As apolitical as I’ve tried to be over the years, I find myself increasingly drawn into the dialogue. And, as an avid listener of NPR, I can’t help but follow the 2016 US Presidential race because that is pretty much all that is being covered right now.
It’s too early on for me to say who I think would make the best leader for our country and, since I am neither a Democrat nor Republican, I will not be voting in the primaries and therefore do not even yet know who my options are.
What I do want to call attention to, though, is what I think is a disturbing trend in American politics. And, I don’t know, maybe it has always been this way. But what I am about to discuss is at the very heart of what I think is wrong with politics. It undermines healthy political debate, forbids compromise, and destroys unity. It’s divisive, and causes people to become only further entrenched in their own narrow views. So, without further ado, I present to you the great enemy of American politics…
My Candidate “Tells It Like It Is”
Sitting at the repair shop, getting tires put on my car, I happened to catch a few Donald Trump supporters being interviewed on the news. One man echoed a phrase I’ve been hearing a lot lately when it comes to Trump: “I like Donald Trump, because he tells it like it is.”
People, it seems, are tired of politicians who are more measured and delicate in their approach to the issues. More so than diplomacy, people are craving authenticity. They want candidates who are “real.” Because Donald Trump has no filter on what he says, supporters admire him for speaking his mind and congratulate him for “telling it like it is.”
But here’s the thing. There’s another candidate who “tells it like it is.” His name is Bernie Sanders. People admire Democrat and self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders for the same exact reason as they admire Reublican and business mogul Donald Trump. Both candidates “tell it like it is,” and yet they are saying completely different things.
Here’s the problem: when people say, “I really like Candidate X because he ‘tells it like it is,'” what they’re really saying is “I like Candidate X because he ‘tells it like I see it.'” In other words, candidates like Trump and Sanders are admired so much–not merely for their authenticity–but more so because they provide additional confirmation for the views that supporters already hold. “We see the world not as it is,” says the late Steven Covey, “but as we are.”
Candidates who hold extreme, uncompromising views are getting so much attention because they fuel the simplistic narratives that people want to believe. Black and white, right and wrong, cut and dry perspectives on important issues are easier to digest. We as human beings don’t do well with uncertainty. Candidates like Trump and Sanders are playing into these vulnerabilities, and that’s why they have our attention. It isn’t authenticity that makes them attractive; it’s that they’re providing a measure of certainty to the beliefs we hold and excusing us from having to challenge them.
A Candidate Who REALLY Tells It Like Is
I understand the backlash against the “career politician.” People don’t feel like they can trust candidates who are more cautious and “politically correct” in their views. We just want the candidates to tell us what they really think; not simply what will win them the most votes. And that is why I think we’re attracted to the outsiders–to business leaders and neurosurgeons–rather than to governors and senators. We think we need more authenticity in Wahington–and that means less politicians.
On the face of it, this sounds good. But I’m going to have to disagree. I think we need people in leadership who are more political. Let me clarify: I don’t think we need people who are just lying their way into office and have no integrity or depth of character. But I do think we need leaders who have diplomacy, who can see both sides of an issue, and who are willing to compromise to reach unity. We need a President who is willing to change his or her mind and help others do the same in order to reach consensus and move the country forward.
“Speaking your mind” is only a virtue in as much as you have something meaningful to say. As it happens, I don’t think we need a leader who speaks his mind; we need a leader who listens when others speak theirs. Because if you’re really looking for someone who “tells it like it is,” you’ll look for someone who emphasizes the complexities of the issues and shows empathy rather than contempt for those who disagree with his or her position. The reality is that things aren’t simple; we live in a world of gray, and we’re all just tying to fumble through as best as we can. I don’t know about you, but I want a leader who acknowledges that truth.
“No compromise” isn’t the mantra of a leader; it’s the mantra of a tyrant.