The “Strong Man” Theory
Here’s the political axiom for today: When people are convinced that their community or nation is in decline, they tend to search for a “strong man” who will 1) offer simplistic answers to complex problems, 2) define a scapegoat to blame for their problems, and 3) promise to fix everything by the sheer force of his personality and will.
Here’s an extreme historical example.
The Boys in the Boat is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Daniel James Brown tells the amazing story of the strength and character of the US rowing team that won the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In the shadows is the way Hitler staged the Olympics to demonstrate the greatness of “new” Germany while deeper in the shadows Jews were being taken to concentration camps and Hitler’s military was preparing to take over Europe.
It reminded me of hearing Franklin H. Littell, the author of The German Church Struggle and the Holocaust, describe a visit to Germany in the early days of the Third Reich. A German Methodist whom he described as a very good man, told him, “Adolf Hitler is God’s man for Germany.” It was the “Strong Man Theory” at work, making Germany great again.
Having convinced a lot of folks that Mexico and China “are killing us,” that all of our leaders are “stupid,” and that Mexicans crossing the Southern border are “rapists and murderers,” it appears that Donald Trump is the “strong man” a lot of people think will “make America great again.”
But is that the kind of strength the world really needs?
The Strength of Jimmy Carter
Enter Jimmy Carter, sharing the news of his brain cancer. It will lift your spirits to watch it here. He has demonstrated a different kind of strength.
It takes a “strong man” to wage peace instead of waging war.
The political mythology that has been woven around Ronald Reagan has nearly obliterated the memory of the Thirteen Days in September when Jimmy Carter brokered a peace agreement between Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt. It has stood for more than three decades, proving that peace through negotiation instead of war could still be possible in the Middle East. The New York Times called it “an act of surpassing political courage.”
It takes a “strong man” to face defeat with dignity.
When the leaders of Iran humiliated Carter by holding the US hostages until the moment his helicopter lifted off from Washington, instead of supporting their President, most of the American people blamed him. A weaker man would have slithered away in anger or bitterness. But Carter faced the defeat with dignity and handed on the power of the Presidency with honor. Leading to…
It takes a “strong man” to turn his greatest defeat into his greatest accomplishment.
While other Presidential “libraries” have become theatrical stages upon which past Presidents are the staring performers, The Carter Center is not about Carter, but about doing good for others: “Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.” Regardless of how historians evaluate his time in office, Jimmy Carter has become the most influential former President in any of our lifetimes and perhaps in our nation’s history.
It takes a “strong man” to face death with peace, gratitude and hope.
The news media has been fascinated at the peace, joy and faith with which Carter is facing his cancer. People lined up to see him teach Sunday School last week. But folks who have followed Carter across the years are not surprised. The spirit in which he is facing the last days of his life — however many there may be — grows out of a long life of faith, nurtured by patterns of spiritual discipline that have been the core of his being the whole way through. He not only talks about the bible, he lives it.
It takes as “strong man” to be humble.
David Brooks has pointed to humility as one of the necessary guideposts along The Road to Character. But humility is in short supply these days. We’d much rather sing “Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble When You’re Perfect In Every Way” than “Make Me a Servant, Lord.”
But now and then we see the strength of humility in people like Desmond Tutu, Pope Francis and Jimmy Carter and we instinctively know that strength is not always measured by force, power or control. There is a deeper, inner, more Christlike strength that grows in the soil (Latin humus, soil, earth) of humility.
When it comes down to is, the world is searching for men and women who know, live and share that kind of strength.
Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca (Tears)
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion. (Psalm 84:5-7)
Grace, peace and strength,