By Colleen O'Connor
Like an unpredictable volcano, every great historical crisis spawns a natural born leader to tackle it.
Consider the following list of some of history’s most famous leaders:
Mahatma Gandhi fought for the non-violent overthrow of British rule in India (as well as equal rights in South Africa), earning the revered title “Mahatma,” or the “high-souled,” as well as the affectionate address of “Bopa,” or father, for his work.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. earned the Nobel Peace Prize for opposing racial segregation, discrimination, inequality, voter suppression and the lynching of African Americans.
Cesar Chavez, leader of the Farm Workers’ Union, used marches, boycotts and strikes to successfully orchestrate guaranteed collective bargaining rights for farms workers and immigration reform.
What did these natural born leaders all have in common?
They each experienced a moral dilemma. When personally confronted by an abuse or evil, they refused to be complicit.
They didn’t just abhor the malice, they fought back—often for the remainder of their lives—against it.
What gave them the courage? The stamina? The rhino-thick skin to take the attacks heaped on each of them for confronting the inhumanity of the status quo?
Their acknowledgement that the problem was not political in nature, but moral in essence.
John F. Kennedy was a belated convert to such an acknowledgement. He argued that once civil or human rights became a moral issue, it was not solvable politically. Compromise became untenable when faced with a moral absolute.
Great leaders know when that divide has been crossed.
So, too, in contemporary history, are good and bad leaders being coughed up by myriad storms buffeting the world.
Consider two new storms created by President Trump: his angry criticism of NATO and our European allies, and his “zero tolerance” family separation policy for immigrants seeking asylum. Both storms were countered by strong women whose prominence as leaders is growing by the day.
The chancellor of Germany, who lived in the former Communist-controlled eastern Germany, yet helped reunite it with the Democratic western half, confronted Trump with remarkable restraint and a short history lesson after he accused Germany of being “captive to Russia.”
“I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union,” she told Trump. “I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany.”
She, as with the other natural-born leaders, had experienced the evil she fought.
“The first political event from my childhood that I remember distinctly is the building of the Berlin Wall 50 years ago. I was 7 years old at the time. Seeing grown-ups, even my parents, so stunned that they broke out in tears, shook me to the core. My mother’s family, for example, was divided by the building of the Wall,” she said in remarks upon receiving the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
She is affectionately dubbed “Mutti,” or “mother,” by her constituents.
Sen. Kamala Harris
A former California Attorney General, and now U.S. Senator, Harris has exploded onto the national stage almost as stunningly as the latest Hawaiian volcanic eruption.
The issue propelling her righteous indignation is the new Trump immigration doctrine of “zero tolerance” family separations, which has spawned lawsuits, federal judges’ outrage, horrific images and sobbing voice recordings of children who have been forcibly separated from their parents at the Mexican border.
Harris, too, has experienced the moral outrage so lacking in clubby “political cliques.” Speaking without notes, cue cards, or reliance on clever evasions, her articulate rage is compelling and inspiring. Her numerous television appearances demonstrate that verve.
She has also confronted Trump on his “shithole countries” remarks, his attacks on the Dreamers, and his indiscriminate “murderers and rapists” remarks about immigrants.
Harris speaks with an eloquence of the heart and a discipline of the brain. It is a formidable display of genuine passion and character. Something that cannot be faked.
And something quite hidden until recently. Kamala Harris, a natural born leader. Who knew?
Colleen O’Connor is a native San Diegan and a retired college professor.
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