Updated: Jul 13
I watched a documentary on legendary, but highly volatile NFL coach Vince Lombardi the other day. In his first meeting with the Packers, Lombardi told his players, “Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.” Lombardi brought extremely high standards to the Packers, and he demanded that his players live up to those standards because he believed that was the best way to bring out their greatness. Lombardi was loud, stubborn, and irrational at times. He had a quick-temper, and wore his emotions on his sleeve, but he was universally loved and revered by his players, not because he was a perfect coach, but because he believed in the greatness of his players which brought out the best in each and every one of them, turning a 1 & 13 team into five-time NFL champions. Lombardi was described as, “an imperfect man, trying to create something perfect.”
That description reminded me of our country’s founders; imperfect men who tried to create “a more perfect union.” Our founders had many personal flaws, but their ideals, their principles which became the vision and foundation of our nation were as close to perfect as possible. And even though they did not live up to those ideals in their lives, the system they created has continually moved our nation closer and closer to the perfection of their original vision. People are not perfect, but principles can be. And the founding principles of America are as close to perfect as possible. Unlike Lombardi though, modern historians judge our founders on how imperfect they were as human beings, and not on how close to perfect what they created is.
This is the way we judge many of our political leaders. Donald Trump, like Lombardi, is a flawed man, who believed in our founders’ vision of America. Trump strived to make America great again, because he believed in American greatness, and in the greatness of the American people. Time and again, he stood up for America against forces trying to tear it down, both foreign and domestic. By believing in American greatness, Trump was able to bring the best out of Americans. Prior to the pandemic, America had the lowest unemployment in 30 years, the lowest Black and Hispanic unemployment in history, and the highest wages. We had become energy independent, were winning on trade, and bringing peace to the Middle East. But like our founders, Trump has been judged on his imperfections as a person, and not on his production as President.
Our current President, Joe Biden is judged more-kindly than his predecessor, only because he is viewed as a less imperfect man. But Biden lacks the ability to bring out the greatness of our country, because he rarely acknowledges American greatness. He chooses to focus on America’s flaws. On June 6, President Biden refused to recognize the heroism, the sacrifice that many Americans displayed on the beaches of Normandy on that date in 1944 which helped liberate Europe from totalitarianism. Instead of honoring the greatness of America on that day, Biden chose to focus on a racist incident in our past by double downing on the Tulsa Massacre in 1921 that he had just spoken about days before. That is like a child bringing home an A+ in Geometry, and the father only pointing out that he got an F in Algebra two years prior. Focusing on the worst in people, only serves to bring out the worst in them.
You cannot lead and inspire people if you do not believe in them. Former President Barack Obama did not believe in the inherent goodness of America. He believed that America was fundamentally flawed. That is why he aspired to “fundamentally change” America. He started his Presidency by traveling to the Middle East apologizing to terrorist nations for America having given them reasons for committing terrorist acts against us. Even though, outwardly, Obama was a "perfect" President; checking all of the superficial boxes of a President, he only saw the imperfections and the flaws of America and in Americans. He could not see the greatness in America, nor did he believe in the greatness of Americans, so he could not lead America to greatness. It is not a mystery why race relations are worse today in America than they were 12 years ago when we elected our first black President. Obama’s vision of an inherently, irreparably evil and flawed America has spawned the promotion of “The 1619 Project” and “Critical Race Theory”, racist ideologies that teach that America and white people specifically, are fundamentally racist and evil, which only makes race relations worse, and our country more divided.
The United States is not a perfect nation, but it is a great nation. And the list of American greatness is long and distinguished, from our Constitution and Bill of rights, to the abolition of slavery, to liberating Europe from totalitarian rule, to the passing of Civil Rights legislation, to taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees every year, to billions of dollars of foreign aid we give to poverty-stricken nations, to protecting the free world, and the list goes on and on.
Leaders who only focus on the worst of those they are leading bring out the worst, not the best in them. Even imperfect, volatile, demanding head coach Vince Lombardi knew that. Hall of Fame guard Jerry Kramer told the story the one practice Lombardi chewed him out so badly for a simple mistake that he was completely demoralized. But after practice, Lombardi went up to Kramer, patted him on his head, and told him, “One day, you’re going to be the best guard in the NFL.” Kramer said, that was the time that he realized how good he could be, and when he started playing like a Hall-of-Famer. That is what it is to bring out the best in others. That’s what leaders do. They don’t simply point out flaws and imperfections; they see, believe in, and help bring out the greatness of everyone despite their flaws.
Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He is a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.