It seems more like a government based on a mountain of promises, supported by a mole hill of performance.
Using the terms stalemate, quagmire, gridlock and futility don’t even come close to describing the sorry state of the American government today. Think about this: In the past four years Congress has not passed one single piece of meaningful legislation. And it’s not like there were no problems or issues that cried out for resolution.
The president and all these so-called national leaders in Congress seem only capable of posturing and pontificating, rather than performing their duties and responsibilities. It conjures up the image of spoiled day-school kids throwing a tantrum and fighting over toys in a sandbox. It truth, this situation is (or should be) more shameful than it is frustrating. It is mind-boggling that a country as rich in successful political history and as great as the United States has a government that can no longer organize anything weightier than a bathroom break.
Of course, it has not always been this way. For the past 200 plus years America and our government has been the bright shining light envied by the world and a magnet attracting the best and the brightest to its shores. This feeling was cataloged as “American exceptionalism.” Or in a more colloquial way it was simply referred to as, “the American way.” The truth is that there was as much myth as reality to the exceptionalism of the American form of government, but at least problems were confronted and resolved. It was never smooth, easy or fast, but the leaders were ultimately able to work together and reach a compromise that allowed them to come to a decision on an issue. Clearly that is not the case today, with the very concept of “compromise” equated with surrender.
There are some who suggest that a government conceived in the 18th century has become outmoded and is unable to function effectively in the 21st century. It would be a mistake to draw that conclusion, because it’s not the weakness of our government structure that is at fault, it is the current gaggle of weak, self-serving leaders in that government who are the problem. John F. Kennedy in 1957 “wrote” a book entitled Profiles in Courage. In that work (said to have been actually penned by Kennedy speech writer Ted Sorensen) Kennedy profiled the actions of eight U.S. Senators who had the courage to risk their careers to do what was right for the country. Not much chance that such a book could be written about today’s crop of supercilious senators. California may be experiencing the most severe drought in its history, but America is experiencing the most severe leadership drought in its history. The government is fine; it’s the dearth of true leaders that has been the cause of the current malaise.
There is an excellent message here for anyone empowered with the responsibility of leadership in any position. It boils down to the simple concept of trust. One of the primary reasons the American government functioned as well as it did for 200 years was that the people trusted the government. That trust may have been misplaced at times, but brought up on the concept of a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” Americans were conditioned to at least give their leaders the benefit of the doubt, when it came to their policies and actions. This element of trust that the leaders would do the right thing gave the leaders the freedom to work together and compromise without fear of retribution. It was never perfect and often messy, but it was this general willingness of the people to trust the government that enabled it to function.
This all began to unravel with the onset of the war in Vietnam. There were a lot of victims of the war in Vietnam, but no injury was more long-lasting or impactful than the wound inflicted on the concept of trust in the American government. It was not the first time the government had lied to the people, but it was the first time the people knew they were being lied to; and they didn’t like it. The blatant deceit about the conduct of, progress and validation of the war not only destroyed what was an otherwise vibrant presidency of Lyndon Johnson, it set the stage for even more duplicitous deceit and the destruction of trust in government.
Nixon followed Johnson and took deceit to a whole new level that virtually obliterated trust in government. Every president since then has contributed to some degree in the destruction of the trust American people have in their government. These actions created a gulf between the way things had seemed to be in the past when the government acted and the way people saw things now. This loss of trust has caused the view of government to shift from one of being viewed as a protector against threats, to being the threat.
Trust is engendered through openness, integrity, clarity of expression and constancy; attributes severely lacking in our government leaders today. Is it no wonder that the government is now paralyzed and the leaders have adopted a self-preservation or self-aggrandizement mentality?
The lesson for those in leadership positions is simple: Trust is the most underrated aspect of leadership. The presence of trust makes every effort possible. The absence of trust corrodes from within until nothing is possible. A leader or institution lacking trust is like a car without gas; it’s not going to go very far. And it is important to understand that power or authority does not convey trust. Trust is something a leader must earn and it is not earned overnight, but over time. Trust is fragile and once it is lost, it is difficult to regain.
For a leader trust is a sort a get-out-of-jail card that gives them the freedom to make difficult decisions. When a leader who has built a high level of trust asks followers to do something, they comply, even if they don’t fully understand the reason, because past experience tells them it is okay to trust the leader. And so long as that trust is validated, the leader will continue to have the power to lead.
And the Moral of the Story …
Successful leaders never discount the value of trust. Trust or the lack thereof is a powerful force. When trust is present it can free the leader to make difficult decisions that ultimately will allow the followers and the institution to accomplish great things. One needs only to look at the history of great accomplishments for America when the relationship between the people, their leaders and government was based on trust. When trust is missing it can eat away at the power of a leader and paralyze efforts. One need only look at the current futility of our leaders and the stalemate in government to see the damage caused by lack of trust.
Leadership is about many things, but without trust it is about nothing.