Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Humility, even driven to one's knees, still a requisite for high political office


I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day. (Abraham Lincoln)

In a time of instant gratification and “uber” entitlements expected, if not demanded, by so many, there have been an avalanche of  forces unleashed from so many covered “jars” (or boxes in the case of the Pandora’s Box myth), forces such as:

·       global marketing,

·       digital technology,

·       opening the world to the ordinary consumer of products, services, ideas and even ideologies (including the highly sophisticated seductive techniques of recruitment)

·       the scientific evidence of global warming and climate change,

·       the out-sourcing of manufacturing jobs by the millions, and

·       the obvious lethargy of existing and stable systems to respond in real time to both the nature of the changes and the velocity of their eruption and literally crashing of the geo-political universe, and then we add in

·       the highest number of refugees in human history, human beings fleeing from war, bombs, starvation, terror and hopelessness

·       the insurgency known as radical jihad...

 
The Lincoln comment could hardly be more relevant, cogent and timely.

In some ways, whether we acknowledge it or not, we have all (with the obvious and dangerous exception of Mr. Trump) been brought to our knees in confusion, anxiety, fear, disconnection, disempowerment, and our own brand of hopelessness. And yet, such humility, and such genuflecting is so frowned upon in a culture in which only the extreme-strong have the megaphone, and only they have the prominent model of how to be human. Modesty, insecurity, confusion, and telling and accepting the truth are so anathema to a culture that gives rise to “Mobile Strike” and to “Extreme Sports” and to a “trump candidacy” (no capitals warranted!). “I am going to”....”just be quiet and let me do it alone”....I am going to bomb the hell out of them”....”I am going to build a wall and the Mexicans are going to pay for it”.....”you’re fired!”.....these are the expletives of the man who could conceivably hold the most powerful office in the world, complete with his hands on, and his mind in charge of the nuclear codes! And the more flotsam and jetsam he spews, the more his supporters cheer, and even shout, and even engage with opponents.

It is such an emotional, intellectual and spiritual distance between the current Republican candidate for president and the perspective of Lincoln in the quote above as to be both tragically clarifying and more tragically frightening. The one quality most scholars of American presidents, and those who have worked for several, hold up for public applause is “he was always willing to listen because he knew he did not know it all”. The current candidate would find such a judgement abhorrent.
 
Isolating both the mind and the country from the wisdom not only of the ages, (as in the contribution Lincoln would make to the current political, cultural and geopolitical debates,) but also from the best minds currently available in the universities, in the civil service, in the military, in the legal system, and in the arts, is to rob the future of its potential. Just as the voters of Great Britain have robbed their youth (who voted almost unanimously for staying in the EU) of the potential of their collaborative study, travel, trade, and arts appreciation within the EU, given the existing open borders, so if he were to become the “leader of the free world” (God help us, even punching those keys blows the mind!), the Republican candidate would do the same to the United States people.

Greatness, in personal, organizational and especially national terms is not measured exclusively in terms of GDP, and in terms of how many millionaires a nation produces. Greatness, as a nation, as demonstrated by President Lincoln, rises to the level of a proclamation of the end of slavery, albeit after a bloody civil war, and albeit without full compliance of racial equality across the nation. Greatness, in historic American terms, evokes memories of  opening the doors of diplomacy to China (Nixon and Kissinger), the New Deal (F.D. Roosevelt), the nation’s interstate highway system (Eisenhower), the national parks system (Teddy Roosevelt), The League of Nations (Woodrow Wilson), the end of the Second World War (Harry Truman), The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Lyndon Johnson), the Marshall Plan (Harry Truman).
 
All of these presidents also had to deal with the expected economic twists and turns, the employment rate’s rising and falling, and the normal balance of power tensions between the Congress and the White House, the White House and the Supreme Court. Greatness embraces diplomacy, relationship building both on the personal and the international level, intellect and vision, the capacity to persuade and to join with others often strong opponents to generate both legislation and the moral ethos in which government can and does function.

And while President Clinton is on record as having told the country “the era of big government is over,” there is a continuing, if not enhanced need for the American people to be able to offer deep and profound respect for their government, as part of their pride and their confidence that government is truly of, for and by the people.
 
Exceptionalism, a raging perception among many Americans, as a defining quality of the people of the country, is, nevertheless a highly seductive trap for many who are having trouble reconciling it with a reality in which labour protection has vanished for millions of labourers, in which environmental protection initiatives are thwarted by a science-denying Republican majority in both houses of Congress and a decades-long lobbying effort by corporate bank-rollers like the Koch Brothers, in which attempts to introduce single-payer health care (like the program successfully operating in Canada for a half century) are thwarted by big business lobbying, in which responsible gun control measures are thwarted by the lobbying buy-outs of legislators by the NRA, in which learning levels are dropping while budgets are sucked empty by wars and security monoliths.

It is not through a suffocating diatribe of hubris that greatness is either demonstrated or developed among ordinary people. In fact, it is hubris that not only impedes the potential for greatness, hubris makes greatness unreachable because it blinds the ingenuity and the collaboration of those empowered to lead.
Lincoln understood this basic truth. So did most of the now-derailed Republican candidates by the trump-tsunami, completely undergirded by a sycophant media whose only interest is in their own ratings and their own careers.

Knowing what one does not know is one of the first steps to maturity. Mr. Trump has simply not made that step, if any or more seriously, all of his belches are to be parsed. Knowing what one does not know, rather than being a defect, or a vulnerability, is rather a significant, hopeful and discerning strength. However, in the current political climate, acknowledging “not knowing” graces neither Mr. Trump nor Ms Clinton who, by her own admission, has a “plan” for every exigency. Reading her book “It takes a Village to raise a child” one is literally overwhelmed by the detail and the depth and the ubiquity of her “proposals” as if she has spent years making political recipes for everything from education to military strategy, to tax policy to human and civil rights, to international relations.

Of course, selling, recruiting votes in the American political culture is not the time for humility; or is it? Would both candidates not have a better chance of earning legitimate trust of the people if they were open to their own limits, and if their stories were imbued with more stories of not knowing, of being brought to their knees, in the overwhelming conviction that they had no where else to go....what a different campaign we would witness and what a different country would emerge from what is admittedly a pivotal turning point in American history.

 
There is, after all, no inconsistency and no incompatibility in being both humble and bold; in fact it is only through humility that authentic boldness can find its true voice. And the missing ingredient in the current campaign for the White House is humility. And there is no excuse for its omission.

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