else and no less.