And it became very clear this week when two former presidents – George W. Bush and Barack Obama – showed a level of grace and class that has been missed for much of the past three plus years, and especially in recent months as the country (and the world) has been fighting coronavirus.
First came Bush with a video message for the country
. "We're not party partners," Bush said. "We are human beings, just as vulnerable and equally wonderful in the eyes of God. We rise or fall. And we are determined to rise."
He then added that he had seen a fantastic spirit rise in the country in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and that "I have no doubt, at all, that this spirit of service and sacrifice is alive and well in America. "
In response to the stirring reminder of our common humanity, President Donald Trump tweeted
that Bush "was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest hoax in American history!"
Then on Tuesday, Obama announced via Twitter
that he and his wife, Michelle, would give a series of beginning addresses to high schools and colleges that were affected by the pandemic.
"I've always loved joining the beginnings —- the culmination of many years of hard work and sacrifice," Obama wrote
. "Although we can't get together personally this year, Michelle and I are excited to celebrate the nationwide class of 2020 and recognize this milestone with you and your loved ones."
Later in the week. Obama rings
to public school teachers in Chicago for thanking them for their service. (It's teacher assessment week.)
(Side note: Michelle Obama's documentary "Ready to stay
"also premiered this week on Netflix, offering its own message of vulnerability and hope.)
The combined effect of words and deeds from the two men ahead of Trump in office was striking. This is what leaders do in times of crisis for the country. They do not offer empty promises, blame and boast, but rather assurance that we can do this – only if we do it together.
They remind us of our shared humanity and our common decency, qualities we need to remember in this moment more than ever before.
The bottom line: Donald Trump has long claimed to be "today's president." I'd rather he just be president. And he has two great examples of how the presidents act in crisis – if he just listened to them instead of attacking them.