Politics & Policy

Leaders That Strike Out

(Candice Estep/Getty Images)
From Major League Baseball to Washington, leaders lack a sense of stewardship.

The prospect of not having a baseball season in 2020, while the other major professional sports manage to cobble together something resembling seasons, feels like a frustrating metaphor for widespread failures in American leadership this year. Those in charge of steering the ship bickered about the approaching storm and sailed us right into the rocks.

Begin with the assumption that millionaire players and billionaire owners should recognize how lucky their positions are when more than 44 million Americans have applied for unemployment insurance. It is somewhat understandable that players would be reluctant to let owners walk away their obligations laid out in guaranteed contracts, and vaguely understandable that owners would want the players to share in the sacrifices that a season with fewer or no fans in the stands will bring. (Then again, the players are already accepting the risks to their health that come with playing the game during a pandemic. There’s no way to social distance when you’re stealing second base.)

Hopes are waning for long-proposed plans to start the baseball season by July 4, now just three weeks away. We’ve seen a lot of posturing, finger-pointing, and blame-trading. Maybe the players have some legitimate gripes, or maybe the owners do, or maybe both, or maybe neither. But neither side has, so far, kept their eyes on the prize or the purpose of their institutions . . . which is to play baseball games. Without any games, there is no television revenue, no ticket revenue, much less merchandising revenue. In a spectacular display of self-destructive blindness, the two sides are fighting in part over how to split revenue (revenue that isn’t coming in yet), while the clock ticks away on the time they have to earn that revenue. And it’s hard to see how the cancellation of an entire season could do anything but hurt the long-term health of the game. Why invest your passions in your local MLB team if the players and owners will deny you an entire season?

Two sides who were so wrapped up in their particular interests, and obsessed with gaining leverage over the other that they forgot the purpose of the enterprise? Leaders who prioritize winning a news cycle over addressing the root of the problem? Boy, Americans haven’t seen much of that lately, now have they?

The coronavirus pandemic threw a colossal problem at America’s national, state, and local leaders. Some mistakes were inevitable. Some success stories are easy to find, such as the heroism of America’s doctors and hospital staffs, and the dramatic expansion of testing, week by week, month by month. American citizens largely obeyed sweeping lockdown rules and laws that were largely thrown together as the pandemic progressed.

But when America stumbled in responding to the pandemic, one could usually find the fingerprints of elected leaders.

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t changed any of America’s leaders; it only revealed them. They are eager to shift blame, hate to admit what they don’t know, fear sharing bad news for the public, make excuses, change their minds with little warning or justification, and always seem inclined to maximizing their histrionics to spur donations from partisan grassroots.

In short, they’re much more eager to beat the opposition than beat the problem in front of them — much like the warring sides in Major League Baseball.

Right now, both baseball and political leaders seem to lack a sense of stewardship — a sense that they have inherited something precious from their ancestors and that they must tread carefully and cautiously, to ensure they pass along something better to the next generation. There’s little sign that they actually value what they’ve been entrusted with. Instead, they seem to see their positions as platforms for self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.

Perhaps this crop of leaders could have coasted during an era of peace and prosperity, like the post-Cold War Nineties. But 2020 is a calamitous year, and our leaders not only don’t want to win the game, they can’t even stop infighting while the other team scores.


The Latest