Where are the leaders lifting America up?
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In its absence, many of us have failed to register what’s missing. But the moment you see someone trying to bring the country together, it hits you. America is more than the latest outrage to fly across Twitter. To a degree that’s been ignored, we’re still a unified, patriotic, communal society. The moment you hear Nina Lee, a 20-year-old NYU sophomore belt out her new song “Lift Us Up!”—a song which will be released during an online No Labels gathering this coming Wednesday—the feeling grabs you. The nation’s leadership has failed in its mission to lift the nation in a moment of great trial. We need to be inspired.

Previous generations of leaders understood the imperative of national leadership. In the face of the Soviet missile threat, JFK willed us to the moon. Nearer the end of the Cold War, we stood together behind Ronald Reagan’s demand that “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” After the Oklahoma City bombing, President Bill Clinton explained: “You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything. And you have certainly not lost America, for we will stand with you for as many tomorrows as it takes.” From the smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers in Manhattan, President George W. Bush grabbed a bullhorn and told those sifting through wreckage: “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people—and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

I ask you now: Where is that sort of leadership today? We’re fighting a pandemic that has both taken the lives of more than 100,000 of our neighbors and laid our economy lower than it’s been since the Great Depression. We’re facing the greatest social unrest since 1968, as Americans demand a reckoning over centuries of ongoing racial injustice. But look at the discourse in Washington. Far from lifting the nation up, our leaders are taking nearly every opportunity to tear each other down. When they have opportunities to speak to the country, they use those moments to point blame.


You don’t have to believe any single figure is blameless to want the nation’s leaders to rise to the present challenge. You don’t even need to abandon your belief, deep-seated for many of us, that one side is vastly more responsible than the other. Like few others, this is a moment just calling out for someone to bring us together. The nation’s citizens hunger for inspirational leadership—and yet no one seems ready, willing, or able to deliver.

Some will argue that, with so much at stake this coming election—the White House, control of the Senate, by extension the ideological balance of the Supreme Court—Democrats and Republicans can’t help but to pour on the partisanship time and time again. But even if that’s what pollsters and operatives recommend—even if it appears that a national media appearance that fails to excoriate the other side is an advantage lost—the broader reality is clear. While there may be times when reaching out makes a leader look small, doing so in a moment of national crisis is not among them. Clinton and Bush rose above partisanship in critical moments during their first terms—and both won a subsequent election. That should be a lesson.

Fortunately, around the country ordinary citizens and, in some cases, state and local leaders are heeding the call for magnanimous leadership. Social media rarely captures it—you get more “hits” and reactions by castigating someone or driving a wedge. But there are plenty of examples of protesters and police officers finding common ground—both marching and kneeling together for progress. And the entire medical community, from doctors and nurses, to cleaning staff and day care workers, have shown a willingness to put themselves on the line for the greater good in the battle against COVID-19. So why not more of our leaders in Washington?

Stop before you answer that question. What we need today is not an argument about who is to blame for the sorry state of our national politics or the pathetic performance of some of our nation’s leaders. This is an opportunity for someone to rise up. And while there have been staccato bursts of bipartisanship, citizens are still looking to Washington for the sort of leadership the nation needs. Sharp elbows have always been part of our politics, but it’s time for shared purpose to get through this. Now, more than ever, we need to put country before party. Now, more than ever, we need leaders who will bring us together.

Nancy Jacobson is CEO and founder No Labels, a group that seeks to move Washington beyond partisan gridlock and toward solutions to challenges faced by the country.