Here lies gravitas: date of death unknown. Born of necessity and exuded in our Founding Fathers, gravitas drove the creation of our Constitution and the protection of our individual liberties. For centuries, it also fostered respect for the rule of law and was a required trait in those who sought the public’s trust. Its aliases were dignity, seriousness, and solemnity, which have perished beside it in the halls of government across the United States.
The trait of gravitas was not uniformly present in every elected officeholder throughout our country’s history, but until recently, it was expected. Those who sought to represent the people were entrusted with a solemn duty to uphold the Constitution, to act with dignity and class, and to respect the rule of law. Most of the time, they complied. When they fell short, they could expect that their shortcomings would be exposed. Our elected leaders did not always behave well behind closed doors, but when they spoke to the public, their gravitas was palpable. After all, if our leaders were not worthy of respect, how could our country be?
The date gravitas died is unclear – it happened without ceremony. There was no proclamation issued and no group consensus. We pretend we still have plenty of serious leadership in this country; but rest assured: Gravitas is dead. And we’ll soon pay the price.
If gravitas wasn’t dead, President Trump would not feel comfortable thumbing his nose at the courts.
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If gravitas wasn’t dead, our president’s former election opponent would not have an open platform to wallow in her own self-pity over her resounding defeat, rather than accepting the will of the voters as evidenced by the certified election results.
If gravitas wasn’t dead, our secretary of state in Kansas would not still be a frontrunner in the gubernatorial race after he was found in contempt by a highly-respected federal judge.
If gravitas wasn’t dead, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle might have dreamed about a constitutional amendment stripping our state’s Supreme Court of its authority to decide the school funding issue, but she never would have dared to voice the proposal in the open air of the Statehouse.
Gravitas was crucial because it brought out the best in all of us. When our presidents, governors, members of Congress, legislators and local community officials were dignified and serious about their work, it showed us that the work itself was worthy of respect. It gave us confidence in their decisions, which made us accept the results of those decisions – regardless of whether we agreed. When they accepted the rule of law, we accepted it as well.
We’re going to miss having serious and solemn leadership. We’ll miss it when our system of checks and balances disappears, and power begins consolidating down to a select few. We’ll miss it when our enemies really start to disrespect us. We’ll miss it when a major injustice occurs, and there is no recourse. We’ll miss it when our neighbors start becoming dismissive of authority as well.
The good news is that gravitas can be revived. If we’ll simply vote down the people who have betrayed our trust by shunning authority and grabbing for power, we can restore the system that led us to prosperity. Serious leadership embraces both the rule of law and the power and autonomy of each individual branch of government. Anything less is just playing games.
Blake Shuart is a Wichita attorney.