Sometimes the best person for a job is the person who doesn’t want that job. Not always, but we all know cases when it proved true.
Once upon a time I was an academic. More often than not, the best administrators were people who assumed their posts reluctantly — and temporarily. No doubt the pattern applies to many lines of work. Do we really want archbishops and police chiefs who dreamed and plotted and prepared to be archbishops and police chiefs?
The idea here is that people are sometimes urged, selected, dragged, inveigled or otherwise coerced into taking a position, often a position of authority, that they don’t want and don’t need, but which they soon turn out to be well suited for.
How does that happen? Well, when a person doesn’t really want a job he or she has nothing to lose by doing it right. So when reluctant and temporary officials see problems that need to be solved, they set about solving them. When they see feathers that need to be ruffled, they ruffle them. When they see enemies who need to be confronted, they confront them. They are less timid and less heavy-handed than someone trying above all to hang onto a treasured job, because always, in the back of their minds, is this happy thought: Sooner rather than later the day will come when I can put all of this behind me and get back to things I would rather be doing.
So, yes, sometimes the best leader is the one with a life beyond a leadership position, who doesn’t even revel in exercising power. Nonetheless, if called, he or she will do the job — and then be done with it.
America had a model for this sort of leader right from the outset: George Washington himself. The man from Mount Vernon loved running his plantation. Had the choice been fully his, Washington would have remained at home rather than preside over the constitutional convention in the summer of 1787. Had the choice been fully his, he would have spurned all efforts to make him our first president. Had the choice been fully his, he would have returned to Mount Vernon after a single term.
Here is famed columnist H.L. Mencken on the father of our country: “He was the Rockefeller of his time. A very rich man, he was a promoter of stock companies, a land grabber, and exploiter of minerals and timber. He had a strong liking for forthright and pugnacious men — and a contempt for lawyers, schoolmasters, and other such obscurantists. He was not pious. He drank whiskey whenever he felt chilly. He knew far more profanity than Scripture.” Mencken also hinted that Washington was not without an eye for the fairer sex.
Sound like someone else we know? OK, Donald Trump is not exactly George Washington. But like Washington before him, Trump has given us every indication that he doesn’t really want the job Washington once had. Like Washington, he has another life. Like Washington, he thinks that other life is a far better one.
To be sure, the Donald has his own unique ways of making his reluctance known to us. Focusing only on his public acts, think of the insults hurled at fellow Republicans. His treatment of the press. His failure to organize a grass-roots campaign. His slap-dash debate performances. His thin-skinnedness. The nastiness of his jabs at Hillary Clinton. His refusal to release his tax returns. His even more maddening refusal to hammer away at winning issues. His hints that election would be a kind of demotion. Even his charges of a rigged election play into this theme.
In any number of ways, the man has tried to let us know that he really doesn’t want the job. Maybe our response ought to be to elect him anyway — thereby punishing him in the short run and possibly doing the rest of us a favor in the longer run.
After all, a reluctant occupant of the Oval Office, one anxious to escape after a single term, might be just what the country needs right now. From the border to Obamacare, from the economy to trade, it’s time to start fixing what’s broken before heading wherever home might be.
Here then is the marching order for a reluctant and temporarily demoted “President Trump”: Set the country on a different course, then return, like Washington, to the life you love, at this or that Trump Tower, Trump hotel or Trump golf course.
John C. “Chuck” Chalberg, a former college teacher, is a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment.