Subtitle: And finding false ones too.
Think about possible reactions to threat. Three F's come to mind: fear, fight, flight. These are animalistic reactions. We should expect more from ourselves.
"Fear is the mind-killer" (from the science fiction classic Dune.) Great leaders know that. FDR knew it. And Obama knows it. Such leaders' actions are guided by fundamental values and they seek to calm their followers. In contrast, demagogues prey on it and use fear to excite and manipulate their followers.
We can find examples of both kinds of leaders in the aftermath of Paris. The New York Times editorial offers examples.
After the attacks in Paris, the world is again challenged by fear. With every bombing, beheading and mass shooting, the dread spreads, along with the urgency of defeating this nihilism.
But no less a challenge for the civilized world is the danger of self-inflicted injury. In the reaction and overreaction to terrorism comes the risk that society will lose its way.
In our time, disastrous things have been done in the name of safety: the invasion of Iraq, spawned by delusion and lies; the creation of an offshore fortress, sequestered from the Constitution, to lock up those perceived as threats, no matter the cost and injustice; an ever-expanding surveillance apparatus, to spy on the people, no matter the futility.
Al Qaeda and the Islamic State did not compel us to shackle ourselves to a security state, or to disgrace our values by vilifying and fearing refugees and immigrants.
This bitter truth is lost on the politicians now grasping for the Republican presidential nomination, whose guiding principle seems to be a crowd-pleasing strain of bullying cowardice. There is Donald Trump, who voiced his support for the registration of American Muslims. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz think there is something proudly American about imposing a religious test on desperate refugees.
As for the members of the House, Democratic and Republican, who voted to effectively shut down the Syrian and Iraqi refugee program, and the governors who would somehow block Syrians from their borders — Americans should hope it’s just fearful ignorance that clouds their vision, and that in time it clears.
History will always be kinder to those who are resolute and brave. Like the Japanese-American soldiers of World War II, whose response to injustice was to fight overseas, defending democracy with their lives. Or the leaders today who have been calm in the crisis, willing to see and to say what the mob does not. People like the governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, who has urged open doors for Syrian refugees, citing the Japanese-American internment as a disastrous precedent. "We regret that," he said. "We regret that we succumbed to fear."
Terrorist violence is terrifying, and it is natural to want to restore a shattered sense of safety. But the best way to do that has always been to draw upon our greatest ideals.
Let that be the litmus test of a great leader. Jay Inslee measures up. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey does not.
Here is another example of a politician who fails that test - Marco Rubio. Steve Benen at The MaddowBlog explains.
Marco Rubio, as best as I can tell, hasn’t commented yet on Trump’s registry idea, but he did speak ... with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who was reminded by the host, "One of your fellow candidates, Donald Trump is suggesting we may need to close mosques that have problems with radicals at the top. What do you say?" Here’s the senator’s response in its entirety, by way of the Nexis transcript:
"Well, I think it’s not about closing down mosques. It’s about closing down any place, whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet spot, any place where radicals are being inspired.
"And that we have – the biggest problem we have is our inability to find out what these places are because we’ve crippled our intelligence programs, both through an authorized disclosure by a traitor, in other words, Snowden, or by some of the things that this president has put in place for the support even of some from my own party to diminish our intelligence capabilities.
"So, whatever facilities being used, it’s not just a mosques. Any facility that’s being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States should be a place that we look at."
Let’s unwrap this a bit because I think it says something important about a top presidential candidate’s perspective on a key issue.
Rubio's response is one of the scariest reactions from any politician. Never mind that he dodged the question. He one-upped Trump by asserting some power to close down public and private venues - including places of worship. Benen continues.
... I’d love to hear more about how Rubio intends to target cafes and diners. How would that work, exactly? If the goal is to go after "any place" where someone might be "inspired" by radical ideas, are we to believe a President Rubio might also try to close libraries’ doors?
Rubio's response and non-response is symptomatic, to paraphrase John Dean's warning to Richard Nixon, of a cancer growing on the Republican party. A cancer that is a true threat to our Democracy.
At Commentary magazine, conservative Noah Rothman wrote this morning, "Marco Rubio missed an opportunity last night to do something that might have been politically stupid but nevertheless righteous. There is a malignancy eating away at the Republican Party, and Rubio passed on an opportunity to begin the work of excising it."
Presidential campaigns offer occasional leadership opportunities for candidates to seize. In this case, Rubio faced a test and flunked.
I suppose conservatives can keep hoping that some courageous leader - some true patriot - will rise above the churn of Republican politics. Good luck with that.