Trump could take some lessons on real leadership

 Cairns 

I got a reminder, last week, of what thoughtful leadership looks like.

Former Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican who represented much of this area in Congress for six years, spoke in Delhi. He was promoting his new book, "Rally Point," and had a lot to say about his time in Congress and how things stand in our government today.

"I don't think, since the Civil War, there has ever been a time when we were so divided," he said. "What's really tragic now is that so many people are losing faith."

I'd argue that the 1960s and early '70s — the time of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War — belong in any conversation about division, but Gibson's point is still good. There's not a lot of compromise going on these days.

Gibson, a constitutional scholar and historian as well as a retired Army officer and war veteran, often speaks about how American democracy was a novel idea when it came about in the 18th century — and how the European monarchies of the time expected it to fail.

He said the U.S. Constitution was key to the republic's success. The founding document, he said, contains "both realism and optimism" and provides the framework for "peaceful evolution and change."

Noting the "Connecticut Compromise," which reconciled differences between large and small states and allowed the Constitution to move forward, he said, "The Constitution, itself, was a compromise, meant to encourage compromise."

A key factor in the country's founding, he said, was that the nation's business was done by elected representatives who had to answer to voters for their actions.

Yeah. What happened to that? Do you feel like federal officials answer to you? I don't.

Gibson decried the use of "executive orders," which Donald Trump and — to a lesser degree, Barack Obama — have used to effect policy without going through our Congressional representatives, at all. "We need to get back to constitutional principles and the rule of law," he said.

Gibson showed an independent streak while in office, bucking his party's leadership more often than most of his colleagues. He spoke of that experience last week, telling the story of how he was "called into the principal's office" when House leaders wanted to change his vote on the re-authorization of the Patriot Act — an overreaction to the 9/11 attacks that gave the government wide powers to spy on Americans.

"They said, 'You were a colonel. If you vote against it, people will think there's something wrong with it.'" he said. "That's because there IS something wrong with it."

He spoke with pride about being labeled "the most independent member of congress" and said he was happy to work with anyone who was trying to do something good, regardless of party affiliation.

There's quite a contrast between that attitude and the authoritarian disdain for average people coming from the top of our government today. It wasn't the only example I heard that day.

In a time when Donald Trump tweets threats of military action up to and including nuclear annihilation on a regular basis, Gibson said, "The solemn decision on the use of force should not be rushed into."

Maybe that's the difference between a guy who served and was wounded in war and a guy who got five deferments from the draft.

Refreshing. But wait, there's more!

Gibson also spoke about how our democracy is being subverted by gerrymandered legislative districts and an unencumbered flood of anonymous spending to influence our elections. 

Without naming the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case by name, he disputed the idea that campaign spending is free speech, protected by the First Amendment. "This is very expensive speech," he said. "It's not free speech."

Most of us, he noted, just can't afford that much speech. That's not a popular position in his own party, but it's leadership.

Gibson called for campaign finance reform, with caps on spending, limits on individual contributions and no outside spending. He specifically called for a ban on so-called Super PACs — the political action committees that now operate without restraint.

Perhaps the strongest impression left from that event was of a guy who could stand in front of a crowd and humbly express what he stands for with intelligence and passion, showing a deep understanding of what he was talking about.

You can respect a guy like that, even if you don't agree with everything he says.

That's a rather large difference from a guy who says whatever he thinks will add to his own aggrandizement, tweeting childish rants and even more childish insults with an obvious lack of understanding of any of the issues facing the government entrusted to him.

We need more Chris Gibsons and fewer Donald Trumps.

Robert Cairns is the sections and weekend editor of The Daily Star He can be reached at rcairns@thedailystar.com or at (607) 441-7217. Follow him on Twitter at @DS_BobC.

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