The Crazy Beauty of Democracy
Elections – our opportunity to make choices and vote our ideals. Or hearts. Sometimes even our rational minds. This past election season was certainly unlike anything we’d seen before. And now we get to look back at the magical 100 days, and see what we have wrought!
Setting the Stage
Not everyone was happy. No matter where one stood on the issues, the general sense was that some soon-to-be made choices would either lead to comfortable stability or radical change. Some traditional affiliations held, but without the rock-solid surety of previous election seasons. New candidates emerged, familiar faces stepped up and fell back, and in the end, it came down to two. One, a familiar and often scrutinized woman with a long and laudable record of public service. The other, a man of some celebrity, known for things other than a firm grasp on the intricacies of complex and serious governmental process and responsibility. Both had ardent and vocal supporters. Both had detractors. Both stepped forward and spoke of their vision for the future. They were different, very different.
The campaigns rolled on, the candidates leaned on their respective bases for the votes needed to win the election. Most observers thought that she would succeed. Her popularity wasn’t as solid and enthusiastic as it might have been; she had been urged to lean in a bit harder and expand her support, but she stayed true to her strategy.
He was a wild card from the beginning. Of course, there was a core group of passionate supporters who shared his views and attitudes. There was also a growing distrust of the established government and of the established governors. The vague discomfort grew into something stronger as the campaign season wore on. More and more supporters of adjacent candidates turned to him, embracing his message. A message that was often hard to figure out, and positions that were more sound byte and vague accusation than firm and verifiable policy positions and governing platforms. It was all, “They’re bad, I’m not” and, “There’s something going on here and I can stop it” slugs.
We all know how that turned out.
Raise your Hand and Repeat…
The oath of office was administered. Some thoughts at the time:
“Well, he won on a wave of passion and desire for something other than the same old, same old… but running for the office and actually being in the office are very different things. He will realize how complex and difficult the role is, and will become more serious about doing the job. There is no way he will continue to pepper other government representatives with vague accusations of corruption, incompetence and elitism… no way he will remain under-educated about how the government works, how public service differs from public criticism, how the mechanics of public budgets and finance differ from simpler tasks of personal financial management… how public works differ from private enterprise, even when both are technically complex. He will grow and mature, and recognize that the words he used as a private citizen with little public accountability must be delivered more thoughtfully and with greater precision when holding the public trust. He will recognize that the other elected representatives are there, as he is there, through the will of the people… he will not need to embrace them, but he will need to work with them in a trusted and professional manner…”
Compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies.
Walter Isaacson, writing about Benjamin Franklin and the Founding Fathers
So the clock ticks, and the official record begins. His knowledge is on public display. His questions are now coming from a position of responsibility, and what was ok before is now not so okay. Expectations are higher. Skills are expected to sharpen. Efforts to become more expert in key areas have to be made, and results have to be measurable. Careless and inflammatory remarks made as a private citizen, or as a populist candidate, now have to be challenged more quickly and more forcefully. Attacking others, no matter how “benignly” will draw return fire; he can’t be surprised by it nor unduly offended. This isn’t a game, its people’s lives.
The maturity has not happened. His questions and public comments remain, at best, difficult to follow. The go-to move of repeating the vague accusations and suspicions that enthralled his supporters during the campaign just don’t pass muster now. Certainly, many of his base still cheer him on and marvel at his courage and “stick it to the establishment” attitude. Great. Fantastic. Unbelievable, believe me.
I don’t, and here’s why.
It is easy to declare one’s intention to “bring people together” and “heal the divides that separate us”. But, with every comment to a reporter, every broadcast interview, and every indolent repetition of the same old lines, bridges erode.
Every repeated, simplistic analogy is evidence of a closed mind.
Every play to the base is a missed opportunity for wider connections.
The true test of leadership arrives; the opportunity to really listen, digest and incorporate information and develop a better understanding – well, still waiting.
The hundred day mark has been reached. From where I sit things have gone badly. Sorry, Harry, but that’s my thought from the back of the room.