All leaders -- no matter whether they be CEOs, heads of community groups, mayors, governors or presidents -- face unplanned negative moments that demand a certain set of values in order to navigate their way through the trouble.
They may have a great detailed strategy and tactics mapped out on a long-term path to where they want to go, but it is the difficult moments that they are most often judged on and will determine their success.
As Mike Tyson once famously said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Well, our country has been punched in the face a couple times in the last week, and let’s assess our President’s response.
Let’s start with where we are in America today and a few facts. Over the last few years there has been a sharp rise in acts of violence by white supremacists in America as well as a surge of anti-Semitic incidents over the last two years.
These white supremacists cheered the Muslim ban, they celebrate the President’s attacks on the media and the President's retreat from the global stage, they were enamored when President Trump directly targeted certain Democratic officials with vitriol, insults, and hate speech.
And most recently, these same white supremacists were all on board with the President’s attacks on a group of refugee families walking miles and miles to escape violence and looking for a better life.
Now the president has to confront as our national leader moments of horrible violence and abject hatred committed by a couple of these horrendous white supremacists. Is the President liable for what these individuals did? Of course not.
Is he responsible for fomenting coarseness, tribalism and hatred in our political discourse that seems to have emboldened the most radical of these white supremacists? Absolutely.
In disruptive, difficult times people search for their sense of place, meaning, and purpose. And leaders have three key intersection points they can appeal to our better angels, or cause the problem to worsen: hope, fear, hate.
People need hope when they are going through change and feeling a sense of loss. And when people can’t access hope, they turn to fear, and when they stay in a fear place too long, they move to anger and hate.
The best leaders at times like this give people a sense of hope and a vision of the promised land. They are unifying and don’t look for enemies or particular demographic groups to blame. They appeal to inherent values we all feel and want in this world by hopeful language and policy guided by reality and not false promises.
If people move into fear, the best leaders try to understand where that fear comes from and try to lead those people back to hope. They don’t allow people to stay in victimhood, and the leader encourages them that there is a way through and that the people have the power to make things better without finding an enemy.
If some of these folks, move into anger and hatred, the best leaders call it out directly, try to see that it is symptomatic of a larger problem, and attempt to compassionately move people quickly from their anger, or if that doesn’t work quickly and clearly put a stop to the hatred.
These best leaders have certain values that allow them to do this well and bring success: they put the interests of the common good ahead of their tribe, they know love is stronger than hate, and they have a level of empathy that allows them to connect in key moments.
So how is President Trump doing today in the midst of America getting hit in the face? First, he is compromised by his own previous words and actions that have fostered much of this. His language and actions are much more aligned with fear and not hope, and because of that he seems to believe that finding victims and hating them is the appropriate response.
He also seems to only desire to appeal to his tribe of voters and not the country as a whole or the common good. Because of this one of the only ways forward for the president to unite America is to take responsibility for what he has done to make the problem worse.
He has to give Americans a sense that he gets it, and will change in word and deed. He needs to preach strong words to his tribe, saying he has been wrong, and calling them to be their best selves. He hasn’t done this yet, and is likely incapable of this act of self-reflection and responsibility. Why?
The President most likely is inherently incapable of this because he lacks what all successful leaders need in difficult moments, and that is the attribute of empathy. Watching his response to both the pipe bomb mailings and the killings at the Jewish temple in Pittsburgh, his words and manner has been way off, lacking in any empathy for how people feel and what they need to hear.
I am a hopeful person and believe in the capacity of all individuals to learn and grow and redeem themselves, so I hope in the days ahead the President proves me wrong in this initial analysis and he steps up and becomes the leader we need.
Until then, all of us must take the mantle he has abdicated and move our country forward. We must show empathy, we must respond to hate with love, we must be clear in our values, and we must all put our tribal instincts to the side and work together for the common good.
And since Election Day is a little over a week ahead, we must choose leaders aligned with those values. We can do this. It is our time as a just, good and kind people, and that is where we can show real strength resides.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.