Forgotten role models: Column
By Rich Elfers
“People who look up to you watch every move that you make – so don’t let them down.”
― Frank Sonnenberg, “Soul Food: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life”
I’ve always believed that being a positive role model was the most important thing a person could do in their life. In our culture, we hold up our great leaders like George Washington who sacrificed his life for eight years as general of the Revolutionary Army to make America independent from the oppression of Great Britain. He later became our president for eight years, not because he wanted to, but because he felt a deep sense of responsibility to guide his nation’s early years and to set a tone and an example for the future. He knew the importance of setting a positive role model. Every decision that he made as president came after deep thought and consideration of how future generations would see his actions. He was deeply aware of the importance of precedent for those who followed him.
We hold up Abraham Lincoln in the same way as he guided the nation through a painful and bloody civil war that cost the lives of 650,000 soldiers and the destruction of much of this country. His critics were constantly calling him names and drawing negative political cartoons of him, portraying him as a gangling ape. He didn’t strike back with angry counterattacks; instead, he bore those personal burdens at the same time as he was bearing the pain of the deaths of thousands of his own fellow citizens who died because of his decisions. Lincoln is lionized in our culture because he stood the test of trial and fire for the good of the nation. He remains a role model of what a good president should act like and be like.
Fast forward to 2019. There are few positive role models to emulate at the national level. It seems we are living in a time when the importance of being a proper example has been forgotten. We have two political parties that have set aside morality for partisan advantage. Democrats were often accused of having compassion but no morality, while Republicans had morality but no compassion. That has changed. Democrats still have compassion (for those who agree with them) but no morality, while Republicans have neither morality nor compassion. Keeping their word is a forgotten virtue. Thinking of the common good is for fools.
The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, kept a presidential Supreme Court justice nominee from even having a hearing during the last years of the Obama administration. His reasoning was that he wanted the voters to decide who the Supreme Court justice should be. The Republicans in the Senate then confirmed their candidate after the 2016 election. When recently asked a hypothetical question, would he wait until after the 2020 election to confirm another Supreme Court position, his answer was, “Of course not!” The Republican majority would confirm a Republican. Is this the role model of leadership that you want your children and grandchildren to emulate?
The Christian Right has also betrayed the morality that makes them Christians for political gain. They see the lies, the flip-flopping, the crassness and the cruelty of their president. It doesn’t matter to them. What they want is to win and change the direction of the country to their vision of a godly nation. To them, the ends justify the means. Winning has taken the place of being righteous and acting with integrity. I find such behavior to be reprehensible. I’m embarrassed and saddened by the terrible role model some Christians are giving to their own children.
At this point, I would expect some conservative Christians who are reading this will be thinking, “Yes, but what about … ?” You can fill in any number of words to finish that sentence. That’s just deflection and an example of your own loss of direction.
Our culture has forgotten the importance of role models to future generations. We need to remember Frank Sonnenberg’s quotation: “People who look up to you watch every move that you make – so don’t let them down.” We must end this madness.
Rich Elfers is a columnist with the Courier-Herald in Enumclaw, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.