Photograph from Twitter
Being president sure is a thankless job. But that’s the point. It’s a job. So there’s no reason to have a snit when people don’t go out of their way to thank you for doing it. Unsurprisingly, you got your tighty whiteys in a bunch after receiving less praise than you felt was warranted for aiding in the release of three UCLA basketball players held in China under allegations of shoplifting. You recently tweeted that one of the players’ parents was “unaccepting [sic unappreciative?] of what I did for his son.” Your thumbs went on to say “I should have left them in jail!” While a heartfelt thank you is always a nice bonus for going above and beyond the call of duty, brokering agreements for the freedom of Americans is not just a little something extra you do on your day off. It’s actually one of your many responsibilities as president. You don’t just get to do what you want. You have official duties you are obligated to carry out, whether or not you are thanked afterward.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the cautionary tale presented by Robert Mugabe’s recent fall from power. Like you, former President Mugabe, who resigned after a military takeover of Zimbabwe, was the leader of a democracy but governed by autocratic principles. As noted in the Washington Post, autocrats have a tendency to “surround themselves with ‘yes men,’ who are promoted on the basis of loyalty rather than competence.” Sound familiar? See, among many other examples, the discussion of your judicial nominations in Day 303. The Post piece continues: “Having purged or intimated key elites into subservience, these leaders convert their advisers into a cohort of sycophants. As a result, they then have limited access to accurate information about threats to their rule. Because their advisers are less skilled and less likely to pass along information the leader doesn’t want to hear, there is an outsized potential for mistakes.” I don’t know about you, but my déjà vu-dar is off the charts after reading that! I just hope it doesn’t take 37 years and a semi-coup for the American public to kick you to the curb.
But there’s still time for you to salvage your presidency. Take a note from former U.S. Senate chaplain, Peter Marshall, who once said, “May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” Please, Mr. President, start using this opportunity to do what is right, rather than just what you feel will garner the most fawning praise.