Leadership of the masses

Leadership of the masses

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 qualities

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.

Trump lost but Trumpism didn’t

Trump lost but Trumpism didn’t

Photo by Laura Seaman on Unsplash

We’ve seen that Donald Trump was a bumbling politician, had no idea what he was doing, and had no idea of how to win an election. He fluked the first one on the back of heavy popularism and failed miserably to repeat the exercise.

It’s easy to convince ourselves that the US election result in 2020 was a great win for common sense. For the sensible majority to pat themselves on the back for coming back from the brink of disaster.

Except that, number one, Trump was elected the first time around.

Number two, he still won more votes in the election the second time around than any other President has won bar Biden. Seventy million people plus thought he was still a good idea. Even after four years of total nonsense and chaos.

And it would be very wrong indeed for Democrats to simply assume that it’s all back to business as usual. Bask in the joys of a net majority in the population and win on the back of that whilst hoping that the status quo will return.

Heads up, there is no question that popularism will come back.

The right will continue to develop more competent candidates for future presidential elections. It has happened already in other countries around the world: India, Brazil. Russia, Turkey already have competent politicians who fit what you might loosely call Trumpism. A would-be strong populist stance, only they are much better at it than the Donald.

This problem is that division is not going away just because Trump was removed — well, at the time of writing he still hasn’t actually gone, but we’ll assume that justice will be done and eventually the oval office will be vacated. The reason Trumpism won’t go away is because of what it represents. It’s actually all about resources and access to the wealth that those resources create. For with wealth comes power.

The human instinct is to grab and obtain power, maintain it, and grow it. A reflex that has given us success as a species and will never go away.

Breaking down this approach that is so innate in our biology, if we hadn’t grabbed resources and concentrated them in organised units, then we would not be here having this conversation using this technology. To simply remove that approach is not only difficult biologically, but it’s also near impossible psychologically. Hence the failure of communism, evening things out is simply not how humanity works.

Humans are designed to be competitive and to want winners and losers in the system. Politics is about giving a safe place for those winning and losing wars to be fought and for outcomes to be given at least a little empathy and equity. The reality is that in recent times the wars are being won by the right, by people with a lack of empathy and a very strong sense of that wealth creation gene that leads to power — those of us alive in the UK during the decade of Margaret Thatcher experienced something similar.

So don’t be surprised at all if much more competent Trumps appear. They won’t be orange, they won’t tweet all day, and they won’t play golf when it’s time to make a decision.

They will be as hard and as politically savvy as anything we’ve ever seen. And they will push their agendas as forcefully as any other political party that you could imagine. The only way to win against such candidates is to galvanise the majority who we hope, and I say hope because I’m not convinced of this, are fair-minded and empathic to others. Then for everyone to become aware that wealth is not the be-all and end-all and that there is a moral responsibility to look after the less fortunate.

Ironically, most modern societies actually do this rather well.

In many countries, there is a solid and functioning education system, law enforcement, healthcare of sorts, and realistic infrastructure. Many of these services are provided by the taxpayer so they are paid for before households have discretionary funds. These systems provide opportunity and support people.

Obviously, it is not perfect. There are many who are not supported well enough and do not have sufficient opportunity. The thinking is that these were the Trump base, the disadvantaged and the stagnant, those who lost faith that there was an opportunity.

Maybe so but there are 70+ million of them in the US alone. It’s hard to believe that they nearly made a majority, that is ‘most people’.

It means that the things said and done by governments, even the centrist ones, have failed to maintain the well-being of everyone whilst still allowing the system to continue to progress in technology and wealth. What was working ‘rather well’ isn’t anymore.

Centrists beware. Trump was a was not an aberration. He was lucky and he took advantage of an opportunity. But there will be people who will follow him that have a better grasp of the politics and better grasp of the policy in order to push that right-wing agenda of more rewards for the winners and more pain for the losers.

They are unlikely to appease those who lack opportunity but that does not seem to matter. In the time it takes for their popularity to wain a great deal will change.

Are we ready enough to cope?


Thanks for reading these posts, it really helps to know that they might tweak some healthy thinking

Rorting the system

Rorting the system

Ever wondered if the POTUS and his family were rorting the system?

Do you think he might be? Yep, I think we all have our suspicions. I’m not talking about the ability to leverage notoriety to go on lecture tours or sell autobiographies. We allow that sort of thing as a small ‘thank you for your service’ along with the secrete service costs of keeping him and his family safe

A small aside here is that former Australian prime minister John Howard is often seen strolling around the CBD of Sydney en route to his office in the MLC building. No police, no bodyguard, just his unmistakable self. I have seen him half a dozen times.

Anyway back to the current POTUS.

Maybe he is just getting ready to use his notoriety to go a step or two further than a book tour to plunder the relationships his position affords for a slice of oil pipelines, hotels, golf resorts, towers and whatever else might make a bob or two, in parts of the world where such things are still twee.

Yes, I think so too.

Not a good look at best and worse, an abuse of his position. That is before we get into the back end deals that might be going down as we speak.

Obviously he doesn’t care a jot about our puny thoughts. Our indignation at his abuse of power. Here is some evidence of just how little he cares.

The number of family trips taken during his tenure is through the roof compared to his predecessor, like an order of magnitude larger.

Admittedly he has a huge extended family in the white house, all jumping around in unelected positions, but really, an order of magnitude more trips with the secret service in attendance.

It even makes the tweets look silly.

Make America great again

Make America great again

Make America great again.

I had a problem with this political slogan from the beginning.

The assumption, of course, is that America was at one time great. In the minds of its citizens perhaps, but, in reality, when America dominated the world it was a bully with extraordinary economic power thanks mainly to the industrial makeover after WW II.

The problem, even if you concede that industrial and economic might is indeed a great thing, is that in order to make America great again, the orange man has turned to an isolation approach based on an ‘us and them’ kindergarten psychology where the ‘them’ are bad and ‘we’ are good. It is innately racist.

Chasing the slogan has worked, at least for his support base. He spent government money, no matter that there was none to spend and a $26 trillion debt on the books, and for a time pumped a certain amount of confidence in the economy. Things were indeed moving towards his definition of great.

Only now a threat has arrived that he can’t control, a pandemic, where being economically great simply doesn’t work to protect anyone against its consequences — just ask Boris how he felt in the ICU.

It might be smart to reconsider the concept of being great under such circumstances. The global world of lockdown has given us any number of creative definitions from the humorous to the smart.

The US is in an election year and obviously Trump is moving to make sure he is reelected. I say obviously because we didn’t think he would make it to the office or survive five minutes, so we perhaps shouldn’t assume he would automatically want another four years of being the biggest cheese… only joking. Of course, he wants it.

Re-election in a pandemic would be a challenge for anyone. The US economy has tanked, unemployment is through the roof, and many people have no idea when or if there will be a return to normal.

In the meantime, under the encouragement of the president, people are taking their guns and demanding that state governors lift the lockdown measures. At over a million cases and counting that seems reckless at best.

Professor Robert Reich, a former US Secretary of Labour and Professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley has recently come up with what he believes is Donald Trump’s four-step plan for reelection

Step 1 is to remove income support so people have no choice but to return to work

Step 2 hide the facts

Step 3 pretend it’s about freedom

Step 4 shield business’ against lawsuits for spreading the infection

This, of course, is a Democrat talking about a Republican president but the points he makes in those four steps are troubling.

Removing income support at a time when people are worried about their employment status is cruel in the extreme.

We know that the Trump administration hides the facts as a matter of course and when facts appear that they don’t like, they play them as fake news.

The problem with COVID is that the facts deal with death.

When Trump first put his hand up to become president, pretty much everyone laughed. I for one failed to realise how far the denial of facts and the lambasting of the media as fake could take you all the way to the White House. No surprise then that this tactic of hiding the facts will apply in the case of the virus.

Pretending it’s about freedom so that gun-toting individuals can rock up at government offices to demand their rights and for that behaviour to be seen as ok is crazy. As Robert Reich points out, making this about freedom is absurd. Freedom is meaningless for people who have no choice but to accept a job that risks that health.

And the fourth step to get business back on track and the economy in the direction that will get me reelected, is to protect them from lawsuits that might occur if they remain open and their staff contract the virus

I don’t know if it’s possible to imagine how any of this is great.

There have been millions of words written about the craziness of this situation that the US finds itself in with leadership that really has no concern for the people or just a small proportion of those people who are there to support the ego of an individual.

I suspect that we’re actually witnessing the ongoing decline of a once-powerful nation. The British Empire has gone and the American one looks like it will follow suit. This will take time because you can’t just turn off the influence of 350 million people and the world’s largest economy but the passions and the motivations that got them into that position of greatness have been corrupted beyond recognition.

America will not be great again at least not on this path.

Now there is another disruption. The next chapter in a terrible saga of racism that has blighted the so-called greatness for the countries entire history. There is hope this time around, there always is when the righteousness in people is roused by tragedy.

Perhaps this offers an alternative path.

POTUS

POTUS

The POTUS has continued to distribute his unique brand of international relations around the world, including a summit with Vladimir Putin. In that meeting he chose to be conciliatory and ignore recent excesses by the Russians, even to the point of publicly accepting the ‘it wasn’t us’ excuse.

This is not what Americans do. They are bold, brash and brave. They bully their way to the moral high ground and hold it with god by their side. They don’t acquiesce for that smacks of weakness.

In saying what he did when questioned during the summit, Trump poked a fair few commentators, for example

“You can love Trump, you can be thrilled he vanquished Hillary, you can be right that Obama’s foreign policy was clownish, but call it here: this was atrocious and no American president should ever behave this way.” Karol Markowicz, New York Post columnist

There is a growing consensus across the land tonight … that the president threw the United States under the bus” John Roberts, Fox News White House correspondent.

European allies are uneasy. US-Russia relations are uncertain. And the US political world – and even the White House’s own communications team – is unsettled. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

This could go any number of ways from here.

First, Trump is nothing if not consistent. He always does what the mainstream least expect so as not to appear mainstream to his support base. He also goes far enough so that even the least perceptive among his followers believes he’s different and doing it all for them. No coincidence that this style also soothes Trump’s own immediate and end game aches — he will leave office far wealthier than when he arrived and his post-presidency earnings will be staggering. On this route expect more of the same. An indelicate parade of gaffs designed to upset convention.

Second, Trump could go a step too far. An action or the combined weight of actions could see his base upset enough to rejoin the mainstream incredulity. Except he has been pretty extreme so far and no one comment or behaviour has even dented his armour plated followers. So, short of committing a felony on live TV, any one action is unlikely to change much. The weight of actions could be a problem if the actions were cumulative but, perhaps by design, they are dispersed across any number of issues and, whilst they all smell a bit off, the nose is an accommodating customer. New smells become familiar ones pretty quickly. A step too far is always possible and yet ,in this age of the instant, it might have to be a stride before the POTUS is irreparable.

Third, a felony is actually called. Be that from a murky past, electioneering or something yet done, if Trump is actually indicted it might undo him. Only might, because the evidence will have to be so solid, clean and fresh as a daisy in a summer field. Anything less will not stick to teflon. Why else is the ‘fake news’ ploy played so keenly. Few of that famous support base would believe anything said or written or even judged in court if it went against their core. It would be fake. And this is the truly clever play that was hard to do in the past. Spreading disinformation meant paying off journalists or dropping leaflets from airplanes or buying media companies. It was costly, risky and did not always work. Now all you need is a tweet. ‘Fake news’ is a the ultimate risk mitigation that will be played right to the end.

Fourth, a political renaissance happens in the US bringing a surge of interest in scholarship and values. Yeah, exactly. This is the least likely way things will go, akin to claiming an intercession from the virgin Mary.

Blessed be the fruit.

So what will happen?

Alloporus suspects that the limit is far away in the distance. A two term POTUS delivering an increasingly isolated and insular country that will, ironically perhaps, be more stable than in its expansionist past, is more likely than not. It will take much fake news, many intentional and unintentional blunders, and some heavy covering up to get there but the path is clear enough.

Welcome to the atrocious bus.

Is the world changing?

Is the world changing?

Love him or loath him, infamous climate scientist Dr Michael Mann recently made an important point about Donald Trump’s rhetoric on bringing manufacturing industry back to make the US great again.

On the America Adapts podcast Mann suggests that to achieve such a goal, manufacturing in the US must embrace the energy revolution. Implying factories running on fossil fuel energy will not be competitive in a global market.

The only way a fossil fuel based industry would be competitive is if there were trade restrictions and tariffs to keep them competitive. This makes Trump’s anti-trade agreement gambit a typical business bully approach to finding a competitive edge that, in this case, US manufacturers would not have.

The evidence is that the energy revolution is well advanced. All over the world technologies are maturing rapidly to deliver distributed clean energy. It is realistic to believe the many mayors and governors that claim carbon neutrality for their towns and jurisdictions when their constituents are all up for a Tesla wall.

Today’s first graders, who will consume a fair amount of electricity in their lifetimes, may not know or care, but most of that energy will not come from a coal-fired power station.

This change from fossil fuel to alternative energy and the accompanying shift from centralised to distributed generation is exactly the one that was needed to tackle the climate issues Michael Mann is so passionate about. Only it is happening because it makes economic sense and not because of a limp international agreement made in a Japanese city or from late night breakthroughs in Paris.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The change is happening certainly. Only it is happening because the technology is becoming commercially competitive. So competitive in fact, that a US president is elected on the back of rhetoric to prop up his countries uncompetitive energy system and hold on to the past.

Does all this mean that the world is changing? Not really. Those first graders, who will spend more of their lives looking at a screen than the trees, may notice more wind farms and will drive an electric car they plug into ports on the street to share the energy captured from the roof at home. But they will also be fiercely competitive and, just like their parents and grand pappy, rely on markets to deliver their lifestyle.

They will work, eat, sleep, and procreate with their mobile device never more than an arm’s length away. They will earn money and use it to pay for their data plans. Not much will be different…

Unless, just maybe, perhaps, possibly…

All this distributed energy makes everything easier, and the system changes. If stuff gets cheaper and cheaper, maybe value is recognised in what people do and not what they have.

Here’s hoping.

President Trump — the shock we had to have

trump-1266570_1280

In 1990, Paul Keating, as Treasurer in the Hawke government, famously described the 1990s recession in Australia as “the recession we had to have” to correct a series of excesses through the 1980’s. Keating challenged Bob Hawke for the leadership of the Labor Party in 1991 and became Prime Minister of Australia.

This week the American people, via a slim minority, voted Donald Trump into the Presidency of the United States.

It is the shock they (and we) had to have.

What happened is that a nation of educated folk just put a narcissistic isolationist with little respect for anyone but himself and no experience of public office into the highest position in the land. Is this man really the best person from among the 322 million or so options?

You would have to think not. There had to be someone better, although not the democratic candidate apparently.

So what is going on?

There are a large number of people who now have no faith in the system of government to improve their lot. Median income in the US is now $30,525 up just $1,113 since 2000, less than 4% in over a decade. Average wages for those without a college degree in the US have declined over the same period and the number without a job has increased. Meantime median house prices have doubled to $304,800.

A xenophobic return to the old days was a message people wanted to hear.

There are some bigger picture numbers too. A growing disparity in wealth due as much to concentration into the few wealthy as to the loss of earnings among workers. A high risk of GFC 2.0 despite the national debt ballooning to $19.8 trillion raised ostensibly to stave off such a catastrophe. A law making establishment that is out of touch.

Check out the US national debt clock

But these individual and economic symptoms are best seen through the lens of what brought them about. Slavish adherence to the market and its fixation with growth, neo-liberalism it’s called.

Ironically Trump is going to be the messenger that demonstrates this slavish adherence is untenable. Because he will not be able to deliver on most of his promises. Given the debt, wealth concentration and stagnant growth, the system cannot afford his tax cuts, wall construction or restricted trade.

Imagine halving corporate tax when the country carries more debt than its GDP.

If he insists on keeping his promises the fragile economy collapses. If he relents, the people are let down (again). Either way, there is a jolt to the system. An opportunity is created for genuine progressive change.

There is a reason this feels like much more than trying to find a silver lining in a dark misogynistic cloud.

On the night before the US election I attended a public function in Sydney under the 100 Resilience Cities program. The theme was ‘Is Sydney ready? Working together for a resilient city’ and even a confirmed skeptic like myself would have to say, yes.

Because for the first time it became clear to me what resilience is. It is the ability of people to connect with each other across the barriers we all erect to find common ground and support. Throughout the evening there was evidence of people doing this more and more. Just the recognition that resilience is all about people is huge.

And this is the real change that can truly help those who voted for the orange guy. Where people actually talk to each other, find things they agree on, accept the things they cannot agree on, and build things together.

It will happen.

Donald is the shock we need to make it so.