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Has president earned our admiration?

by Greg Harton | January 3, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Last week, I wondered what it means to admire someone.

Early last week, news arrived the Razorback legend Loyd Phillips had died at 75 from complications related to a stroke. He was part of the 1964 National Championship football team at the University of Arkansas and one of only two Arkansas players to ever win the prestigious Outland Trophy for the most outstanding interior lineman.

As a native Arkansans and lifelong Razorback fan, I knew of Phillips’ Hog resume. But I’m most impressed with the words of admiration his colleagues in the field of education had for him. After his professional football career ended, Phillips served as an academic administrator for 38 years.

Phillips earned admirers through his performance as a football player in stadiums filled with thousands of people. But it’s also clear he earned the admiration of colleagues and students one by one by one as a caring, wise and humble adviser, disciplinarian, counselor and servant-leader in the Springdale and Rogers school systems.

Admiration is easy to understand in the context of how Phillips lived his life, how he gave of himself in service to others.

Later in the week, I ran across the results of the annual Gallup survey of who people view as the man they admire most.

To admire someone is, according to Merriam-Webster, to feel respect and approval for them.

It’s under that definition that it might come as a shock that Donald J. Trump earned the title of the most admired man in 2020.

Gallup’s question is straight-forward and open-ended: “What man that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most?” That’s why the result astounds me. The question is not “Which presidential candidate’s policies do you believe are best for the nation’s future?” It’s not “Which man do you believe has taken U.S. policy in the right direction?” Supporting him and admiring him are two independent conclusions.

Gallup’s question focuses on admiration of the man himself. Even many of those who ardently support Donald Trump as president and wish he had another four-year term have acknowledged they don’t care much for the man, his moral foundation, his transactional and fleeting notions about loyalty, the way he treats others so disrespectfully and his petulant reactions as a leader.

I would add another quality necessary for the definition of admiration: To be admirable would mean to be someone I would encourage my kids to emulate. How many people want their child to be just like Donald Trump?

Turns out it’s rare for a sitting U.S. president not to win the title. In 74 years, the president has been deemed the most-admired man 60 times. Trump’s win unseated the previous winner, Barack Obama, who has topped the survey for 12 years straight.

Only Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush didn’t earn the survey’s top spot as sitting presidents.

The presidency obviously puts its occupant front of mind with all Americans. but admiration? Gallup says Trump edged out others because people who identified themselves as Republicans were largely unified in naming him whereas others who identified as nonRepublicans split their votes among others — Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Pope Francis, Elon Musk, Bernie Sanders, Bill Gates, Lebron James and the Dalai Lama.

Even for those who believe Trump has redeeming personal qualities, what does it say about all of us that he would be the most admired man. We need to reconsider the qualities we find admirable, it seems.

Show me characteristics of a man like Loyd Phillips and I’ll show you someone far more worthy of admiration.

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Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at [email protected] com or on Twitter @NWAGreg.

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