Recently I was reading the Book of Exodus and after one particular set of passages, my mind drifted away from the text to politics, specifically the president and the upcoming election. It never ceases to amaze me how relevant the Bible is for addressing life's situations, both big and small. For President Trump, he could learn a thing or two from that great book he held aloft outside St. John's Church.
There's a point in the text just following God's deliverance of the children of Israel from the hands of the Pharaoh when Moses starts facing significant criticism and frustration among his people.
Exodus 17:3-4: "…and the people murmured against Moses and said, Wherefore is this that thou has brought us out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried to the Lord saying, What shall I do unto this people? They almost be ready to stone me?"
Almost immediately, the Israelites started lamenting their spectacular escape from Egypt. They seemed to care less about the plagues brought by God, the parting of the Red Sea and all that had been done to secure their release from slavery. They wondered whether it would have been better to live in bondage rather than struggle, perhaps starve and die in the wilderness.
One of the things you learn in leadership and public service very quickly is that you can't rest on your laurels. People have short memories. They can be very fickle. Their confidence in leaders can be easily shaken. They're often interested not in what you did last year or two years ago or more. They want to know, "What have you done for me lately?"
President Trump, like Moses in the wilderness, is learning that hard lesson right now. It needs to sink in quickly if he wants to survive what is increasingly looking like a tough reelection fight.
It's human nature going back as far as history itself. People are impatient. Even Moses, earlier in the book, grew impatient with the Almighty when he felt He wasn't moving fast enough to turn Pharaoh's heart to let the Israelites go. God gives Moses a lesson in patience, but millennia later we still haven't learned.
In interviews, President Trump frequently lists his accomplishments — low unemployment, tax cuts, ending regulations, being tough on China among them. Others include producing ventilators, protective equipment and mobilizing government and the private sector during the coronavirus.
When it comes to what he's done for the low-income and communities of color, he often cites the historically low unemployment rate, his support for school choice, support for historically black colleges, the creation of opportunity zones and tax cuts as evidence of his commitment to do more than his predecessor did to help.
The president is right. He's supported policies that would, in f,act be better for communities of color than those of President Obama because they focus more on opportunity than government programming.
But he needs to take a lesson from Moses. The president must internalize that his performance now is what matters, particularly in a crisis situation. How he leads now, whether it's on law and order or addressing systemic inequality produced from decades of failed liberal policies is what matters. Constantly beating his chest about past achievements isn't a strategy for the moment. Constantly being on the attack or only speaking to his political base isn't either.
We live in a moment in history where moments are perhaps more fleeting than at any other time. The news cycle comes and goes in the blink of an eye. Today's viral video or digital movement is barely a memory a month from now. Twitter wars in 240 characters move off the screen almost as quickly as they appear. We live in a bespoke world where people get what they want, when they want it and faster than ever before. That goes for shopping, movies, television shows, music, news and information.
We are more susceptible to information management at the hands of a biased, largely liberal press and tech community. Trump and the White House's persistent problem sustaining a narrative about the president's accomplishments long enough to reinforce them with the public, only compounds this problem.
There's also an issue here of who is driving which message. The president should speak with a sense of purpose that is carefully constructed for this moment to ensure that people understand that there is deliberate focus by their chief executive on the here and now. That's what gives people comfort and reassurance. He should leave discussions of the past three years to surrogates.
It's important to remember that this balance isn't easy. Even Moses couldn't give his own people enough assurances to prevent them from forging the golden calf. But his actions eventually led to an adherence to the Commandments that underpin society.
Let's hope the president, and all leaders have there Moses moment soon and turn their focus to real action to save lives, embrace the truth and ensure Americans have confidence in their future.
Tom Basile has been part of the American political landscape from Presidential campaigns to local politics. He served in the Bush Administration from 2001-2004, as Executive Director of the NYS Republican Party and has held a range of senior-level communications roles in and out of government. His new book Let it Sink In: The Decade of Obama and Trump provides a look back at the 2010s to prepare us to defend freedom in the 2020s. His critically-acclaimed book, Tough Sell: Fighting the Media War in Iraq (Foreword by Amb. John R. Bolton), chronicles his time in Baghdad fighting media bias and driving coverage of the Iraq war. In 2011, he was featured in Time Magazine's Person of the Year spread about political activism around the world. Basile is an adjunct professor at Fordham University and runs a New York-based strategic communications firm. He is a member of the New York Bar and sits on a number of academic and philanthropic advisory boards. Learn more about him at TomBasile.com or follow him on Twitter @Tom_Basile. Read Tom Basile's Reports — More Here.
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