Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash
Think back to October 2020, a few weeks before the US presidential election. According to the polls, the Democrats nominee has the upper hand. In a normal election cycle he would be a shoe in. Instead the media is in a frenzy in case the polls are wrong given that they fooled everyone the last time.
There’s discussion of what would happen if the result is close and contested or the sitting president chose not to leave even if the voters said otherwise. The US is on tenterhooks and the whole world wants to know what is going to happen.
The normally politically lazy Americans would turn out in numbers that would again favour the Democrats, however, it also means the rusted on Trump supporters will be out in force as well.
Then a few of them took over the citadel.
I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what makes a ‘rusted on’ Trump supporter. What thinking makes a person vote for a candidate with no ethics, no morals, no substance, no empathy or sense of fairness and has broken every rule there is and got away with it?
It’s what we used to call back in the day ‘dodgy brothers’, the kind of person you would keep well away from your daughters.
And yet there he is, the sitting President, running a campaign of disruption and division in order to get voted back in again. Relying on that rusted on core to put him back in office. Arguably, despite the impeachment ruling, inciting them to violence and to deny the result of the democratic process.
What is it that allows that to happen? When does humanity wake up and say ‘no, this is not the kind of guy we want to lead us into our future’?
Well the Americans did, just. But the divisions are still there, painful and as rusty as ever.
It could be the power of the fear and loathing that exists in people prepared to back a person who will go against everything rather than build confidence, partnerships and forward thinking. There was a quote just before the election to the effect that there is this man high on steroids and should any foreign jurisdictions be listening, to keep well away lest they spark something that they didn’t want involving red buttons.
More scary than funny.
Leadership gets more than its fair share of posts on this blog.
I think I’ve always assumed that we look towards leadership that is progressive and inspires confidence. Leaders pull people together so we can become more than the sum of the parts.
Such individuals need talent, a lot of energy, commitment, and balls. It takes courage to bridge tribal divisions and innate prejudice from all sides.
It’s much easier to be a leader who divides and conquers. This has become common practice (Trump, Johnson, Putin, Bolsonaro, Modi et al) but a relatively easy practice. The only real skill needed is to identify the points of difference between people and then just accentuate them. And you have to admit Trump knew exactly the points of difference and played them like a fiddle.
So my vision of leadership, the egalitarian bringing people together for common cause and making the sum much more than the parts, is not everyone else’s vision of leadership.
It seems that there are a lot of people who want ‘us against the rest’ leaders, the guy that supports me against them, whoever ‘them’ might be.
Historically humanity has often fallen for these leaders. Us against them is the main paradigm in wars of conquest. So perhaps what’s ‘rusted on’ is our limbic requirement to fight. And you can’t fight unless there’s something recognizable to fight against.
I can’t fight time. I can’t fight the planet even though we try. I can’t fight the weather. These are too big and brash to take on, but I can fight my brother. I can fight the neighbor. And I can certainly fight those funny dudes with their crazy religion across the water.
And maybe I am naive to think that leadership on commonality and of gathering together is our default. It is not. Our default position is exactly what we’re witnessing around the world, the leadership of us and them. The only way that the leadership stays in office is if you have slightly more of us than of them.
Where do we go from here?
All this begs the question of where humanity goes from here? What type of leadership is possible if everyone is battling a limbic system that wants to fight, flee or freeze?
At one time I thought the best option was to raise awareness and move people beyond their limbic thinking. Encourage the majority to become more aware, more understanding of the consequences of their choices, and so take more responsibility, especially when they place their ballot.
I even wrote a book about it, Missing Something, on the premise that a raised awareness would help understand all the various problems that humanity faces including political leadership.
Self actuation is a huge challenge in itself, especially when it is so comfortable to live off basic instincts. Political leaders understand this and trigger the instinct all the time. Trump is the quintessential embodiment of the approach. He locks onto base fears and fuels them all the time.
Other political leaders recognise the base instinct and then bend it to their own ends often through authoritarian even military methods. Humans are easily manipulated by our slavery to base instinct with the stick and the carrot.
Just saying ‘raise awareness’ is naive. Even if it would work, making it happen is daunting and likely not possible..
Whilst awareness helps bring people to a heightened sense of self, we need something more.
The leadership humanity needs to give us a reasonable chance of survival can’t rely on scented candles and incantations. We have to play a ‘Trump light’ game that latches onto limbic responses for the political leverage needed to make progressive changes.
This sounds horribly like moving to the right rather than the centre left. I am hardening towards the draconian on some of these things. Responses to COVID-19 show that it is possible to impose strict rules on society and get away with it in the public interest. It’s a small step to a benevolent dictatorship that could tackle the equally huge issues of inequity, food security, and a stressed environment.
The risk in forcing people into decisions that you believe they’re not capable of making due to their basic instincts getting in the way is a slip of the tongue away from control for nefarious purposes. Blink and we are in the dangerous territory of the end justifying the means.
Horrid as it sounds, such control must be part of the conversation because the limbic system in human brains has got us this far. It will be part of what comes next.
Please have conversations about leadership and benevolent control. Whatever comes next it must be better than populism.