OPINION

The US is in the grips of a leadership crisis

Democrats and Republicans have shown a lack of vision and creativity in addressing the country’s many problems.

Could the past - and, in particular, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's response to the Great Depression - offer an example of the type of leadership the US needs now? [Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]
Could the past - and, in particular, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's response to the Great Depression - offer an example of the type of leadership the US needs now? [Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Party loyalists exchanging barbs is an all-too-common feature of the United States’ political discourse. The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the subsequent wrangling over the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the highest court of the land just puts on further display how Democrats and Republicans do not agree on much, if anything.

Even President Trump’s own bout with COVID-19 triggered those on the left to note that the White House has “handled the situation terribly,” while on the right, his actions have been praised as “presidential.”

Yet, even in this time of extreme partisan division, there is one thing that is bipartisan in the US – a profound lack of leadership.

Creative policy proposals that are spearheaded by charismatic leaders who have an optimistic vision of the future is what the US needs, now more than ever.

The question is if anyone of the country’s political class can deliver.

If there ever was a time for someone to step up, then that time is now. Looking around the US, one cannot fail to notice the many crises racking the country.

The list is long, from racial injustice and climate change-induced disasters to a healthcare system in tatters and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has sent shockwaves through the country’s economy.

Do not get me wrong, efforts have been made in certain respects to tackle some of these matters.

For instance, following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police back in May, two policies emerged on how to deal with police reform – one from the Republicans and the other, from the Democrats.

So, what happened with these proposals? Well, nothing. The Republican proposal never reached the House of Representatives for a vote, while the Democrats’ vision for police reform failed to get any Republican support in the Senate.

Meanwhile, another police shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, triggered protests. Mass demonstrations also followed a grand jury’s failure to charge the police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, who killed Breonna Taylor after they entered the home of her boyfriend and shot her without clearly announcing who they were and why they were there.

A similar story concerning a lack of results is unfolding surrounding climate change.

Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Edward Markey back in 2019 launched the Green New Deal, which galvanised some on the left, that is, for a hot minute.

All the hubbub from that brief moment neither led to concrete policy proposals nor any tangible results. The proposal itself, as a resolution, is a list of priorities and intentions. A good start for something big, perhaps, but to move the ball down the field will need more than making a wish list and holding a news conference.

And, of course, there is the Trump administration’s less than stellar response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Actually, there is really little to find that is positive in the US government’s response, from its constant problems with developing a testing regimen, to the opposition to using face masks. Basically, Trump and his advisers have opted to ignore the pandemic rather than devise a national strategy to confront it.

Will Joe Biden, that is, if he becomes president, help forge policies that will substantively address at least some of the most pressing matters of the US?

Really, who knows.

We have to remember, Biden effectively sleepwalked to the nomination, winning it thanks in no small way to the rest of the candidates coalescing against Bernie Sanders. And now, the former vice president’s support is more due to Trump’s poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic than to some kind of vision or set of innovative policy proposals.

In surveying the current bipartisan failure to lead, we can look to the past for some cases to offer guidance.

The clearest is found in how Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration confronted the challenges posed by the Great Depression of the 1930s.

As unemployment raged when FDR became president, the parties did not split hairs over whether to divvy up $300 or $600 to potential recipients.

No, as part of a series of New Deal initiatives, Roosevelt’s government saw to the creation of an entirely new policy area – social security.

FDR’s administration also did not fashion a wish list of proposals to confront the farm and environmental crises of his day, seen most glaringly in the Dust Bowl disaster that swept the Great Plains and drove millions from their homes.

In the first 100 days of his administration, the Roosevelt government passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act. This legislation set floor prices for certain crops, while also providing food assistance for families and stipulating conditions for conservation programmes.

Of course, as is especially remembered as part of American political lore, FDR showed his charisma in public regularly.

It was in his first inaugural address in 1933 when he told crowds “that the only thing to fear is fear itself” as a way to calm a nation in panic. The president would also use the radio a few dozen times from 1933 to 1944 to speak directly to the American people in his “fireside chats”, not only to explain policy but to allay worries about the direction of the country.

Now, Democrats rail on Trump for not wearing a face mask, and Republicans call out Democrats for being soft on crime. Yet, as the saying goes, talk is cheap, with name-calling and posturing by pundits and partisan loyalists doing nothing to build power and create policies that will move the American people forward.

Perhaps the November election will see to a change in government the likes of which the US saw with the Roosevelt administration. For this to happen, politicians will need to propose bold, creative policies, and see them through to completion. The question is, does the country have the leaders to make this happen?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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