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Posts Tagged ‘history’

Also: Angry = Malleable

Polls tell us that people voted for Trump because they’re angry: angry at the economy for leaving them behind; angry at the government for not helping; angry at politicians for doing nothing. It’s understandable, the economy is clearly not serving middle class America. Plus there’s a drug epidemic out there, the threats of terrorism are real, and some parts of the country can’t even drink the water. Yep, lots to be angry about.

There’s a real problem with that, though. When you’re angry, you’re stupid. Science says so.

Anger is a powerful emotion. It evolved in humans as a mechanism to protect oneself, or one’s food, or one’s mate, or one’s offspring. It — like it’s counterpart, fear — is a knee-jerk reaction to a threat. Something threatens you, and your instincts gurgle up one of these two emotions, depending on your likelihood of survival. If your instincts think you can beat back the threat, then anger wells up, raising adrenaline and endorphins, giving you more strength than you normally might have. You can then bellow in rage or outright attack to fend off the threat. Fear is different: if your instincts think you have no chance of survival, they’ll use that nasty feeling in the pit of your stomach to convince you to run away or hide.

Here’s the rub: neither of those emotionally-driven reactions are controlled by the mind. They’re not, because the mind is too slow. You’ll be sitting there, pondering all the options, while that sabre-tooth tiger gnaws on your bones. Your instincts must work, and they must work now, or you’re a dead proto-human.

Let’s fast-forward the clock 10,000 years. Most of the immediate threats to our lives no longer exist (the only one left is, well, Man). So … what good are the strong emotions of Fear and Anger? Well, they’re kinda worthless today, but we’ve had them for sooooo long now, they’re hard to shake. They crop up at the worst times and, because they shut off the thinking mind, they make us stupid.

In some cases, they short-circuit our well-being. An overwrought anger mechanism is the worst sort of demon one can have. You’re a walking Rage Monster, ready to fly off the handle if someone looks at you funny or takes the last Hot Pocket. If you’re self-aware, you seek counseling or find an outlet to keep from tearing yourself or your family apart. If you’re not self-aware, well, you’re probably going to end up in prison. You’re certainly not going to walk around making sane life choices.

The other thing that’s bad about anger is it’s easily manipulatable. You can use all sorts of trickery to trigger an anger response, and media outlets (who are more marketers than journalists) are experts at it. It’s even worse in a crowd, there’s a reason demagogues are successful.

So let’s now couple these two things together: anger makes us stupid, and it’s easy to manipulate people through anger. Here’s the earth-shattering conclusion:

People who are stirring up your anger are doing so to manipulate you into making stupid decisions.

That’s the key story of The Trumpocalypse: between the various right-wing media outlets, the Republican Party, the Christian Right, and Donald Trump himself, enough of the voting public was manipulated into making the stupidest decision of our lives.

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His Fraudulency, The President of the United States

It’s been seven days since America proved, by actual vote, that it’s lost its mind. I am still utterly disgusted. Not disappointed, but actually disgusted. I know things suck in many parts of the country. I know economic statistics belie the misery of underemployment. I know there are a lot of reasons to suspect that America is up against the ropes and isn’t living up to its potential. And there is definitely something wrong with our political institutions, especially the two major parties. Still, I have to ask:

What in the world were you thinking?

I hate to break the news to you, but Donald Trump is a fraud. A masterful marketer? Yes. A reality-show diva? Absolutely. A wizard at real estate? Without a doubt [edit: but many doubts exist]. But in terms of having the knowledge, the skills, the temperament, the dedication, the wherewithal, the understanding, or even the fundamental class & decency necessary to hold the highest office in the land? Absolutely not. In all these terms, he’s a total fraud. You have been duped, my fellow Americans, and you’ve screwed us all accordingly. You elected a snake-oil salesman as President of the United States of America.

This is a man who made his billions riding the vagaries of the real estate market. That’s … pretty much it. He bought low & sold high at the right times, that’s his only primary skill. The rest? It’s all fluff and nonsense. Sure, he has a team of high-powered lawyers to screw over contractors and protect his interests. Sure, he has clever accountants who know how to ride the tax system. But what has he actually contributed to society? Nothing. At least Ross Perot created a couple of early-era tech companies, resulting in thousands of highly paid jobs. At least Michael Bloomberg ran a respected financial research company, providing millions of investors, large and small, with quality information. What did Trump do for anyone other than his immediate family and close circle of sycophants? Create crappy service-sector jobs cleaning toilets and carrying golf clubs Yippee.

Beyond that, what is he? He’s a masterful marketer and self-promoter, that’s what he is. Trump-this and Trump-that, all of these products essentially frauds. Most things with his name on them are just license arrangements, he’s only directly involved in a handful of businesses. He’s nothing but a trademark. He’s the Wizard of Oz: a big, bloated head, floating around, trying to scare people. Behind the curtain? A very small and unimportant man. He’s all show and no do; all bluster and no muster. He has done nothing but promote promote promote, always about himself, never about others. Even his charitable works are under serious suspicion. He’s even screwed over veterans’ causes. First rule of being a president is you must care about the country and its people. He has never, in his sordid history, shown the least concern about anyone or anything other than his own brand.

Shouldn’t a president have some knowledge of how the world truly works? If you think he (or she) should, have you ever listened … I mean really listened … to anything Donald Trump says? Stereotypical marketing blather, that’s all. His statements on how to “make America great again” contain as much understanding and wisdom as an Axe Body Spray commercial. His quotes are right up there with “I’ll paint any car for $99.95” and “makes your colors bright and your whites white” (hmmm, that last one may have been a poor example for a completely different set of reasons). There’s even serious evidence that he’s functionally illiterate. Why would you want such a person in high office? For the lulz?

Finally, shouldn’t a president at least have some dignity? The president represents the entire country. The job simultaneously requires strength and gravitas, neither of which Donald Trump has ever shown. He is weak-willed and goofy, he has skin as thick as a ripe peach and all the seriousness of a bag of gummy worms. He sends vitriolic tweet storms against low-grade comics who pick on him on TV, and spent his debate appearances defending his own penis size. He’s his own caricature, a walking punch line, a joke of the worst sort. This is even before considering his constant stream of insulting remarks made over the last 18 months. How is any of that presidential? Sure, it makes the average fourth-grader laugh, but how does that represent our country, our values? If you voted for Donald Trump as president, you clearly have as much respect for the country as you have for a high school pep squad.

I don’t get it. I honestly do not get it. I do have a suspicion as to where this country is heading, though. Four years from now, it’s gonna look something like this:

 

 

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Book Review

There was only one topic I wanted to discuss in a blog post on Jimmy Carter, and that was how a Presidency could fail. It is as important, if not more so, to study failure as it is to study success. I scoured Amazon & Google for books on the Carter presidency, hoping to find a treatise on how it went so wrong.

Unfortunately, I found myself knee-deep in the right-wing hate machine. Boy, how conservatives use the failings of Jimmy Carter’s presidency as as a way to prop up their own agendas. Book after book after book is set up to just drag the 39th president through vitriol-laden mud, leaping to grandiose conclusions about “character” and “socialism”. Here’s a man, a guy who truly cares about people, whose character is almost above reproach (especially compared to most politicians), treated so harshly by such an abundance of writers, all to “prove” how right-wing ideals are just so great for this country …

Mattson Book

Anyway, before I get too high on my political soapbox, I eventually came across “What The Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?” by Kevin Mattson. His book isn’t an analysis of the entire Carter presidency, but it is an insightful piece on the infamous “malaise speech” of 1979. Through interviews and research, he assembles not just a narrative on the crafting of the speech, but a collage of the various bad decisions leading up to it. It’s not hateful, or condescending, or serving some personal agenda. It is a fair analysis, a decent read, and, in my opinion, helpful for anyone studying not just the Carter presidency, but leadership in general.

Unbiased, analytical approaches to contemporary political events are rare. They do exist, though. You just have to dig a little deeper to find them.

——————–

Kevin Mattson at Ohio University

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Failures in Leadership

When it comes to posting about Jimmy Carter — Nobel Peace Prize winner, home builder, human rights advocate, international statesman — I could have gone in many directions. In light of his recent cancer diagnoses, I could have focused on his positive, post-1980 accomplishments, and may have gotten a lot of positive comments and referrals. Instead, I feel compelled to talk about his greatest failure: his leadership during his tenure as the 39th President of the United States.

Before I go on, I have to say it’s really unfair for me to criticize others for poor leadership. I have practically no leadership abilities at all. I’ve proven time and time again that this is a skill or talent that I simply do not possess, and almost every attempt I’ve made to take leadership of anything has been a fairly abysmal failure. However, I think I can recognize good leadership when I see it. I’ve known a lot of good, and even great, leaders personally, and through careful observation of their methods, I think I have a fair bead on what makes a good leader. I’ve also known a lot of horrible leaders, and am fairly certain I know what poor leaders lack.

Any post criticizing Jimmy Carter would also be unfair if it did not include a disclaimer statement about “level of difficulty”. Carter was elected President in 1976, a period of great internal strife in the U.S. President Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1973. America’s most divisive and most embarrassing confrontation — the Vietnam War — ended in 1975 with the Fall of Saigon. The Cold War’s nuclear arms race was well into its fearful Mutually Assured Destruction phase. Inflation was at a troubling 12%, and the nation was in a depressing funk barely masked by the revelries celebrating our nation’s 200th birthday. Carter was entering into a losing proposition, it would take immense skill to turn the ship of state around.

A_SENIOR_CITIZENS'_MARCH_TO_PROTEST_INFLATION,_UNEMPLOYMENT_AND_HIGH_TAXES_STOPPED_ALONG_LAKE_SHORE_DRIVE_IN_CHICAGO..._-_NARA_-_556256

Yeah, times were GREAT!

Unfortunately, Jimmy Carter, during his tenure as President, was a pretty poor leader.

Of course, that’s not particularly insightful. Folks have been saying this for 35 years, Jimmy Carter has taken quite a bashing from all sides since 1980. If he hadn’t been so successful in his post-Presidential career, he’d be nothing but an entry on a list between Martin Van Buren and Calvin Coolidge: barely remembered unless you went to Carter High School or your commute took you over the Carter Bridge. I’m glad he went on to do great things after his presidency, he’s probably one of the most ethical men to ever hold the office, and he deserves better than a minor footnote in a history textbook. So how did an otherwise good man fail to be an effective leader?

In my opinion, one event, more than any other, illustrates exactly why Carter was such a bad leader as President. That event was his infamous Malaise Speech, delivered to the nation via broadcast television on July 15, 1979. This was a speech that, although initially receiving a favorable reception by the American people, would go down in infamy as the worst speech ever given to the nation by a seated President. This was a speech that would become so reviled, it not only resulted in the loss of the White House to the Republicans in 1980, it most certainly caused the death of American progressive politics.

But wait, something here doesn’t quite compute, does it? How could a simple speech ruin a Presidency and kill a political movement? Speeches are nothing, really, just air exiting through a larynx, magnified by microphones and amplifiers. Most people, even then, rarely listen to political speeches, and of those who do, few even remember anything about them. Throughout American history — over 400 years if you include the colonial period — only half a dozen or so political speeches (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, etc.) have entered into the national consciousness. It’s certain that dozens upon dozens of Presidential speeches quite literally sucked, full of triteness and pandering and even lunacy. Did any of them derail a presidency?

No, and this speech, itself, did not derail Carter’s. What killed his presidency, and what marked Jimmy Carter as a terrible leader during that phase, was he felt that the nation actually needed a speech to solve its problems. That was the fundamental mistake, the fundamental error, the fundamental misunderstanding of leadership that Carter had during that period. What he did was deliver a speech as the solution, rather than delivering a speech to communicate the solution. 

Not a great idea.

Not a great idea.

So many people in positions of authority try this tactic. These folks think that they can inspire people by words. They’ve heard the lore of those half-dozen cool American speeches, or have seen Patton, Braveheart, Henry V, or even Independence Day, and think “ooh, that’s what I need to inspire my troops, a good speech!” Well, no, nothing can be farther from the truth.

My first encounter with a real leader was my Boy Scout scoutmaster. He was a quiet, soft-spoken guy. I can’t remember his speaking voice, honestly. But all the kids loved him because he did stuff. We always had stuff to do, every meeting was full of activities, and our camping trips were chock-full of things to do. His job moved him to second shift, and we got a new scoutmaster. That one was a chatty guy, and the absolute worst scoutmaster. Activities dropped, camping trips dropped, and I dropped Scouts entirely.

Later, I worked at an apple orchard. The owner was not necessarily soft spoken, but he was a great guy. He motivated us to work hard, not through his words, but because he was a hard working guy. If you were employed by him, you would be ashamed to be a slacker because he worked so hard.

I would see other good leaders who displayed good leadership because they loved what they did, or they took the time to teach those under them, or they took bold moves, or they were simply good at their job. They were leaders because they did stuff, not because they talked about stuff. It’s not even about caring for your people — there is no doubt that Jimmy Carter cared about the American people — it’s about recognizing that doing is a prerequisite to leading. 

If Carter had focused more on getting things done as President, he could have made all the crappy speeches in the world and no one would have cared. But he felt the people needed a speech, and history has proven that was a bad choice. Fortunately, Mr. Carter would go on to do plenty of good things in his post-Presidential career, and now he is well respected by many. But for one, brief time, when it was needed the most, he had the wrong idea of what true leadership actually is.

Well, maybe I stand corrected.

Well, maybe I stand corrected.

==============

I didn’t bring my camera when I visited the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. All photos used in this post are public domain and hosted on Wikipedia Commons.

Jimmy Carter National Historic Site

Character Above All Essay on Jimmy Carter

Jimmy & Roslyn Carter Work Project at Habitat for Humanity

Google Map to JCNHS

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