“We are going to win and win. We are going to win so much you are going to come to me and say, ‘Mr. President, can’t we lose a little?'” — Donald Trump, March 4
What would a great leader be without a great crisis to cross paths with?
Where would Abraham Lincoln be without the Civil War or Franklin Roosevelt without the Great Depression or Winston Churchill without World War II?
Donald Trump is a hero — at least in his own mind — in search of something heroic to do. Building hyuge, vulgar buildings and slapping one’s own name on it lacks a certain heroic dimension.
As critic Joshua Rothman of The New Yorker wrote in a Feb. 29 essay, titled “Shut Up and Sit Down: Why the leadership industry rules,” people who “fetishize leadership sometimes find themselves longing for crisis” to prove themselves.
Much of Trump’s life appears to be like one long attempt at this — as long as no real danger or no real leadership is involved.
In January, “Donald Trump’s campaign released its first official TV advertisement. The ad features a procession of alarming images — the San Bernardino shooters, a crowd at passport control, the flag of Syria’s Al Nusra Front — designed to communicate the idea of a country under siege. But the ad does more than stoke fear; it also excites, because it suggests that we’ve arrived at a moment welcoming to the emergence of a strong and electrifying leader.”
The millennials — the largest age group in America, followed by the baby boomers — are lucky if they can identify any hero who is still alive. A millennial is anyone who is or was between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2015, and one suspects that Trump gets his heroic status more from his reality TV shows than from his real estate deals.
He was born wealthy, went to good schools, inherited a small fortune, went into the family business and has managed to keep the wolf away from his (many) doors.
But wasn’t it always thus? “The rich get richer,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “and the poor get — children.” Jesse Jackson, only about five years older than Trump, grew up in an era when the other children in his school taunted him for being born out of wedlock.
He sat in the back of the bus, not just metaphorically but literally. He drank out of water fountains marked “colored.” He grew up in Greenville, S.C., but attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on a football scholarship.
In 1960, when he was 19, he came home on Christmas break and, like freshmen everywhere, left a lot of work to do until the last minute. The book he needed to finish a paper was not at the “colored” library in Greenville but was at the Greenville Public Library.
So Jackson walked in, but a policeman walked him out. It may have been 1960 elsewhere in America, but in the Jim Crow South, it was still 1892.
And Jackson did a most unexpected thing. No, not marching on the library. That came later. And no, not getting the law changed to make the reading facilities in town open to all. That, too, would come later.
What Jackson did upon being tossed out of that library was cry. Real, bitter tears. He was not afraid; he was a freshman quarterback for a Big Ten football team, so he wasn’t afraid of many people.
It was not fear. It was just the shame of the whole thing. The water fountains and the seats on the bus and even what book you were allowed to read.
His tears dried up. And Jackson went to work. In a few months, he and seven other black students returned to the whites-only library, got books, took seats, sat down and read.
About 20 minutes later, they were handcuffed, and they were jailed for 45 minutes.
“In the paper write-up about our arrest, I remember them calling us leftists,” Jackson would say later. “We weren’t left; we were right.” A small joke.
The library closed and reopened two months later as an integrated facility.
On the 50th anniversary, the Greenville Eight held a reunion. Only four members of the original eight showed up, but that was OK. It made the speeches shorter.
“Somehow we all finished college,” Jackson said, “and went on to replace old walls with new bridges.”
There are those who go through life building walls to keep others out. Others build bridges to welcome all in. You sometimes get to make that choice very early in your life. So think about it now.
Follow Roger Simon on Twitter: Follow @politicoroger