From a rickety treadmill in a hotel gym, I watched in sheer disgust last week as Donald Trump displayed nothing but oafish self-interest, political haughtiness and emotional idiocy when questioned about the atrocious events that had unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia, leaving one woman dead and the country in which I was holidaying brutally bruised.
During the televised press conference, he wasted the easiest opportunities to condemn hatred, bigotry and fascism, using the platform instead to talk up his self-perceived greatness in true Trumpian style.
“Will you visit Charlottesville?” one reporter asked – nothing short of an invitation for the President to display some semblance of empathy with the wounded community; or at least to pretend to be a noble statesman and mumble a few platitudes of compassion and care.
But his pompous response was disappointingly in-character.
“I own a house in Charlottesville,” he blurted. “Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville? ... I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States, it’s in Charlottesville.” Because wineries and Trump’s real estate is what the American public desperately needs to know about during a time of civic turmoil. Now this, truly, is sad.
Later that day, in what was a wholly more enjoyable pursuit than watching an uncouth brute demonstrate his total moral illiteracy, I devoured Sheryl Sandberg’s newest book.
In Option B, the chief operating officer of Facebook details how she dealt with the untimely death of her husband Dave Goldberg, himself an accomplished management consultant, tech exec and most recently the CEO of SurveyMonkey, in 2015.
Fortunately I’ve never lost a close family member unexpectedly and I haven’t spent much time thinking about the prospect, so the intensely personal, unpretentious and strikingly beautiful nature of her heart-shattering account really moved me.
I developed great admiration for Sandberg when – like millions around the world – I read her 2013 agenda-setting bestseller for women of all walks of life, Lean In. But with Option B, my respect for her has swelled.
In it, she candidly admits that she may have been naïve – a little elitist even – in Lean In and that it took tragedy for her to realise that. “Lean in?” she writes. “I could barely stand up.”
Through all of the pain – telling her kids that their father wasn’t coming home, burying her soulmate, returning to work, planning a future – she exhibits humility, humanity and humbleness, but also professionalism and grace, intelligence and wit, emotional maturity and rationality.
Her luminary boss Mark Zuckerberg has semi-seriously been touted as a possible future president of the United States. But after reading Option B, I think that it’s actually Sandberg who needs to take up the reins if we want to see a real shift when the brutish man-child currently in power sees his influence wane and his presidency end.
Put Trump’s and Sandberg’s CVs side by side and the first thing you notice is that, unlike the President, she would come to the White House with political experience.
Before holding senior positions at Facebook and Google, and after a brief stint at McKinsey and Company – widely regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious consultancies – Sandberg served as chief of staff to the US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers under Democrat Bill Clinton. Previously she’d been Summers’ research assistance at the World Bank, working on projects in India around leprosy and AIDS.
Born in Washington DC, she was raised in a modest Jewish home to immigrant parents – her father was an ophthalmologist, her mother a college teacher. She built her early success on plain old discipline and hard work.
Trump once said that he began his career with “a small loan of $1m” from his father. Sandberg has perspective. In spirit and heritage, she’s much closer to the average American than a former reality TV host and property magnate with a daughter named after a luxury jewellery label and several golf courses in his stable.
She’s a humanitarian. She was involved in launching Google’s philanthropic arm years before setting up the Lean In Foundation to support and inspire women. She’s academically brilliant. She excelled at her Miami High School and graduated first in the economics department at Harvard. During her time at the Ivy League institution, she also co-founded a group called Women in Economics and Government.
She’s progressive. In 2010, she gave a TED talk entitled “Why we have too few women leaders”. It’s been watched online over 7 million times.
She was the first woman to be appointed to Facebook’s board of directors, the odd one out in a world owned by the geeky tech-bro fraternity. She was one of dozens of celebrities, business leaders and politicians who in 2015 sent an open letter to German chancellor Angela Merkel and the chair of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, urging them to put women and girls at the heart of international efforts to combat hunger.
She’s a devoted parent and a committed employee, but also an ambitions leader both at Facebook and beyond. She’s evidently passionate about her opinions and beliefs, but is also an inherent diplomat when it comes to conflict.
Unsurprisingly I’m not the first to float the idea of President Sandberg. Earlier this year, and to my great disappointment, she flat-out denied any ambition to lead the country. But her book Option B is so called because Option A – a long and happy life with the man she loved – suddenly and unexpectedly was no longer an option.
She’s an ambitious and duty-conscious woman with an extensive professional and personal support network, no doubt including people who recognise her potential and may well give her the impetus she needs for the ultimate Leaning In experience.
Trump has created a country in desperate need of a compassionate, intelligent guide who understands the economy, social issues, business, healthcare and the need for communities, however underrepresented, to feel heard and spoken for.
Option A didn’t work. She seems to be mastering Option B. Who’s to say Option C isn't standing for Candidacy?
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