Of Politics and Presidents

Most of my life I was indifferent to politics.  I considered politicians to be people who said what they needed to say to be elected, and then played word games to explain away their failure to keep election promises.

Now that I have some firsthand experience with government (albeit not at the federal level), I am much more sympathetic to the place in which our politicians are placed.  Many of them initially get elected because they promise “change” and “balanced budgets” and “elimination of corruption” – and they are able to make those promises openly, mainly because they have no exposure to the unruly “animal” that government actually is.

Then, once in office, they are faced with the reality of the situation:  government is all about “separation of duties” and “policies and procedures”, and is greatly limited due by limited funding.  “Separation of duties” ensures that no one person can effect a massive change – which may not sound like a good thing if, like me, you come from a corporate background.  But when it comes to finances or firepower, I think most would agree that “separation of duties” is not only good, but essential.  “Policies and procedures” are necessary for any large organization, but when there is accountability for sticking to them, the wheels of bureaucracy slow or stop, and people stop documenting what they do so that they cannot be held to that strict level of accountability.  Limited funding affects us all… and is perhaps the main restriction of “change” in government.  Yet we all know that increasing government funding affects our pocketbooks directly – so while we want “change”, most of us also know we don’t have the funds – nor are willing to contribute them through the coercive means of taxes – to pay for it.

As a government worker, I have personally struggled with (and paid substantial personal prices for) meeting the expectations of the environment while maintaining my personal convictions.  I would guess that each new politician entering office has an even greater struggle when faced with the realities behind the challenges of government at a level where a great number of people are involved.

There’s no doubt or surprise that the straight-talking approach of Donald Trump is appealing to many.  I, too, find it refreshing to hear someone detail clear ideas and “black and white” presentation of the issues.  It’s one of the things I miss about the corporate environment, where accountability is held at the individual level, and the person rises or falls according to their ability to succeed in easily measurable ways.  Military environments also permit such a “black and white” view of the issues – and there it’s almost essential, because there is rarely time in conflict to take a look at the nuances of what is going on.

Let me say that if Donald Trump were running for mayor, or city council – or possibly even governor, congressman or Senator – I might vote for him, just to shake up the “status quo” for a while.

Unfortunately, he has chosen to try to enter government at the very highest level – and that makes all the difference to me.  As one who entered government from a corporate background, I can practically guarantee that Mr. Trump does not have an understanding of the reasons behind what is publicly viewed as “corruption,” “stagnation,” and “increased spending.”

I’m a relative moderate – though my views go to the extremes on certain issues, both to the left and to the right.  And, to be honest, I believe most educated folks are like this, because we do have personal convictions (hence the extremes), but we also have enough exposure to other views to understand them, and accept that people’s’ convictions vary widely with good and valid reasons.

Our politicians, in general, are similarly educated people with wide exposure.  I believe most, if not all, of them understand “the other side” and accept that there are good and valid reasons for their opposition on certain issues.

Donald Trump exhibits no such understanding.  For him, not only is the opposition wrong, but those on his own “side” are wrong too.  That’s why he was so hesitant to throw his allegiance to the Republican party.  He views being a “renegade” and a “maverick” as more important and appealing than understanding other people’s’ views.

Having been encouraged all my life to be an independent thinker and leader, I understand why so many recognize these qualities in Mr. Trump.  And certainly our leaders should be independent thinkers and motivators.

It’s important that they be able to lead in the way a CEO has to, but our Federal Government is not a company.  In spite of what we all seem to think today, our country does not rise or fall because of the “almighty dollar.”  There is not a small group of stockholders to whom our government is accountable.  And if our President flies off the handle, it’s not a matter of just telling him to take a few days off.

America is a land of free and brave people, and it rises and falls with the ability of those people to keep each other free and brave.  Should the “almighty dollar” fall, it is the brave and the free who will keep America from falling… who will figure things out and find a way to rise… and, if necessary, fight to the death to protect her from destruction.  (Many of those of us in government might say this is what we are already doing…)

But as a result of our nearly 250 years of bravery and freedom, America is also a compassionate people – with the soft hearts that grow when love is allowed to become the center of our lives instead of survival.

And in those nearly 250 years of experience, we have learned that there is no single view that embraces all the cultures of the immigrants to whom our arms remain open in this great “melting pot”.

Sure, we need strong and charismatic leaders with the qualities of Donald Trump.  But equally important is that our leaders understand that their every word and action is done on behalf – not of the “almighty dollar”, not of the wealthy, not of the American-born only – but of FREE AND BRAVE PEOPLE, with a variety of traditions, hopes and dreams… and many with family members who have never known anything but fear and despair.

I, for one, do not want as a President a person who thinks the answer to a challenge is to insult the challenger – I do not see other national leaders taking very kindly to that.  I do not want a person who believes improving our economy outweighs holding on to our identity as Americans – chances are that such a person will look to others for our income instead of employing our own.  I do not want a person who enjoys notoriety more than diplomacy, who enjoys combative argument over reasoned discussion.  This approach does not go very far in the “hallowed halls” in which such great men and women have accomplished so much.

It is my hope that when the hype dies down and folks start really considering what kind of person they want as the next President, they will remember why they are proud to be American: because America allows every person who is graced with the privilege of entering her borders to grow in greater freedom, greater hope, and greater love.


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