We often hear about how the president of the United States, whoever that may be at any given moment, is the most powerful man (up to this point, anyway; no woman has ever held the office) in the world. We know from awful experience that he has the power to wage war, cut taxes for the rich, and basically ignore the will of the people who elected him.
In 1970, Robert K. Greenleaf defined a new concept, that of servant-leader. He described it thusly: “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid,’ servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”
Let’s all take a minute and look at this definition in the context of the U.S. presidency. A servant-leader, we are told, involves the following:
+ “…focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.” In the mighty U.S., the residents of some cities cannot drink the water that flows from their taps; they must purchase water. Statistics indicate that 15% of the population lives below the poverty line, although that line is set so ridiculously low that the percentage of people actually living in poverty is much higher. Public school buildings in lower-income and poor areas are in decay. The cost of university education is so high that many students graduate with crippling debt that they spend most of their working lives paying off. Yet somehow, the U.S. government can afford to give over $4 billion dollars annually to the apartheid regime of Israel.
+ “…traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid’”. The current U.S. president, Joe Biden, has been in government for decades, moving up the chain of command (member of the House of Representatives, then member of the Senate, then vice president, and now president), accumulating and exercising power until reaching the ‘top of the pyramid’. Donald Trump used his personal wealth and gift for self-promotion in the same way, but in the corporate world, transitioning finally to his four disastrous years at the ‘top of the pyramid’.Barack Obama started in the Illinois State Senate, then became a U.S. senator before his election to the top tier.
+ “The servant-leader shares power….” Certainly, U.S. presidents delegate authority; for example, the Secretary of Education is responsible for administering the educational aspects of the nation. But this ‘sharing’ can be very selective. Going to war, for example, according to U.S. law, requires an act of Congress, but president after murderous president bombs any nation that somehow displeases the U.S., and supports the killing of millions of innocents by its sales of weaponry to brutal nations (think Saudi Arabia and Israel, to name just two).
+ “…puts the needs of others first….” Can we think of an example of when this was ever done? Nothing comes to this writer’s mind. Biden withdrew from a two-decade-long war the U.S. should never have been involved in in the first place, but the suffering the war and the U.S. departure has caused and continues to cause can hardly be seen as putting the needs of other people first. Racism in the U.S. is endemic, with the white power elite holding all the cards, to the great detriment of people of color across the nation. Trump cut taxes for his wealthy cronies, leaving behind the rest of the citizenry, but that’s nothing new.
+ “…helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.” In an economy that requires the working poor and the middle-class to need multiple jobs just to make ends meet, people can hardly be expected to develop their skills and talents for peak performance. When survival – paying the rent or mortgage, keeping food on the table and providing clothing for the family – is a daily struggle, as it is for large numbers of U.S. citizens, personal and professional development are vague dreams, far beyond the reach of most people.
An recent article on CNN (August 30, 2021) makes this astonishing claim: “President Joe Biden is confronting an extraordinary confluence of intensifying crises that are pushing a White House already mired in extreme challenges to the limit.” What is the ‘limit’ herein referred to? One expects a world leader to be able to handle whatever challenges he or she is faced with. The article refers to the hurricane in the southeastern U.S., the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, and the resurgence of Covid. Certainly, these are serious issues.
But what might a servant-leader do? FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) should have all the resources required to assist people who are suffering or will soon suffer from hurricanes. Delegating to FEMA the responsibility to utilize those resources might be one thing. One remembers former president Donald Trump pitching rolls of paper towels to people in need following a hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico. Not exactly servant-leadership.
The U.S. poured close to $2 trillion down the Afghanistan drain, providing the Taliban with all the weaponry it needed to take over once the U.S. finally left. Prior to that, the U.S. directly supported the Taliban against Russia, a move that destroyed the rights of women and paved the way for a 20+ year disaster. Servant-leadership then, and now, might seek to work with the people in power to assist the people of Afghanistan.
And what of the political football known as Covid? Delegating responsibility for dealing with that particular problem to the scientific experts, and assuring they have the authority to mandate masks, social distancing, etc., might go a long way toward finally bringing the pandemic to a close in the U.S.
If these three issues are pushing the White House to its limit, what happens if another disaster rears its head? Perhaps another issue of racist police brutality may cause people to take to the streets by the millions, as happened just last summer. A nuclear accident somewhere would certainly be a disaster with the potential to be a catastrophe. And should apartheid Israel decide to attack Iran, the White House will have a major, potentially cataclysmic war to deal with.
Servant-leadership seeks to assist people – all people, regardless of race, color or creed – to live in peace and contentment. U.S. ‘leaders’ work to divide people by race and economic class both at home and abroad. This has been an article of faith for the U.S. for centuries, and this unspoken policy has left nothing but blood and carnage in its wake.
Unless and until there is a sea change in the attitudes of U.S. politicians, nothing will improve. This writer is not optimistic.