"I promise before you, before my honor, before Patria, before my friends, and before the world that I will not allow my voice to be silenced and will not yield until the world is free."
I uttered these words many years ago as a young idealist at the age of 16 while standing on the white steps of Capitol Hill and watching the sunset. These words have probably been uttered by all of us at some point, and let's keep that idealism within ourselves - because, trust me, it will help us understand the following lessons.
The presidential debates, as always, are crowded with all of the most ambitious of the land. From young to old, candidates of every race and creed express why they would be the best person for the job.
Even in seeking a normal job such as retail or the food industry, candidates have to describe why they would be the best for the job.
Likewise, a presidential candidate is expected to answer the following question: "Why will I be much better than my competition?"
Alas, this mentality is dangerous and will only bring us to ruin as we become an overly competitive world and forget what separates a true leader from a caudillo.
A true leader puts the people and the truth before himself/herself. A caudillo pushes his opponents down and is bent on victory and strong arms.
What are the principles that separate the Washingtons from the Caesars?
Pardon me for a second, my dear readers, as I take on the role of a dream presidential candidate.
It is not about me.
"It isn't about me - our economy is broken, our people are miserable, and we are on the verge of economic collapse. But trust me, I affirm before you and before my worthy opponents gathered here that I will not yield in body or spirit, in victory or defeat to do all I can to save the nation. I also will need the help of you - my people and my esteemed opponents."
THIS! Alas, I long to hear a candidate utter this phrase. Maybe the economy is doing better in some areas, but when your people are all working jobs where they cannot afford a loaf of bread, is it really a great economy? When engineers are working outside their field and when teachers are fleeing abroad to find better pay, what bragging rights do we have? Optimism is great, but when the people are clearly suffering, I believe it is a mockery for the president to say, "Times are great - the best they can ever be!"
Let's acknowledge the truth, and let's work with others to make the world better.
Do not attack your opponents.
Alas, I know attacking opponents is as old as time itself! Adams and Jefferson were vicious in their attacks against each other. As much as this is tempting to indulge in, do not do it, my dear president! Be a Washington - it is difficult, but try as hard as you can with all you have in you to refrain from these attacks. Building coalitions will come back to help you in the long run. If you attack and hurl mud at your opponents, they will take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Indeed, revenge politics will only lead us into further and further chaos.
Oh, my dear constituents, haven't you found great delight in reading history? I remember my young heart being inspired during my childhood bedtime by such great names as George Washington, Paul Revere, John Adams, and others.
We all love the stories about Abraham Lincoln, Tadeusz Kościuszko, Antonio José de Sucre, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi. We remember these people for their humility, and we all strive to emulate them.
But all too often it is easy for all of us, especially if we make it as far as the presidential debate, to boast about our triumphs.
Maybe we don't say things as obvious as "I am the best; I am the greatest" - although, to my great sadness, there have been leaders in the world who have said such things, including numerous caudillos like Hugo Chávez.
In the musical "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," based on the Disney cartoon which was in turn based on the masterpiece novel by Victor Hugo, there is a scene where Esmeralda is walking through the cathedral while the people are asking for money, love, fame, and glory. However, Esmeralda turns and sings, "I ask for nothing, I can get by. But I know so many less lucky than I. God help my people, the poor and downtrodden." This is what a leader should be singing. Many people have asked for money and fame, but asking for nothing is power.
Remember that you are a tool of the people, and this is something that we all need to remind ourselves of every day.
The liberator wept in despair - his own friend and ally had turned against him. What truly was justice? Now the president of a country, this liberator hesitated, for he did not want to divide the nation even further. But he had to do something - he, the great liberator, had to carry out justice.
In "Les Misérables," Enjolras, the revolutionary leader who leads the people to the light and truth, faces a difficult decision. His barricade has been infiltrated by Le Cabuc, who was sent to stir up anarchy. Le Cabuc kills an innocent man, and it is up to Enjolras, the figure representing truth, to bring him to justice. Enjolras hesitates - and, like Bolívar, he gives the man a second chance to pray and repent. But alas, justice has to be carried out.
A president or any leader should see to it that justice is done to evildoers. There is a place for mercy and a place for justice. Simón Bolívar tried desperately to balance both during the bloodshed that took place throughout South America. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill held the Nazis accountable for their crimes. Likewise, we need a president who knows the truth and who will carry out justice when it is in his jurisdiction.
Alas, my constituents, justice is the sword I must yield at times, but my other hand is outstretched before you empty - but full of symbolism. It is the hand of mercy.
These two traits that Victor Hugo described so clearly in Les Misérables ultimately work together in the character of Jean Valjean. During the revolution, Enjolras has to carry out justice against Le Cabuc at the barricades, but he also demonstrates mercy in the way he treats the oppressed masses. Mercy is also what Valjean shows to his greatest opponent, Javert, when he spares the latter's life. We cheer for Valjean just as we cheer for Enjolras. In this story, both mercy and justice have specific functions for specific times. There are times a leader must wield the sword of justice, but there also times when a leader must get on his/her horse and ride out to see the common people who are suffering, much as Buddha did.
A good leader must know when to show compassion and mercy. Abraham Lincoln mourned the fact that brothers were fighting against brothers in the Civil War, Churchhill feared for the lives of those in Nazi-occupied Europe, Simón Bolívar was in tears every night as he heard about the injustices taking place, and George W. Bush cried after hearing about 9/11. These traits - justice and mercy - should be intermingled, and your sense of justice is solely a show of force if it is not driven by love for the people.
In times of crisis, a leader should show mercy and tenderness.
We are all members of something greater than ourselves - we are part of families, we are part of nations, and our nation is part of the world. It works beautifully when we all share and learn from each other. A president should know how to interact with other world leaders and understand where they are coming from. Both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were masters of this. Although they were on opposite ends of the political spectrum, both had an ability to communicate with people very different from themselves. Reagan excelled at dealing with Eastern Europe and the pope while Obama helped strengthen our ties with Western Europe. A nation is never alone, and we need to interact with the global community daily. The United States is a member of the greater global community, and we must expand the knowledge of US-American citizens about the world through exchanges and dialogue.
It is not all me.
"I am the sun king!" Louis XIV arrogantly claimed. "I am God's chosen hand on earth!" Alas, his economy may have been "good" (although the full picture showed that inequality in France was at a dangerous level). Eventually, the term "sun king" became another way to describe a leader who is full of his own ego and who refuses to listen to others.
While it is great to have a smart president, we must all remember that we are always still learning. All the knowledge of the world is within our grasp, but there is more knowledge being discovered every day. Presidents must be humble enough to learn from scientific experts and use them to speak on issues relating to science. Similarly, presidents should listen to experts in the arts and humanities and realize that as president, you don't know everything. There is a wealth of knowledge in the world, and a wise leader should always be inquiring and learning.
A wise leader should have a library consisting of beautiful books that contain many different viewpoints and philosophies. Alas, in the capital city of each country, we must have a temple of knowledge filled with experts from around the world. Many countries have something like this - it is their national library. My Patria of the United States has a glorious one called the Library of Congress. I urge all leaders to listen to experts from the finest institutions in the land.
Listen to the people.
In immense indignation, young Camille Desmoulins stood horrified upon hearing the king's decrees, which proved that the king was grossly out of touch with the people. Robespierre and others at the National Assembly pleaded with the king, and Marie Antoinette herself probably would have lent an ear if she and the rest of the aristocracy weren't kept in a bubble.
That being said, Robespierre and the others lived in a bubble as well - that of the educated class, which wasn't always aware of the starving urban workers (sans-culottes) living in the tuberculosis-infected corridors of Paris. But this story of the French Revolution proves the vital importance of listening.
The people are who you are representing, and the people are who you should heed and listen to. Remember that the people believe many different things, and you should learn from as many diverse perspectives as you can. They are the foundation of society, and the people are the winds of democracy. Do not dismiss the opinions of the common man because you do not know where he is coming from, but listen to the perspectives of all. Abraham Lincoln went out to the widows and listened, and Franklin Roosevelt had a "fireside chat" where he would keep the people updated and informed. As John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!" What do you have to offer the people? Don't ask what the people have to offer you.
Stand up for your convictions.
The people were outraged and cried, "But abolishing the slave trade will ruin our economy!" William Wilberforce bit his lip and declared, "But they are humans created in the image of God!" Was Wilberforce unpopular and disliked? Yes, he was at times, but he knew he was standing for the truth - slavery is evil.
Wilberforce made sure to educate the people as to why slavery was bad, and he sought to expose them to the wickedness of this practice - and one by one, many hearts were changed.
Alas, my dear reader, heed the people's calls - but if you know they go against the greater principles that have made us, you must stand against falsehoods and educate the people on what the truth really is. You may not change all hearts, but like Wilberforce, you will change many. Remember, it was because of Wilberforce that the slave trade was abolished in the United Kingdom.
Face the trials.
Your inner doubts and the hurdles of this world are like the Andes Mountains of your mind - but you can cross them. Remember the great names of history - George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Tadeusz Kościuszko, Charles Jeanne, Winston Churchhill, Paul Revere, Simón Bolívar. They all faced impossible, penetrating odds, but they overcame it and saw victory.
Whatever struggles the country and the world are facing, we can overcome them if we act together. There will still be polarization - I'm not going to pretend things will be perfect - but remember that the Republic wasn't built in a day. We are all actively taking part in the forum of history, and this is our world that we can change.
My dear president, you shall as well. If you hold these principles within you and unite them all, you can unite the states to form the union. What you have within you is powerful - you have a will as mighty as the strongest waterfall. If you know the truth, bind it together with humility and justice. Listen to the voices of the people and heed the calls of all, but stand for the truth and hold that light ahead of you always. You will be victorious - and if not, remember that even Abraham Lincoln failed many times at first. Nevertheless, the secret is to keep trying. You must climb the impossible mountains and reach new heights, and only from the summit shall you see how far you came.
As the famous quote from "The Lord of the Rings" says,
Sam: "It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. Because they were holding on to something."
Frodo: "What are we holding on to, Sam?"
Sam: "That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for."
In closing, I feel the need to clarify that I do not want to run for president, but this was a piece that needed to be written. We always talk about how we need a great leader to solve the world's problems, but how do we find that leader? And how do we help that leader solve the world's problems? You don't have to be president to act out these principles - you just have to care enough about the state of humanity.
Alas, my dear readers, I shall return next week. I hope that you found this piece inspiring, and I trust that democracy will last for many many more years.
Vive la République!