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Are we evaluating leadership with the right metrics?

Updated: Mar 8




 



I did not watch the President’s speech last night when it aired live. I had to get this morning’s recap from the usual pundits’ postmortem of Biden’s performance. While soaking up the general assessment that our current U.S. president was ‘on fire’, I couldn’t help but wonder, based on what?

 

We all know that politics today is only about sound bites. Perhaps it always has been to some extent, but I believe that, traditionally, the voting public’s general philosophy drove the citizenry’s choice in elections. Today, it is about showmanship and accruing the right label du jour in digital media. Politics have never been pretty for Americans, but the stakes have risen to those experienced before the Second World War. Despite our ominous geopolitical reality where global leadership hangs by an unraveling thread, the ubiquitous hunger for pretension, slogans, drama, and image-making stubbornly remain, and dominate our national psyche.

 

The antics of Trump and Biden remind one of the sophomoric jockeying of aging adolescents for the chance to rush the most popular fraternity. This gladiator contest constitutes a masked ball that hides the substantialness of our looming global predicament. November's winner will represent our nation in its handling of global climate change, Ukraine, Gaza, Taiwan’s dance with China, and the growing, worldwide refugee and famine crises, to name only a few pending debacles. Our focus, unfortunately, remains on the most recent sideshow of political posturing, and who is winning in the digital version of the “Apprentice”, that plays out daily on our screens.

 

Conduct matters; dignity matters; statesmanship matters; global coalitions matter, and restraint from acting like a petulant, spoiled child matters. The simple fact that none of us is truly excited about either candidate is nothing new. It is a situation we have seen time and again in our nearly 250-year history as a nation. Dislike or apathy regarding the 2024 presidential election, however, is a luxury that no global citizen can afford. Our various international leaders do not want to disquiet us masses seeking daily entertainment and denial, but the problems facing the planet are patently existential ones.

 

What metrics should we then be using to evaluate the now, bipolar choice that confronts us in the election booth? A good place to start might be to ask what our national future looks like when either candidate, if placed in the White House, succeeds in doing their very worst. I would argue that choosing between the lesser of two evils is not a newly composed chorus for the American people. We know these lyrics because we have sung them all too many times before. The crucial metric, rather, comprises a question: do we wish to continue to aspire to be a country dedicated to reasoned, transparent, collective debate, or instead to rapidly devolve into a unilateral, nonstop slide into repressive authoritarianism and the social unrest it promises.

 

In the end, we are deciding between a seasoned statesman who, however imperfect, operates within the boundaries of a democratic, pluralistic philosophy, and his opponent, a vitriolic, would-be-authoritarian who passionately sings the praises of dictators whilst rewriting the demagoguery playbook according to American tastes. In eight months, we will see which metric most sways the American voter. There is no doubt that if the former president is brought in for an angry encore, it will usher in an American philosophy that bears no resemblance to the ideals proffered by our Founders. For most of our global allies, the now, fully palpable potential for a Trump presidency, with its creed of isolationism, intolerance, and volatility, is what keeps them up at night.

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