Character and Leadership in Houston

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When I watch President Trump in Texas, I am reminded of one of my favorite books.

Arthur C. Brooks wrote in The Conservative Heart:

There is a common misconception that conservatives are materialistic. We are not, and this confusion is a central political irony of our time. Progressives truly want to help the poor but have tried to solve poverty primarily with government money, relegating talk of culture to the past and focusing more and more on income inequality. The obsession with redistribution for its own sake comes skillfully wrapped in the moral language of fairness and compassion. This is materialism tarted up to look like moralism.

Progressive Materialism Causes Suffering

Leftist pundits wanted two things from President Trump:

  1. Money.
  2. “Empathy.”

Trump disappointed them. Instead, President Trump gave the people of Texas something invaluable. Something money and pity can’t buy. Something progressives and establishment Republicans hate.

Think about Trump’s words in Houston.

I listened to the President at the NRG Center. In my car. A live feed.

I heard “wonderful.” I heard “wonderful” again and again. I heard “beautiful.” I heard “inspiration.” I heard “waters are going down. Fast.” “Lots of water,” he said. “So much water. But it’s going away. It’s going away fast.”

And then, only then, President Trump spoke about money.

“Seven point nine billion.”

While the pundits and media tell hurricane victims “you’ll never recover,” Trump tells them their recovery is already underway.

While psychologists and hand-wringers say “you lost everything,” Trump says, “the best is yet to come.”

While CNN tells victims, “you poor thing,” Trump tells them, “you are a wonderful person. America is so proud of you. We love you. So much love.”

Progressives and others think only about material things. They measure life according to bank accounts and smart phone screen sizes.

President Trump measures life by something else. Something deeper. Something more enduring. As Arthur Brooks wrote in The Conservative Heart:

It is conservatives who stand for true hope, a hope that returns power and agency back into the hands of ordinary people. We extol free enterprise, self-reliance, and ethical living— the foundations of a good life, no matter how much money someone makes.

I wonder if Arthur Brooks appreciates how perfectly Donald Trump lives Brooks’s ideals. Or does Brooks let his disagreement with Trump’s style blind him to Trump’s truly conservative heart?

The people who lost all their material possessions to Hurricane Harvey need encouragement, not platitudes. The president is not a grief counselor. And victims don’t need a grief counselor, anyway. They need leadership. They need a leader to trigger a natural human response. A human response grief counselors suppress.

Most people who’ve experienced traumatic events don’t suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Most trauma victims flourish from the gift of post-traumatic growth.

Post-Traumatic Growth Improves Lives

My favorite thinker, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, tells the story of his first learning about post-traumatic growth. From Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

My own domain dependence was revealed to me one day as I was sitting in the office of David Halpern, a U.K. government advisor and policy maker. He informed me— in response to the idea of antifragility— of a phenomenon called post-traumatic growth, the opposite of post-traumatic stress syndrome, by which people harmed by past events surpass themselves. I had never heard about it before, and, to my great shame, had never made the effort to think of its existence: there is a small literature but it is not advertised outside a narrow discipline. We hear about the more lurid post-traumatic disorder, not post-traumatic growth, in the intellectual and so-called learned vocabulary. But popular culture has an awareness of its equivalent, revealed in the expression “it builds character.” So do the ancient Mediterranean classics, along with grandmothers.

Intellectuals tend to focus on negative responses from randomness (fragility) rather than the positive ones (antifragility). This is not just in psychology: it prevails across the board.

Progressives and grief counselors want the president to trigger PTSD among Harvey’s victims. PTSD makes people more dependent on government. And on social services. PTSD robs a person of life and replaces happiness with material things. Things that get wiped out by the next flood.

President Trump has a better idea. He’s replacing people’s material goods with the gift of human flourishing. He’s triggering post-traumatic growth.

When President Trump tells Harvey’s victims that they are “wonderful,” that “this has been a wonderful thing,” he’s doing more for them than government and money ever could. He’s literally turning their tragedy into a blessing.

That’s the essence of leadership. It’s the bedrock of character. Trump knows the progressive pundits will criticize his words. But Trump doesn’t care about his reputation. He worries about his character. And the character of the victims of Harvey.

What I just heard from President Trump in Houston tells me Donald Trump is the greatest leader of my lifetime.

 




Also published on Medium.