Few today remember the ancient Roman general Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, but now is as good a time as any to learn a lesson from him about leadership and the proper handling of power.
Facing an imminent military disaster at the hands of the rival Aequians in 458 B.C., desperate senators, unhappy with the Republic’s co-consuls, turned to the former consul for help.
The legend goes that they found him plowing the fields of his rural farm and asked him to put on his toga, the sign of his former office, in order that he might hear their message. As the Roman historian Livy relates, “When he had put it on, after wiping off the dust and sweat, and came forth to the envoys, they hailed him Dictator, congratulated him, and summoned him to the City.”
Cincinnatus accepted the temporary office, assembled his troops, rode out, and defeated the enemy in 15 days—after which he returned power to the elected officials and retired to his farm once more.
Cincinnatus (after whom the city in Ohio is indirectly named) thus became the model for the statesman indifferent to the trappings and perks of office. George Washington was often compared to him. Like Cincinnatus, Washington had been called upon to lead the Continental Army; like Cincinnatus, he won; and, like Cincinnatus, he voluntarily resigned his commission and, after two elected terms, the presidency of the new Republic itself. The great poet, Lord Byron, apostrophized Washington as “the Cincinnatus of the West.”
Today, despite facing multiple crises simultaneously, a modern democracy would never turn to a dictator, however temporary; unlike in Roman times, the word has too many bad connotations. What we do have, however, is a duly elected president whose first term is nearing its end and who must face reelection while preoccupied with the CCP virus, a suddenly cratering economy, a hostile press, a rump faction of “never Trump” Republicans, and the entire Democratic Party.
The latter three groups, united in contempt for Trump and dedicated to his downfall, whether by impeachment and conviction in the Senate (which failed earlier this year) or by his defeat at the ballot box this fall, have never accepted him as a legitimate president and have done everything in their power—even before his first official day in office—to hobble his administration and destroy his reputation.
Trump, however, has confounded expectations and survived the onslaught. A president who was elected in 2016, in part as a roar of protest against the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party and the national media, has gradually won over a sizable portion of the electorate that never suspected he had the smarts, the willpower, or the gumption to actually enact the platform he ran on, and will vote for him enthusiastically this fall, barring a complete meltdown of the economy.
How did he do it? In a word, leadership. Trump, naively, expected to be given the customary honeymoon period during his first 100 days or so, but the knives came out for him even faster than they did for Julius Caesar after he assumed absolute power in the wreckage of the Roman Republic that Cincinnatus had saved. A lesser man might—would—have folded. And many around Trump did.
A weak Jeff Sessions, his misguided pick for attorney general, immediately recused himself as the CIA-media-driven “Russian collusion” hoax got underway. Trump’s first choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, made the common mistake of thinking he had more authority than the boss. The president’s choice of Gen. Mike Flynn as national security adviser was immediately torpedoed by the rogue FBI director, James Comey, and the country continues to suffer from the loss of the only Obama administration official (Flynn had been director of the Defense Intelligence Agency between 2012 and 2014) who understood clearly the threat from recrudescent Islam.
Indeed, the Trump White House became a churn factory, provoking much mirth and merriment among the Democrat-Media Complex (in the late Andrew Breitbart’s famous phrase) accustomed to the orderly appointments of the usual Beltway suspects in high government jobs. They saw the turnover as amateurism rather than what it was: experimentation by a novice politician until he finally realized that none of the padded resumes and congenial time-servers were going to give him the results he wanted—and that his voters demanded.
And so, like Cincinnatus, he stepped up. Here’s how he did it:
Confidence. Trump has never lacked for self-confidence. During his rise to tabloid fame as the playboy builder in the New York City of the 1980s, he struck out plenty of times but always bounced back from divorces and bankruptcies and kept on chugging along. Alone among the master builders of Manhattan (Harry Macklowe, Harry Helmsley), Trump transcended the grubby world of real estate and construction to achieve a rock-star level of pop-culture fame. Although few realized it at the time, his blitzkrieg reconstruction of the Wollman Rink in Central Park ahead of schedule and under budget in 1986 illustrated the wasteful folly of government, which hadn’t been able to accomplish it in six years of trying.
Decisiveness. Trump turned to television, where he hosted the wildly popular reality show “The Apprentice,” which ran for 15 seasons on NBC, 14 of which Trump hosted before descending the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy in 2015 and ascending to the Oval Office a year or so later. Everybody yukked it up—but the man had chosen his moment and, over the ensuing primary season, made short work of the pride of the GOP establishment, including the heir apparent, a lackluster, listless, “low energy” Jeb Bush.
Ability. A famous workhorse, the teetotaling Trump (even at 73) hardly ever sleeps and seems to subsist on a diet of junk food and soda, but so what? Like Ronald Reagan, the president he most closely resembles, he has little interest in the minutiae of policy, a trait that Democrats and the Ivy League media rate highly. While Jimmy Carter was personally reviewing the use of the White House tennis court, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. While Reagan was president, the wheels were set in motion for the USSR’s dissolution under his successor, George H.W. Bush.
Reagan’s famous dictum “We win, they lose” is all the policy any leader ever needs.
No one knows how the fight against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, will end. At the same time, Trump understands that the United States can’t shut down indefinitely and that, at some point soon, the brutal tradeoff between acceptable casualties and America’s economic health will have to be made—and stuck to.
Trump recently termed himself a wartime president; in times of war, every wartime president from Lincoln to Wilson to Roosevelt to George W. Bush has had to make that call. Lincoln and FDR got it right; Wilson got lucky and Bush failed miserably. But make the call Trump will, no doubt to the usual leftist sneers of derision and accusations of heartlessness from the media.
As the saying goes, desperate times demand desperate measures. In this case, however, there’s no need for desperation. Crises demand leaders equal to the task. Not desperate, but calm, cool-headed (in public, at least), capable—and determined to be proven right. Win or lose, that’s what leadership looks like.
Just ask Cincinnatus.
Michael Walsh is the author of “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” and “The Fiery Angel,” both published by Encounter Books. His latest book, “Last Stands,” a cultural study of military history, will be published later this year by St. Martin’s Press. Follow him on Twitter @dkahanerules.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.