Ever since I was a small child I have held in awe particular groups of people, men and women, whose honor was consistently affirmed around my family’s dinner table. I cannot recall my parents ever making a negative comment about anyone to whom we looked for leadership. For me it began with my teachers from Mrs. Lynch, in the first grade at Brookline PA grammar school, to Mrs. Hay, my senior English teacher and homeroom counselor at Lower Merion High School. They, and all the educators between them, are enshrined in my hall of heroes.
The pastors at our main-line congregation were all held in esteem, from fire-breathing Brother Fowler to scholarly George Morris. Beyond that, we counted as more immediate heroes the lay officers in the congregation, and the denominational officials who would stay at our house when they visited Philadelphia. Held in particular reverence were returning missionaries, including Dr. Victor Rambo, whose medical career was spent in India where he saved the eyesight of thousands.
I do not recall much that was ever said in all my childhood years about our political leaders, except for FDR, who was America’s President from my second birthday in 1932 until the end of World War ll. FDR was idolized by my parents, who believed he had saved our family from starvation through the programs of his New Deal. I remember gathering around our radio listening to his fireside chats. I don’t recall anything he said, but he sounded like someone who could be trusted even while our house was pitch black as a defense against German bombers. From FDR on, every President of either party has been my President, and deserved respect.
During my adult years I continued to honor the office of President, even if I disagreed with the policies of the particular office holder. While we have elected persons of greater or lesser capacity, those selected to lead the nation have been men of stature, regardless of party. (Soon that list must include women.) Start with Obama, a major American hero, and work backward, listing even George W. Bush and his father, and including Ronald Reagan. They all have a place in my hall of heroes.
In my years as a parent and pastor, I have tried to instill in children a respect for our nation’s presidents. One of our tasks is to look for, elect and support those of either party worthy of becoming the leaders of our already great nation. Political work is an essential part of guaranteeing that we elect a steady ongoing cadre of heroes.
But now I have a problem. I cannot include Donald Trump in my hall of heroes. I do not respect him as a man or as my nation’s leader. He disgraces the office he occupies. What is there about him, his policies, his morals, his leadership, his vulgarity, his egotism, his racism or his lack of compassion that call for my respect? He has disgraced the office he holds and he has shamed America. He is an embarrassment, and there is no way I can tell my grandchildren and great-grandchildren they are to honor him. The office of President is still to be respected, but its current occupant has polluted it.
So I must rely on the spirit of hope that has guided America throughout the years of its history. That spirit of hope is undergirded by a Constitution and a government that must remain of, by and for the people. History is not static, and we, the people, have the opportunity to turn from our current tragic mistake to a future with leaders we can again call heroes.