“Today, the global face of freedom and democracy is Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine. That face used to be America’s President.” – The Lonely Realist
Volodymyr Zelensky’s March 16th speech to Congress underscored America’s foundational tenets of “democracy, independence, freedom and care for everyone” and, crucially, President Zelensky’s courage in defending those values. “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, as has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others.” – Winston Churchill.
In April 2021, TLR wrote that “What’s Wrong With America” can be summarized by its “leadership … or, more accurately, the lack of it.” That was not intended as a criticism of any single President, but as a criticism of an American electoral system that no longer attracts and elevates the best and most capable to positions of power. TLR added: “America has lacked effective, constructive leadership since 1992. That’s an entire generation! America’s Presidents, the successive standard-bearers of the Republican and Democratic Parties – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden (as well as those who have aspired to their roles) –, have failed at achieving both their own goals and America’s. They failed to articulate and subsequently execute durable domestic or foreign policies that resulted in consistent government action lasting beyond the end of their terms. None of America’s last five Presidents fostered, let alone enhanced, Ronald Reagan’s vision of America as ‘the shining city on the hill.’ Their short-term policies similarly failed to captivate a majority of Americans or convince a divided Congress to enact their platforms. Partisan divides widened under each. The skills and leadership qualities of an FDR or a Reagan have been MIAP – Missing in American Politics.”
TLR advocated Congressional term limits last August, pointing out that because Congressional careerism provides a lavish lifetime sinecure, it has been attracting Americans whose goals do not prioritize the common good. Wannabee politicians have not been seeking elected office to serve the public, but to serve themselves: “In addition to attaining power, stature and influence, Congressional membership comes with lavish benefits: a high salary (base compensation of $174,000/year); unparalleled business connections; limited working days (up to 239 days off/year); spectacular working conditions; job security; a huge expense account (ranging from $1.15 to $3.3 million/year); periodic all-expenses-paid fact-finding trips; a sizable staff (that could include family and friends); amazing medical, dental and retirement benefits, weakened insider trading rules; taxpayer funded legal expenses; the ability to moonlight at other jobs; free flights back-and-forth to the member’s home State; a family death gratuity….” Adding to the attractiveness of Congressional careerism, “the Supreme Court in 2019 provided an additional advantage to incumbent members of Congress by holding gerrymandering to be Constitutional and in 2010 (in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) by validating the solicitation and receipt of unlimited campaign contributions, both of which insulate members of Congress from the vagaries of balanced electioneering while cementing their core constituencies and their relationships with big business, special interests and lobbyists.” In “The Imperial Presidency” this past October, TLR added: “With the proliferation of partisan voter qualification laws and tribally-driven social media campaigns, American elections no longer are necessarily determined by majorities. The electoral process and government operations now most-often are driven by partisan loyalty and tribal connections.”
It should come as no surprise then that the quality of America’s leaders has degraded…, that partisanship has been increasing …, that misinformation has been snowballing …, that domestic divisions have become increasingly contentious.
There was once a time when “public service” was a privilege, when elected office required the development of skills over a period of years as well as successful managerial experience that enabled aspiring elected officials to develop a long-term perspective in designing and implementing policies and objectives. Democrat Lyndon Johnson honed his skills in Congress for more than 25 years before serving as Vice President and then President, including by managing bipartisan agendas as Senate Majority Leader during the administration of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. Republican Ronald Reagan learned management ins-and-outs as president of the Screen Actors Guild before becoming a successful Governor of California, then unsuccessfully seeking the Republican nomination for President and, finally, by successfully executing a clearly-articulated political platform as America’s 40th President. The experience and public service credentials of an LBJ and a Reagan no longer carry the same weight in 2022.
A 2016 Pew Research study and a 2021 Gallop poll conclude that the public no longer believes that candidates for elected office must be motivated by a belief in “public service.” Instead, successful office-seekers apparently must adhere to a party line – be it Democrat or Republican – or be enthusiastic members of a cult of personality. Rather than relying on the delivery of tangible gains to a majority of their constituents, electoral success today depends on the support of social media influencers and campaign financiers. Tenure requires talking-the-talk instead of delivering tangible gains to constituents …, the very definition of ineffective government.
One of the consequences is that America’s enemies have been capitalizing on the opportunities presented by a weakened and divided America. Russia and China have derisively, though accurately?, branded American democracy as an unstable system that exalts inequality and greed over the common good. Their criticisms are founded on the harsh realities of today’s partisan politicking – as well as the actual language used by America’s battling politicians. They characterize their own autocratic political systems as “true democracies.” After all, Xi Jinping Thought teaches that the pursuit of “common prosperity” by China’s Communist government “will first make the pie bigger and then divide it properly through reasonable institutional arrangements [where] everyone will get a fair share … and development gains will benefit all people in a substantial and equitable way.” In other words, centralized Communist Party control (Statism) will ensure happiness, security and prosperity for all, a definition of “democracy” that has been implicitly embraced by any number of America’s politicians.
Leadership is the art of motivating people to achieve common goals. America’s President, as well as the country’s Congressional leaders, need to be able to motivate their elected colleagues to further the country’s best interests … and not their own selfish interests. Doing so requires management skills – by the President, the Cabinet, and the leaders of the Senate and the House – to democratically direct the machinery of government to pursue strategies that meet the country’s needs. Doing so requires negotiation skills, compromise, and the will to serve the people rather than elected officials’ puerile interests. The failure to pursue long-term, consensual and constructive policies has resulted in America’s declining global influence, its widening inequality, its increasing divisions, and its economic, educational and infrastructural decay. Effective government requires effective leadership. It requires the courage to promote America’s foundational tenets of “democracy, independence, freedom and care for everyone.”
An index of TLR titles can be found here.
Finally (from a good friend)