The American political system is based on a slow-moving evolution of messy, awkward democracy and political compromise.
I spend much of each day feeling frustrated with things I experience—my clients don’t do everything I ask them to do, my deadlines for projects and assignments come too quickly, and my travel on commercial airlines leave lots to be desired. My wifi speed hasn’t ever come close to what I was promised. On a personal level, I get grumpy about many things.
I also ruminate regularly about big-picture challenges facing my country and the world—economic malaise, terrorist threats, climate change, and instability in the Middle East. I worry about the world that I am leaving for my daughter.
My blood particularly boils when somebody enters my space and area of expertise and tells me to believe something I know to be wrong. It happens quite regularly.
It’s no fun. It sucks to not get my way. It’s agonizing to deal with all of these people who “don’t get it.”
But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
That’s because of something that I’m quite clear about in my life. Through all of my experiences, all of the ups and downs, I’ve gained something powerful, something that no one else can take away from me. I’ve acquired, to this point, a small measure of wisdom about myself and the world around me.
Whether people call it judgment, discernment, or horse sense, it’s all the same thing. Wisdom is usually characterized by possessing deep knowledge and having an expansive perspective. It often comes with age and maturity. Many people think of it as the application of learning, intuition, and personal experience. Some people never get it.
So, do I feel some of the anger that Donald Trump does at many of America’s challenges. You bet I do.
But do I advocate torturing prisoners, carpet-bombing war zones, constructing massive walls, labeling entire an ethnicity as felons, or halting immigration for a religious group?
Because impulse-based reaction does not work.
David Brook’s New York Times (The Governing Cancer of Our Time) piece eloquently describes the stakes of this election cycle. The 2016 presidential election is not about policy or preference—at least not yet (and certainly not on the Republican side). This choice is about what form of government we want. We can have a political system or we can have an authoritarian system. The framers of the constitution chose a political system, with checks and balances, awkward interdependencies, and all sorts of flexibility. It’s a messy system of compromise and disappointment—no one ever seems to get everything they want.
And it works. It’s the wise choice.
It’s the wise choice because the other option rarely works if at all. Authoritarian governments tend to work okay for a while, as long as the authority in charge is good and decent. But when the authority is bad, look out, the entire system comes crashing down and lots of people get hurt (or worse).
Authoritarian leaders don’t have time for messiness or compromise. They want what they want without delay.
Authoritarian leaders—especially those fueled by populist anger—tap into our dark sides, the parts of us we don’t list on a resume. They tell us that our rage is justified, that we’re not alone. They tell us that our problems come from an “other,” whether that other be a different person, party, or nationality. The other is the problem, so the other must be stopped or crushed.
There’s not an ounce of wisdom in an authoritarian leader’s message. It’s all about impulse, ego, and immediate gratification.
In some ways I can hardly believe that in the year 2016 America is having this debate. Aren’t 240 years of success with the wisdom model enough of a track record? Politics—yes, that dirty word politics—is an effective form of government.
Winston Churchill once said: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those others that have been tried.”
Ironically, Donald Trump’s message is anathema to the entire conservative movement. The American political system is based on a slow-moving evolution of messy, awkward democracy and political compromise. Conservative voters should back candidates who wish to preserve these hallowed traditions—especially because of their efficacy.
Yet, in other ways, I can absolutely see why we’re having this debate in 2016. The toxicity of our political environment—from attack-dog radio personalities to legislative gridlock—has reached horrifying levels. The twenty-four-seven news cycle makes it easy to lose perspective and focus anger on the other.
Yet, it’s our duty to resist these impulses. Sometimes the right way is not the expedient way. We will rise to meet the challenges of our time preserving our identity and adapting it to modern times. We are a nation of ideals, not charismatic personalities. It’s the wisdom of our system—not anyone leader—that has renewed the social contract between the government and the people generation after generation.
Photo credit: Flickr/Kevin Piatt