We get the Leadership we deserve
It is appalling to garner information about our national politics from virtually any agency these days. Sources like the New York Times and NPR that I once admired for their in-depth, if left-leaning analysis, have become partisan hacks. Previously biased sources like the ultra-conservative Fox News have become equally unpalatable. About the only useful source of news these days is the BBC; they are at least looking at our falderal from the outside. Of course, they are based in a country that can’t figure out how to exit the European Union two years after they passed a referendum to do so. I guess régimes world-wide are incapable of implementing coherent policy leaving their populace floundering in the deep end of the policy cesspool.
Under such circumstances, one might question whether there is leadership anywhere in government.
When I was on active military service, I developed a couple of short-hand descriptions of leadership. The first was, “getting people to willingly do something they would not do of their own volition.” This is essential in the Army where a fundamental job of a leader is to get people to risk their lives and expose themselves to enemy fire. After all, no rational person would do so willingly, yet it is essential to the functioning of the organization.
Our current leader, President Trump, would seem to fulfil this requirement. From the very first Republican debate, he forced the establishment candidates to confront issues, like illegal immigration and unequal trade agreements, that for too long had been the proverbial “third rail” (the deadly electrified track) of politics. Everyone knew they needed to be addressed, yet it was only a brash, uncouth outsider that forced the issues.
At this point, I should pause and state emphatically that I loathe Trump as a person. However, he has been true to his character: a puffed up, spoiled rich kid using his daddy’s money to play developer that morphed into an imaginary successful made-for-TV business executive. He is now a grown-up version, and we should not have expected any more.
Yet, he somehow resonates with a childlike common sense when it comes to policy. For example, China really is stealing our intellectual property and imposing significant barriers to entry of American products and that relationship must be corrected. In that regard, he deserves some acknowledgement. There are several other examples, like negotiations with North Korea that may bear fruit as well.
He has also managed to push the envelope and get results that no other policy-maker has been able to pull-off in decades. Against the odds, he managed to get a revised NAFTA agreement, the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). While it is substantively similar to the original accord, there are some provisions more favorable to America. Clearly, this was counter to the stance of many congressional and business leaders, yet he jammed it through. It now looks like there may be progress on border security as well.
My second characterization of leadership is “creating a team in which all of the members feel that their achievement is essential to the success of the organization.” I witnessed people who came into the military from absolutely horrific circumstances be transformed by hard work and focus towards a common objective. It required leaders of character, charisma and influence to accomplish that task.
In this regard, I think our current administration is left somewhat wanting. The bitter acrimony that now pollutes our political discourse appears to be of epic proportions. Like dueling middle-schoolers, midnight tweets lambasting political opponents is now common place. It is impossible to debate complex policy issue in a mere 280 characters (#childish). Rather than pulling the country towards the compromise on which our form of governance was based, it has driven the participants into the far corners of the political spectrum (witness the rise of a fundamentally historical and economic illiterate socialist like Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). Of course, the Right has its “winners” as well.
However, such divisions are not uncommon. Our country has frequently been at odds with itself. One has only to look to history (the Whiskey Rebellion and fight against Federalism or our Civil War) to understand how divisive politics in America have been. One could also see this as simply the evolution of a broader schism. After all, the left despised Reagan and Bill Clinton sparked a backlash that resulted in his own impeachment.
So, are we a rudderless ship of state? Do we utterly lack leadership? Perhaps we do not have the all-American statesman brand of leader we fantasize about, but we do have people clearly pushing and pulling our polity in various directions without concrete progress or purpose. My second criteria are unmet (but that is just the world according to Dave anyway).
If we don’t get what we want, perhaps we get what we deserve. After all, our “leadership” is a fair representation of the electorate and the divergence of views they hold. If we want better leadership, we must vote for better leaders.