Crisis brings out the best, and the worst, in our elected leaders

What has these recent crises brought out in you?

“Times of stress are also times that are signals for growth, and if we use adversity properly, we can grow through adversity.”

– Abraham Twerski

I’ve been trying to decide what to write about this week. There has been so much going on in the country, the state and the city. The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. The subsequent protests over racial injustice, followed by wanton destruction and theft of property in Seattle and Tacoma and other major cities across the nation. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. Unemployment fraud, protests, pleas for relief and politically-motivated lawsuits. All are mingling into a confusing cacophony of noise.

Can we agree that we are living in times of uncertainty? That uncertainty has been brought on by natural disasters beyond our control. It has also been created by leadership either not taking responsibility when it is theirs to administer, or by taking too much authority on themselves when it is not theirs to exercise.

Heavy hangs the mantle of power on those to whom it has been bestowed, especially in times of crisis. Having been an elected official for four years, I remember waking up on several occasions in the middle of the night wondering whether my legislative decision had been unwise, whether it was too hard or too soft. Did I say too much, or should I have remained silent? In times of crisis, it’s hard to know the right thing to do.

We have a president who on one hand laments the needless death of a black man by a racist white cop, and on the other hand advocates racism and encourages violence and force against protestors where it could only beget more violence. Our president allowed the use of rubber bullets and tear gas to drive away mainly peaceful protestors so he could have a photo-op in front of a protest-damaged church. He did not have the permission or approval of that churches’ leadership.

Our president held up a Bible to rally his supporters on the religious right, a symbol of authority, while ignoring the teaching in that book of loving your neighbor as yourself. He also disregarded the biblical principle that greatness comes through service to others, not through serving your own selfish and myopic goal of getting re-elected.

On the state level, we have a governor who has acted cautiously and scientifically to prevent deaths, which is to be applauded, while dismissing the pleas of local governments who have begged him to allow their small-town business owners to open up before they are driven to bankruptcy. Our governor would be wise to loosen his grip on power and allow other elected leaders the authority given to them to make local decisions.

Meanwhile, his opponents have sued him for governmental overreach without offering any solutions except to state that he is abusing his power and has taken away their rights. The lawsuit, while having some validity, is politically motivated to score political points in the November election, and is not in the service of the citizens.

A quote by Ron Edmondson aptly summarizes the times in which we are living: “Decisions are harder to make but more important during stressful times. The leader must think strategically for the organization – helping to steer towards clarity and progress.”

In the U.S. and the world today, we are seeing multiple examples of effective leadership and, in contrast, we have seen leaders who have made terrible decisions. Since there is little national leadership, we have 50 states each plotting their own course. When these crises have passed as they always have in the past, we will have a chance to evaluate which approaches and leadership styles worked, and which were abysmal failures. The most competent leaders will become clear to all in hindsight.

In the meantime, we struggle on. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can learn what to do better next time – if we only have the will and the humility to learn from our mistakes and our successes.

Times of crisis bring out the best and the worst in all of us. This is especially true of our elected leaders. All the natural and man-made crises we are currently enduring have stripped away the veneers. We can now see our leaders and ourselves as they/we really are. Have our leaders grown? More importantly, have you grown during these times of crisis?


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Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
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