By: John David Dyche
The brief respite from reality that the holidays and sports orgy provided is over. Everywhere one looks the view is the same: the early days of this new year are very serious and consequential ones.
Internationally, the world confronts enormous challenges: slow economic growth, if not stagnation; Islamic terrorism; ever more open war between Shia Islam led by Iran and Sunni Islam led by Saudi Arabia; a migrant crisis of civilizational significance; and increasingly bellicose superpowers China and Russia.
Nationally, America appears poised to perhaps pick particularly controversial major party presidential nominees. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz lead the polls.
In Kentucky, budgetary and fiscal nightmares of underfunded public pensions and explosively expensive Medicaid loom as the legislature convenes. These two ravenous programs threaten to devour funding for other state needs.
Locally, the Golden Triangle areas of Louisville, Lexington, and Northern Kentucky are doing relatively well, but scourges of drugs and violence undermine the quality of life even in that island of comparative prosperity. Many rural communities outside the central oasis are struggling.
Perhaps today's challenges are not as daunting as those of the days during the Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, or the tumultuous Sixties. Then, again, maybe they are, since it is difficult to know how these times compare historically while we are still in the middle of them.
Times past have somehow produced great global and national leaders like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Reagan. These giants have had their underappreciated and often unsung counterparts on state and local stages.
We desperately need wise and able leaders at every level now. The process of choosing the next president will soon move from polls to ballots; new leaders with new ideas are going to work in Frankfort; and the hunt for talented administrators possessing bold but prudent vision is never-ending in our communities.
People have long sought such leadership. Indeed, they have prayed for it, as should we.
If you follow the Revised Common Lectionary you will see that Psalm 72 is a reading for each day of this week. It is titled, "Prayer for Guidance and Support for the King."
Its themes are familiar and include defending the cause of the poor, giving deliverance to the needy, crushing oppressors, and enjoying peace and prosperity. Regardless of whether you are religious, it is beautiful, inspiring, and worthy of reflection.
Here is some of Psalm 72's poetic prayer for the king:
"May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more. … May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun. May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy."
It is altogether fitting and proper to carefully consider the qualities we need in our leaders now. They include optimism; an ability to unify diverse people, groups, and nations; character and personality that provide a positive example, especially the young; a talent for communicating complex ideas in a way people can understand; and a gift for inspiring others to act, reconsider positions, and undertake worthy challenges.
These leadership traits may be as important, or even more important, than the particular policies a leader pursues. We, the people, must not only do our best to find and elect leaders who have them, but we must lend real support to those leaders when they dare to take on difficult tasks.
There is no guarantee of good leadership, of course. While the past is replete with stories of great people who have risen to the occasion in demanding or desperate time, it also contains cautionary examples of demagogues and scoundrels who sought and sometimes obtained power.
Democracies are always at risk of succumbing to despotism. That danger is greatest during difficult times. Ancient philosophers predicted it. The Founders feared it.
A good leader must be strong, but an angry strongman is not necessarily a good leader. The origins of the maxim, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," are unknown, but its truth is indisputable.
So as we move through the critical days and months ahead, be vigilant and pray for our political leadership at every level. We need each other.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.