George W. Bush won a hotly contested election in 2000 to take over the presidency, and it left the country divided. All told, the election came down to just a handful of votes in Florida, and there were arguments over irregularities. If you’re old enough, you probably remember the “hanging chads.” The election results made their way to the Supreme Court, and Bush was finally declared the victor. Needless to say, he had a lot of work to do in bringing the nation together after such a bitter and hard-fought election.
Unfortunately, the event that brought the country together was a tragedy. Months into Bush’s presidency, it happened. Terrorists commandeered civilian aircraft and three thousand lives were taken. One plane’s trajectory was thwarted, and it crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Another flew into the Pentagon. The biggest catastrophe came at New York’s World Trade Center. The Twin Towers were destroyed; 2,753 people were killed.
That day changed the course of history. It set the groundwork for the wars on terror that continue today and heightened U.S. involvement in the Middle East. In the wake of September 11, President Bush strove to speak for the American people.
“Leadership to me means duty, honor, country. It means character, and it means listening from time to time.” – George W. Bush
Whether his tenure was successful or not is something that will be argued for decades to come. That’s not our intent here. What is undeniable about his tenure was the emotional connection he was able to make with everyday Americans who were trying to process what had happened.
Bush was able to channel the emotions of the nation in a speech he gave at Ground Zero not long after the tragedy. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of his speech, known as the Bullhorn Address:
President Bush: Thank you all. I want you all to know – it [bullhorn] can’t go any louder – I want you all to know that America today, America today is on bended knee, in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn. The nation stands with the good people of New York City and New Jersey and Connecticut as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens.
Rescue worker: I can’t hear you!
President Bush: I can hear you! 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!
You most likely don’t aspire to be president, and hopefully you never have to lead in the aftermath of something as tragic as 9/11. But emotional leadership is a valuable trait for all of us to examine because it’s so useful in every walk of life.