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Archive for August, 2018

Imagine a political candidate facing a crowd of supporters. He is anticipating their needs and begins making promises to make things better for them.

As they respond he doesn’t have facts at his fingertips, so he exaggerates by guessing at some numbers. The crowd applauds, so he does it again as his promises multiply. Finally, the crowd is shouting. The sheer joy of the experience becomes a trap that nudges him into even more exaggerations and lies the next time.

He simply does not have enough knowledge to educate constituents about issues. But he finds that the more lies he repeats the more true they sound, even to him. So soon they become rallying cries and full-blown campaign themes. And as crowd after crowd goes crazy with shouts and screams, feeling that exhilaration becomes his narcotic.

The issue of immigration is another case in point. Stopping illegal border crossings has widespread political appeal. A campaign promise to fix the situation can be quite popular. But in making a strong immigration case it’s easy to misrepresent the kind and number of people coming across. Some exaggeration is expected in campaigns, but when the candidate’s exaggerations are responded to with shouts and screams, it becomes all too easy to misrepresent facts even more.

Exaggerations soon become outright lies, and promises for fixes become more and more extreme. In the case of immigration, putting in place some kind of border barrier is a possible step toward a fix. But when a call to build an impregnable wall the entire length of the border is met with wild cheering, a candidate can easily be tempted to keep this theme going… and expanding.

What might have been a reasonable campaign promise quickly can expand into a wild “drain the swamp” idea. It’s just the kind of noise maker angry voters might be craving. A bold border wall proposal may not be practical, but that doesn’t matter. Enthusiastic revenge-seeking supporters can quickly become cult-like, and others will likely climb aboard because they think they will benefit politically and personally simply by association.

So… after our president recently asked his team to hold a press conference and tell the truth about Russian election hacking, he immediately flew off for his next narcotic fix. Standing there basking in the exhilaration of rally lies, exaggerations, shouts, and screams, he totally contradicted what his team had just said about the Russians. Mr. Trump is clearly in his element when entertaining his troupes… but a colleague recently suggested that he should also be saying, “Please stop me, I like this stuff way too much!”

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Daily streams of lying, exaggerating, bullying, and threatening from the White House are causing voices of concern to get louder about dangerous effects on fundamental standards of civility and human decency.

Some basic questions to consider: When does the behavior of a CEO influence copycat behavior in others? Or, do leaders quickly become role models for followers with similar inclinations? Or, as they are now suggesting, can a president’s subordinates implement a set of consistent policies while his behavior is continuing to be more erratic every day?

My past experience consulting with institutions simply teaches that when a leader at the top is seen to be unsteady, leadership can never be successfully taken over from below. Everyone will always look to the CEO when making judgments about how things are going.

I joined a conversation the other day where the participants were lamenting what they believe to be a rapid breakdown of civil discourse in our society. They were arguing that the president’s “only I can fix it” obsession and constant mind changes on critical issues have cancelled out any hope for unifying the nation. And they see this behavior (intensified at his rallies) as inciting serious racial divisions and increasing the likelihood of hostile community confrontations.

Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with political ideology. This is only about a top leader’s choice to either champion good or bad cultural values and open dialogue in nations and institutions, and the impact that choice will have on those inside and out.

When the idea emerges that a strongman’s ends can justify a strongman’s means, it must be remembered that a strongman’s ends most often will be tragic, and a strongman’s means will inevitably establish hostile and fearful communities which eventually will have to be fixed.

That is, of course, if the destruction of vital institutions and firing of talented experts has not already gone too far.

 

 

 

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