Musings on Politics and Diversity

Recap — why are you surprised?

You act surprised and disappointed. You should have seen it coming. It was inevitable and predictable. Donald Trump is not an anomaly. He is the product of a self-correcting political system that has historically given us surprises.

In case you are thinking that Trump is the most foul-mouthed, bigoted and dismissive candidate to ever reach the White House, check out our history and consider the political comments made either by or about revered American Presidents like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, George H Bush, and Bill Clinton.

The rhetoric among political opponents has been especially heated for the last twenty years. Republicans and Democrats have railed against each other in the public forum with a vitriol that was shocking to many citizens. It even went so far as to violate the time-honored respect for the office of President when a Republican congressman yelled “You lie” to President Obama during a State of the Union speech.

Why were we shocked to hear Trump label his opponents (quite effectively I might add) as Lying Ted, or Little Marco, or Low Energy JEB, or Crooked Hillary? Trump did not invent political dirty tricks, he simply perfected the craft. That behavior is consistent with the history of American politics.

Don’t forget, our system is a derivative of the British system. Have you ever seen a session of the British Parliament when an unpopular issue is being discussed by the Prime Minister (screaming, name-calling, put downs, disrespectful interruptions, as well as some bad behaviors)? I believe we should always look at things as they are, not as we wish them to be.

The Power of Clarity (Andy Stanley is right)

At a recent Leadercast conference, Pastor Andy Stanley gave his take on the essence of leadership. His study and reflection had led him to conclude that the one essential principle of effective leadership is clarity. As he put it, “We like our leaders to have integrity, be trustworthy, be caring, be honest, etc., but we follow leaders who provide clarity.” A quick recap of the recent Presidential campaign is a clear example of the power of clarity.

President-elect Trump demonstrated this principle from the beginning of his campaign. His simple language was, Make America Great Again. It was the same from the start to the end. Everybody knew it, could quote it, understood it, and eventually many embraced it. Notice that clarity does not come with much detail. It is not supposed to. Detail only makes it less comprehensive, more complex, and therefore, less inspiring. Leadership does not involve the details of execution; that is the work of managers and operatives. Leadership simply paints a clear picture of a desired state and invites people to imagine how their life will be enhanced if that vision were realized. This is a good lesson in leadership that many aspiring leaders can benefit from.

It can also help those of us who advocate for diversity in various segments of our society. Clarity trumps (get it?) complexity. We have overly complicated the practice of diversity management and over defined diversity and inclusion to include so many concepts that inclusion equals confusion. Trump understands it and it worked for him.

Celebrity matters

Trump is not a typical politician. He has a unique skill set that sets him apart from the traditional office seeker. He is an entertainer and an artist. Celebrity artists may not make us think, but they do make us feel. Trump has spent two decades perfecting his art and his celebrity. Like him or not, we all knew about him. And, we knew him not as a politician, but as a businessman and reality TV celebrity. As such, we knew not to expect deep substantial policy statements. And, we got what we expected, which was entertaining, intriguing, and, for some, inspiring rhetoric – truth notwithstanding.

Like another entertainer who achieved the Presidency (Ronald Reagan), Trump used his artistry and celebrity to tell the people what many of them needed to hear and to say it in plain, clear, compelling, simple language and to repeat it consistently over a long period of time. In that way, he was able to undercut political tradition and to address the feelings of many voters directly.
What do we learn from this example?

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