What if I offered you a leader who could unify his country?
This man is disciplined, principled, a vegetarian, an animal lover and forward thinking about the dangers of smoking and tobacco use. He offers the people of his country free healthcare and free education and he presides over one of the greatest economic turn arounds in the history of mankind. His borders are attacked and invaded from every side, and yet he holds his nation together with resolute vision and steadfast confidence.
Would you be inclined to follow that man?
Then what if I offered you a leader who literally tears his country apart?
He imprisons his political enemies to win elections and makes misleading statements in order to get certain laws passed. This man is an aggressor and purposely kills hundreds of thousands of his own countrymen in the pursuit of his own ends.
By the time he is done, nearly every city in his country is leveled or damaged and 25% of the male population is either dead or maimed. He forces an entirely new way of life upon millions of people. And for those who don’t comply he sends armies to kill them.
He offers no healthcare or education to anyone. He doesn’t even consider it. He has no females in his circle of influence and forbids them from even voting.
His tyranny is so insidious to at least half of the population that one of his own citizens finally kills him.
Would you be inclined to follow that man?
If you picked the first leader as your leader of choice, you chose Adolf Hitler.
If you picked the second leader, you chose Abraham Lincoln.
We see what we want to see in people and circumstances. We assign what we need to assign, in order to organize our world and shape our view of it. And complication is starting to become an impossible thing to grapple with.
More and more, we are losing our ability to hold several thoughts in our heads at the same time. We have this need to simplify the complex and it seems that the more information we have access to, the less we are able to process it.
Everything in our lives has to have a political undertone and ramification. And it puts us on a “side.” And that helps us have an identity.
Whatever we think about a Super Bowl halftime show becomes a comment on where we stand politically. If the wrong people like it, it must be a perversion of our culture. If the wrong people find it obscene, they are not woke enough. And just having an in-the-moment opinion of something - ANYTHING - becomes some weird political litmus test that decides what box you fit into and which Facebook memes you will now be posting.
Mitt Romney is racist, who is leading the war on women…until he votes a certain way on an impeachment. Then he’s the most principled man in Washington DC. OR, he’s a hero who is going to bring sanity back to the White House…until he votes a certain way on impeachment. Then, he’s a turncoat who never had any principles anyway.
And there’s no room for people to be humans anymore. Because it’s quite possible that Mitt Romney is all of those things at the same time. Or maybe he’s none of those things. Or maybe he’s a convoluted mash-up of some of it here and some of it there.
We can’t see people on balance. We must make them into either Hitler or Lincoln, not realizing that each of those examples is more complicated than we want to admit and that most people fall in the middle of one of those two spectrums.
Adolf Hitler was the embodiment of evil. I am in no way condoning his existence. And yet Time Magazine - a magazine that we all know does not condone racism or genocide or hatred or war - named him as their man of the year in 1936. See, they didn’t yet have all the information.
Abraham Lincoln was a poet, a visionary and quite possibly a saint. He was (and is still) the single greatest American president in history. But he broke more laws than any president before or after him. And presided over sheer hell. And you could say that none of it was his fault or that ALL of it was his fault. But we know, in the light of history, that he was on the righteous side of the nightmare.
One of the reasons I’m such a history buff is because you can see things more clearly after they’ve happened, than you can while they’re happening. And seeing things in hindsight can give you a reference point for the present.
But if history shows us anything it’s that we are a mix of darkness and light, hope and despair, goodness and evil. We are on point and off kilter; faithful and faithless. We give in and hold out. We stand strong and crumble easily. And yes, we are sometimes right and sometimes wrong.
And if we don’t stop demanding that everyone be exactly right, all the time, in every situation, from the time of their birth - through adolescence - into their college years - to the present day, we are going to miss some Abraham Lincolns along the way while really liking this Hitler guy, who seems to have it all together.
We have to allow ourselves to learn and grow. These days, no one dares admit to having ever been wrong about something, because the avalanche of “we told you, you idiot?”s and “you people never listen”s will simply be too much to absorb.
Everything doesn’t have to have a political undertone. Every thought or question or opinion or like or dislike or interest or disinterest doesn’t have to be a referendum on you as a human being.
You can like chocolate and vanilla - both at the same time. You can think complicated things.
You can love your nation and not be a Nazi. Even though the “N” in Nazi stood for “National.”
You can hate war and love Abraham Lincoln, who presided over nothing but war.
The world isn’t beautiful because it’s simple. It’s beautiful because it’s dizzyingly complex. And the more simplistic we demand it to be, the uglier it seems to get.