When I was in high school, I worked in a drive-in restaurant. On one occasion, I made a mistake that the owner thought needed to be brought to my attention. I made some sort of lame excuse and he gave me a bit of advice that, when I have followed it, has been invaluable. He said, if you make a mistake, admit it. You will learn from it so that you do not make it again. My church gave me the same message. If we confess our sins and strive to improve, God will forgive us.
Political figures were giving that same message. Harry Truman had a plaque on his desk in the Oval Office that read “The buck stops here.” When Carter’s plan to salvage his failing presidency by rescuing our hostages in Iran went wrong, he did not blame his advisors. He did not even blame the sandstorm over which he had no control that foiled his efforts. Instead he basically said, “I accept full responsibility for what has happened.” Teflon President Reagan did not try to avoid responsibility for the loss of 200-plus American lives when a suicide bomber struck a barracks where they were sleeping. Even Clinton apologized for his appalling actions with an intern and we reelected him. In times of crisis these men followed the advice given to me in my teens by my employer.
This places Trump’s actions, in his time of crisis, in stark relief. The buck definitely does not stop on his desk. While he is always happy to accept credit, he never accepts blame. His motto is “I am not responsible.” When he decided it was time to reopen the economy, even though it will cost many lives as we are not ready, he suggested that, while he made the decision, the responsibility did not lie with him but with the governors.
And the evasion is catching. When Kemp decided to open Georgia back up, he admitted that it would cost many lives, but it is not the state’s responsibility, it is the responsibility of mayors. He has learned well from his mentor.
When Trump’s tenure is over, in perhaps a year, certainly no more than five, I pray to God that this change he has made in our national life will depart with him. I sincerely hope that in the future, our presidents will, once again, take responsibility for their failings and we will be prepared to forgive them. That is how both the leaders and the people learn and grow. That is the life lesson I learned when Trump and I were teenagers.