Authority vs Wisdom in Politics

There’s a difference between the authority to use power, and the wisdom to invoke it. I learned about this watching leaders in BDSM groups. There are those that, elected to positions of power, justify any action they take by saying, “Well, I had the authority.” And, well, yes, they had. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. A good leader considers how their actions will be taken by others:

  • Do they want consensus or input from other stake-holders? Unilateral decisions may be expedient, but that’s at the cost of relationships or understandings. Rushing burns bridges that could take years to rebuild.

  • Are they being up-front and transparent? “We’ll tell 'em when it’s ready” or “Wait until we’ve shown it works” sound great. But discovery before completion leads to suspicions of covert operations and cover-ups, and results in shit-storms of blame and distrust.

  • Are they civil in their discourse? Good leaders work with with those they agree with, but also their opposition. They argue their ideas on their merits, but are receptive to others' ideas and worries. They bring everyone together to solve problems. Bad leaders use name-calling and bully to achieve their ends. They might achieve their goal, but they damage their organization.

It’s not that there are hard-and-fixed ways to handle these things. But good leaders are aware of risks like these, and consider those risks before blundering their way into a giant unexpected mess.

My concern with the current US leadership is that by these principles, this leadership is bad. They make mistakes like these over and over, and they don’t learn from them. And while they might be getting some stuff done, they are also sowing distrust and meanness as they burn bridges and relationships. And it’s been going on long enough now, it’s not only that Democrats, moderates and independents don’t trust Trump, but that once he’s out we won’t forgive and move on, as I think happened after George W. Bush. Instead, we’re not going to trust any Republicans, for decades. (For the record, I identify as moderate.)

That might not be a problem if we had several parties to choose from with different priorities and positions on the issues. But, despite there being a few tiny parties, we have basically the two. So if the Republicans are nuts, it’s the Dems—but they’re ever nuttier in response to Trump’s bat-shit craziness.

Look back 30 years ago, and sure, the two parties disagreed one some matters, but they agreed on others. It’s like the two parties hooked up a couple mules each to the status quo. The Dems pulled southwest, the 'Pubs pulled northwest, and there was some wasted effort but together they ploughed a little bit of the field of progress. But now, Trump and his base have hooked up every critter they have to the status quo, and they’re ploughing stuff up as fast as they can. They point at the results and say, “Look what’s been achieved!” But is it even usable soil? Bits might be, but a lot of it is tilled up sand and clay. And in response to this craziness, the Dems are hooking up their teams, which are pulling ever harder in the opposite direction. They might slow him down a little, but as the teams tug-of-war it out, the fields of diplomacy are rutted to mud and the crops of friendship and civility in government are trodden underfoot.

I’ve had the sad displeasure of watching incivility and infighting destroy BDSM groups. Now, on a larger scale, those same evils are destroy the country. And I’m not sure getting rid of Trump will fix it, because even when he’s gone and the infighting is over, the trust, the friendships will have already been destroyed; memories of collaborations and agreements and working together will have been forgotten, replaced with battle stories and propaganda explaining the evil of the enemy.

We may one day have the sense to call a truce in the divisive US politics. But that truce won’t take away the bitterness, the resentment for past transgressions. And those are going to stalemate us into, at best, a perpetual political cold war between the Dems and 'Pubs. Compromise, negotiation, and working across the aisle are, at least for my lifetime, things of the past. It’s sad.