Of the People, For the People, By the People

Photo shows The crest of the Pittsburgh rowing club on a navy jacket.In an empty classroom on campus, a teammate scanned an order list. Half-empty boxes sat on the floor. Rowers waited to hear their names called. Many of us waited for a team jacket to complete the transition from novice to varsity status. Gore-Tex rustled as people tried on their new gold and navy duds. Eventually an upperclassman asked for attention.

“When you wear this jacket, you’re not just representing yourself,” he said as he glanced around the group, “you represent all of your teammates, you represent anyone who ever wore this jacket, and anyone who ever will wear this jacket. It’s a responsibility and an honor.” Maybe he hit Braveheart or Gladiator a bit hard that semester, but the message was clear. Act right in the jacket. Act like people watch you and judge the team on campus because they do. The consequences of individual actions, positive or negative, affect others. If you wear the jacket, you rep the brand.

It’s like the role any head of state plays, a kind of spokesperson. A leader is no longer a civilian, but a civil servant of the highest degree. Power doesn’t equal popularity though. A few months after 9/11, I studied and worked in England. It didn’t take me long to realize lots of people did not hold George W. Bush in high regard. Sure, policy decisions led in part to his reputation, but this was before the invasion of Iraq. I recall how even a minor pretzel choking incident of Bush’s provided comedy to smirking commuters reading newspapers on the train. I experienced a sense of how the rest of the world viewed America; it wasn’t pretty. Since then, I wonder about every commander-in-chief: how will this President reflect our citizens as a whole, home and abroad?

It reminds me that when leaders rule, it doesn’t mean everyone likes the plan. Speaking against something is ok. Political discourse is part of democracy. No one has all the answers to every issue. Advocacy matters.

When you’re elected to act as an ambassador of the brand, it requires a greater sense of responsibility. Grace and compromise are choices. So are retaliation and grudge-holding. What a challenge it must be as President to call on incredible power, great prestige, and plenty of yes men, but continue to seek and engage with alternative perspectives. It’s tempting as human beings to be impulsive instead of measured and considerate.

All actions have consequences. For the American people, who bears a varsity jacket in politics and plays the long game for the greater good? For the 45th presidency as in previous administrations, actions will speak louder than words.

When you don’t get what you want how do you respond? When you hold power, how do you manage conflict? Have you attended an inauguration? What will Donald Trump’s Secret Service codename be? Tell me about it.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Jenelle says:

    I love the varsity jacket analogy, Susan. I had similar experiences in Italy where the people scoffed at President Bush. I have friends living abroad in England and Switzerland and they both report that most people are bewildered by this country’s choice of President. I was watching a history show about President Truman last night, and it really brought to light the significant consequences the choices of our leaders can have, especially when seeking revenge without consideration for humankind. Perhaps the secret service will code name Trump “the bull”. I’m afraid that’s the nicest code name I can come up with at the moment.

    1. A book with testimony from survivors of the bombing of Nagasaki really opened my mind as an adult rather than learning as a teenager in school about the effects of nuclear war and the wide-reaching and irreversible effects certain decisions cause. Quick to anger is a dangerous quality in a leader. Good choice of a code name!
      And I must hear more about your time in Italy next time we chat.

  2. Casee says:

    I have no idea how this presidency will turn out but I know that this country is nothing if not resilient. We have survived terrorist attacks, a civil war, and more than our share of economic upheaval. Maybe I’m naive but I think the weight of the office can change a person, Nixon excluded, 🙂 I hope that once sworn President-elect Trump will listen to his better angel and become a president that we can all be proud of. I have to think this way because the alternative scenarios are a bit frightening to me. I think his code name will be Tweetstorm. By the way, I wish he’d let go of Twitter. It seems to turn him into a petulant 13 year old school boy.

    1. I agree, there are many times in the past when the country has been resilient. Hoping for the best. And to funny on the code name, Casee.

  3. Trump and Brexit…sad day today as a reflection of modern values. Very interesting short podcasts this week on BBC4..America re-written. Worth a listen if you can find them. Speaking for myself America’s reputation as the land of the free will always be redeemed by the intelligence and grace of the Obamas. I don’t think there are many places in the world with such a legacy and certainly not here in the U.K. At the moment.

    1. I always appreciate your take on things, Bridget. I will seek out the podcast you mentioned as well.

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