THE TRUE TEST OF LEADERSHIP

June 16th, 2016

“Donald Trump’s free ride on your television screen is coming to an end…” began an article in the L.A. Times last week.

The article reported that ubiquitous appearances by Trump on TV since he declared his candidacy aspirations have been heavily curtailed over recent weeks, and from now on whenever he is interviewed he will be forced to defend his more outlandish statements.

Apparently, it has finally dawned on the networks that having allowed the presumptive Republican candidate unfettered freedom to say whatever he wants for almost a year has not had the expected effect of making him less attractive to the electorate, and may in fact have boosted his popularity, resulting in the remarkable phenomenon of his nomination.

As hard as it may be to believe, just a year ago Trump’s candidacy was not taken seriously by the media, and most news professionals believed if they allowed him to freely express his outrageous opinions he would inevitably ruin his own chances of electoral success. And so he was given the freedom to say whatever he wanted, as much as he wanted.

It goes without saying that the networks were also very conscious of ratings, which spiked whenever Trump was on TV. It seemed like a win-win — Trump would self-destruct while ratings went up.

But as the months rolled by, it should have become obvious to all that the strategy was simply not working.

Ironically, the overexposure for Trump has also meant that Hillary Clinton has been given a far easier ride than she might have expected during a normal primary election season. While there were attacks against her from within her own party, her media exposure was limited, and the media scrutiny tame.

So the electorate is now left with two presumptive candidates, both of whom do not have the greatest record of keeping their promises, nor with the kind of leadership experience that should be a prerequisite for the job, as the only two choices for what is arguably the most important political position on the planet.

It would be easy to use all this as an excuse to go into an anti-media rant, or to start railing against a political system that has allowed such a farce to happen. But let’s face it – neither of these reactions is appropriate.

The freedom of the press is without any doubt one of our most precious freedoms, however flawed the media may be. Meanwhile, the political system in the United States has over the past almost 250 years delivered some of the greatest leaders of modern times. To focus purely on the failure of the media and our political system rather misses the point.

The Torah portion of Beha’alotecha records the story of Eldad and Meidad, two nominees for a newly formed council of elders appointed to assist Moses lead the Jews.

For some reason Eldad and Meidad failed to attend the inaugural closed session of the council, and instead opted to remain among the people, where, as a result of their newly acquired status as prophets, they began to prophesize, revealing information they were not meant to disclose.

Moses and his inner circle were immediately informed of the breach, and the first to react was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. With no inkling that Eldad and Meidad were bona-fide prophets, he proposed a draconian reaction (Num. 11:28):

וַיֹאמַר אֲדֹנִי מֹשֶה כְלָאֵם – “and he said, my master, Moses, kela’eim’!”

Rashi offers two explanations for the rather obscure Hebrew word ‘kela’eim’. The most obvious explanation is that ‘kela’eim’ is derived from the word ‘keleh’, which means prison, and that Joshua was proposing for the two renegades to be incarcerated.

But Rashi relegates this interpretation to second place. Instead he posits a rather more convoluted explanation as his first choice. What Joshua meant by ‘kela’eim’, says Rashi, was for Moses to impose real leadership responsibilities on Eldad and Meidad, which would ultimately ‘imprison’ them one way or another.

Moses, who knew that these two mavericks were actually genuine, was unconcerned, and reassured Joshua there was nothing to worry about – and, as he said wistfully, “if only all of God’s nation were prophets!”

Notwithstanding the end of the story, we still need to understand why Rashi preferred his more elaborate interpretation of Joshua’s proposal.

I would suggest that Joshua was concerned that Eldad’s and Meidad’s failure to join the inaugural council meeting was a protest against the established leadership. That being the case, putting them in jail would be utterly pointless, as it would simply turn them into political prisoner celebrities, and possibly lead to a much more dangerous popular revolution against Moshe.

Instead, Joshua suggested that Moses should appoint them to real leadership roles. As leaders with real responsibilities, either their opposition tendencies would melt away, or they would be exposed as incompetent.

Opposition politicians and candidates standing for election are not subject to the realities of being in power, nor faced with the complex situations that leaders contend with at every turn. They can afford to speak in utopian terms and make unrealistic promises without the negative consequences that inevitably follow if they have to do what they’ve promised.

In a democratic system we are lucky in that we do not to have to appoint people to positions of power to find out whether or not they are capable leaders. Instead we can subject them to public scrutiny through the media long before they climb into the driver’s seat.

In this election year we are faced with a choice between two candidates who many believe are not suited to the presidency, although one of them will certainly be elected.

On that basis we must follow Joshua’s advice of ‘kela’eim’. We must make sure to put them both through the toughest scrutiny process of any election in modern history, so that whoever is the winner will have been tested and thoroughly prepared for the job long before they move into the White House.

The future of the free world literally depends on it.

Image Copyright: Mark Raybin

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