Daniel Suddeath

Somewhere along the way, we mistook leadership with popularity.

While esteemed leaders are held in high regard in history books, in many cases, their decisions weren’t that popular at the time they were made.

Many thought George Washington was crazy to continue to fight the British army. Abraham Lincoln’s declaration that “all men are created equal” didn’t exactly end a civil war. If you’re a religious person, you probably know well that Jesus Christ was crucified because his teachings were in direct conflict with widely held beliefs of the time.

On the other side of the coin, we have “leaders” who tout populist rhetoric to garner support. It’s a way of dumbing down platforms and an attempt at selling popular beliefs to the masses, even if they aren’t true or are unattainable.

For example, populist leaders often tell us we’re broke or struggling because too many people receive government subsides. In reality, only about 8% of the 2019 federal budget went to safety net programs like SNAP, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That’s the same amount that was budgeted for debt payments. Military spending was about 16% of that budget.

So the country spent twice as much on the military as it did poor folks, but that kind of factual information doesn’t sit well when you’re trying to rally the figurative troops to win an election.

The danger of this kind of belief is that it unfairly places blame on people who don’t have much in the first place, leaving them to deal not only with financial hardships, but also with hateful stereotypes.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita played to the crowd when he tweeted a meme on Valentine’s Day stating that former President Donald Trump stole his heart like the 2020 election.

After Twitter flagged the post and didn’t allow responses to it, Rokita tweeted that it was a “tongue in cheek” statement. But he then went on to state that he would fight for the integrity of Indiana’s elections and that U.S. citizens have valid concerns about the 2020 contest.

This is a classic case of popularity pitted against reality.

It would be widely unpopular to tell Indiana voters, the majority of whom overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016 and 2020, that last year’s election was legit and that the incumbent was defeated. It would be even more unpopular in a Red State for a Republican attorney general to state the obvious — that the biggest threat to election security is domestic terrorism and leaders who refuse to accept results because their side lost.

And that’s not just a criticism of 2020 and Republicans. Democrats played the same game for the four years after Trump legitimately won the 2016 contest. The tactics were different, but there certainly was little unity. They acted that way because Democrats hated Trump, and they wanted to win in 2020.

But there’s a difference between political battles to win elections and misleading people to garner votes.

Imagine where we would be if popularity always won the day? Slavery might still be legal. Women might still be fighting for their right to vote. We might be a territory of the United Kingdom.

When populism bleeds into deceitfulness, it becomes dangerous. While Rokita certainly has a point about social media and the need for a fair approach to banning content, he’s way off the mark on election integrity.

In the wee hours of the morning of Nov. 4, Republicans and Democrats worked inside Floyd County’s City-County Building to get every vote counted. I’ve witnessed the same dedication in other states I’ve worked in like Tennessee and Kentucky — honest folks who aren’t making much but are answering what they believe is a call to democracy and a fair government.

For television talking heads, social media keyboard warriors and power-hungry politicians to continue to bash these people is cowardly and unconscionable. And for voters to green-light such behavior based on cooky conspiracy theories that have been laughed out of dozens of courts says quite a bit about where we are as a country.

Sports and politics share many similarities. A dogged devotion to a side in spite of all evidence to the contrary is one of those likenesses.

As a Kentucky fan, I wanted to blame the referees when Christian Laettner sank that buzz-beater against us in the 1992 Elite Eight. He should have been kicked out of the game for stomping on Aminu Timberlake earlier in the game.

Had a group of UK leaders and fans started a movement to have the results of that game overturned, I would have been all about it. In fact, what is the statute of limitations on such a call?

But UK lost because Duke had more talent. It also didn’t help that Rick Pitino failed to have someone guard Grant Hill, allowing him to toss a pass almost the length of the court to Laettner for the game-winner.

Trump didn’t lose because of election integrity. He lost because he couldn’t stay off Twitter. He was dealt a bad hand with the pandemic, and he didn’t respond well in the eyes of many. He divided people with his style, and poll after poll showed his support was waning in swing states for months ahead of the election.

It’s time to admit that and move past it. Democrats need to get over it, too. Joe Biden won the election for a reason. Most people are ready to move forward. They don’t want to hear about Trump this, and Trump that, for another four years. Democrats have control of the White House and Congress. If they fail to get anything accomplished, it won’t be because of Trump.

It’s also time for us, the electorate, to hold our leaders to a higher standard. Allowing elected officials to spew populist-based lies is an insult to our intelligence. They’re basically telling you that you’re not smart enough to see the savory main course waiting to be served at the adults’ table, so they’ll instead pacify you with some crumbs just to whet your appetite.

Such a system starves truth. If we want more, we have to demand more, and we have to be deserving of more.

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