Sunday, February 7, 2016

Please, Don't Help Us

This is going to be the only new content for the website this week. We're doing a lot of "soul searching" at the BrainBust right now. Trying to figure out where we fit in the spectrum of political commentary is a daunting task -- it's akin to waking up in a life raft in the middle of the Atlantic and trying to decide on which direction to start paddling.

Nevertheless, paddle we must.

Christmas came early for those of you who live for political drama, as much of this year's presidential election ballyhoo started unfolding last summer. To be fair, the success of Sanders in nipping at the heals (now the heart) of Hillary and the vitriol of Trump provided a lot of headlines. Last week's results in Iowa have provided even more. The tone of this election is starting to take on one of serious importance, especially considering that the electorate may face the decision of whether or not to include a de-facto democratic-socialist party in the United States body-politic for the first time in five decades.

As political ads begin dominating local airwaves at an increasing rate, I am bracing myself for the inevitably cliche and liberal use of the idea of leadership:

"America needs [insert favorite politician here]'s proven leadership."

"[insert favorite politician here]. The leader America needs."

The United States needs capable and tenacious leadership, indeed. But where should we look for it?  Some would have you believe that the best model comes from the private sector -- moguls and magnates are often admired for their leadership skills. Others might have you believe that the military serves as a pool of some of the most tried and tested leaders -- many of the world's commanding officers have risen to (inserted themselves into) political importance throughout history. Others still might try and convince you that leaders should be found among public servants and office holders. If we could just find the best businessmen and women; the best soldiers or Marines; the brightest and most successful governors and senators; then we would be selecting from the best leaders in the country (world), right?

Not necessarily -- We might just be confusing position with leadership.

Merrill Lynch executives received millions in bonuses after nearly collapsing their own investment bank. H&M and other "fast-fashion" retailers regularly exploit weaker (poorer) foreign governments in order to provide dangerous jobs to the local populace (the carrot is almost always just big enough to hide the cliff) in order to lower the company's operating expenses. Coca-Cola and Pepsi executives sell poisonous amounts of sugar to children; they even push to get soda in schools (you just can't give 12-year-olds a choice between water and sugar).

I was in the infantry for five years. I have seen, first-hand, captains and majors that hadn't the slightest clue on how to lead suddenly thrust into leadership positions. It didn't take long for them to think they were leaders -- why else would they give me the job? More often-than-not they acted the part, the world didn't fall to pieces under their charge and they got promoted to go "lead" somewhere new.

The lowly public servants and office-holders aren't spared here, either. Are the public employees in Flint, Michigan leaders? Their position says so, but the $100 million they're gearing up to spend on an infrastructure overhaul after a failed effort to save $5 million might say otherwise (not to mention their willful endangerment of up to 100,000 people). This is just the latest big example.

Pundits and politicians often talk about America's leadership position in the world. Does our country really possess the best leaders, or just the most successful people? And is our success really, at its heart of hearts, because we're such amazing leaders? Or, combined with a touch of historical happenstance, did we exploit, connive and usurp our way to such a vaulted position?

There are no clear cut answers to these questions. But if I were the president of some tiny nation, facing the proposition of doing business with the esteemed leadership of some American company or politician, I might be reluctant to acquiesce. I might consider the countless executives that have moved American jobs overseas to take advantage of the weaker leadership of some poorer country. I might consider the fact that companies in America can write laws. I might consider the American generals that command their troops out of the trenches from the safety of the pentagon.

I might even respond to their proposition with a clear message: Please, don't help us. We don't need your "leadership."

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