The topic of our discussion this month was Do We Learn from History? (Part II)
Our emphasis was Leadership in Democracy. We started our (online) chat with a discussion of a section from our website, thefutureofdemocracy.net, entitled Leadership in Democracies.
The People are the ultimate authority for democratic governments, but people can act or vote in a way that is not in their best long-term interests. The best democratic leadership evokes a vision that includes the needs of all individuals. Effective leadership strives to clarify these democratic values and then works to forge a path toward implementing them.
In democracies we know that we don’t want an authoritarian regime making the major decisions that affect our society and lives. All revolutions have been founded on this principle. But once the revolution is over, determining the direction in which we want to move becomes more of a challenge.
Firm, yet sensitive guidance is needed by those who would lead us. Viable new ideas always must be respected and incorporated into our path. Great leadership maintains the essential vision of democracy while considering alternative paths toward its fulfillment. Democracy is most viable when incorporating the best contributions that each of us is capable of making.
We continued with a discussion of the book Three Days at the Brink by Bret Baier. The three days referenced in the title are the Tehran Conference of World War II attended by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin to plan the final push of the war, culminating in the June 1944 D-Day attack of the beaches of Normandy. Much of the book focuses on Roosevelt’s background, going back to his cousin Teddy and his 1905 inaugural speech made just as the US was becoming the most influential international power.
We have become a great nation, forced by the facts of its greatness into relations with other nations of the earth… We must show not only in our words, but in our deeds, that we are earnestly desirous of securing their good will by acting toward them in a spirit of just and generous recognition of their rights.…
Yes, that was given by a Republican, who saw the essential international role of the US as one of leadership working in supportive interaction with other nations.
The leadership style of FDR was emphasized throughout the book. In his inaugural address in 1933, and in his later “fireside chats,” Roosevelt emphasized the need for a spirit of cooperative effort by all Americans to work together to move past the devastation of the Depression.
If we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline; because without such discipline no progress is made.
His firm leadership began by created a myriad of programs collectively called the New Deal, that included Social Security and the WPA (Works Progress Administration), although the US did not fully come out of the Depression until the massive spending forced by World War II, which then greatly reduced the entrenched equality that had gotten worse before the War.
Along with Churchill, FDR is credited by many as inspiring his nation in its effort to save democracy. He exhibited a firmness in the face of adversity that inspired the American people despite a number of shortcomings that included the internment of Japanese Americans and failing to take action to save Jews attempting to escape extermination by the Germans.
By contrast we currently have the most devastating pandemic in over 100 years assaulting our country with no clear leadership providing a coordinated plan for action. Each state is left to fend for itself in deciding whether to issue stay-at-home rules and to compete with other states for essential supplies in absence of strong leadership. Despite early warnings, the deadly potential of our current pandemic was ignored by our President until it could be denied no longer, and we all are paying the consequences.
Please check out our blog at renewingdemocracy.org
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The book The Future of Democracy can be ordered wherever books are sold.
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Steve Zolno is the author of the book The Future of Democracy and two related titles. He graduated from Shimer College with a Bachelors Degree in Social Sciences and holds a Masters in Educational Psychology from Sonoma State University. He is a Management and Educational Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been conducting seminars on democracy since 2006.