OK, OK, OK, I’m joining the crowd. I’m doing what everyone else does – naming the man of the year, the woman of the year, the movie of the year, the song of the year, the game of the year, the eatery of the year, the you-name-it-of the year.
Given my line of work, it’s only right that I should name a name. Two names, in fact, the best leader of the year and, yes, the best, or at least the most salient, follower.*
Leader of the Year: Petro Poroshenko
Against long odds, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko stood up not only to his country’s obvious aggressor, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, but to America and Europe’s indolence and indifference. Poroshenko rallied the majority of the Ukrainian people to his side, and he stood so hard and so fast that 2014 ended with him standing taller, Putin grown smaller, and both the U.S. and European Union more strongly supporting Ukraine both against Russian aggression and for closer ties to the West. While the last act of this drama has yet to be written, and the road ahead remains treacherous, there is no denying that in 2014 President Poroshenko rose to the occasion. Only a leader both smart and strong could have executed the formidable tasks with which he was faced as wisely and well as he.
Follower of the Year: Eric Garner
Until his death as the result of being put into a chokehold by an officer of the New York Police Department, the name of Eric Garner was, in effect, unknown. But, since then, since the footage of his apparently woefully unnecessary death was captured on film, Garner has become a symbol. His last words – “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” – have become the slogan of the nation’s newest incarnation of a protest movement that goes back at least a half century. As I write, the most obvious manifestation of the tensions triggered by Garner’s death is a rift between New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Police Department. But in the wake of his own death, and also in the aftermath of racial strife in Ferguson, Missouri and subsequent civil rights protests around the country, Garner became the human incarnation of a wound that America has yet fully to heal. He was rather an ordinary man whose extraordinary death has been stamped permanently not only on our collective consciousness, but on our collective conscience.
*In my lexicon a leader is someone with obvious sources of power, authority, and, or, influence. A follower is someone without any obvious sources of power, authority, and, or influence.