The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.
— Andrew Carnegie
Stand up for your Standards
As a self-proclaimed left-leaning moderate in America, I feel increasingly demonized by the loud extremists on both the far-right and the far-left of the political spectrum. I feel as if reason has left the building, putting me in a losing situation any time I express my opinion (which is why it took so long to write this). On the political-right, the voice of the moderate-conservative has been muted by the anger and ferociousness of those co-oped by Trump’s anti-leadership. On the left, the voice of the moderate-democrat has been muted by the rising neo-Marxists demanding the dismantling of Capitalism to quash income inequality. At the end of the day, I think most American’s can agree they want what is “best” for themselves, so why is it so hard to agree to improve the standard of living in one of the world’s wealthiest nations?
What is Leadership?
Leadership is somewhat hard to define, but to me, leadership is the method by which inspiration turns to action in pursuit of a common goal. By definition, it is simply the act of leading a person, group or organization. Given time and exposure to different styles and personalities, I think most reasonable individuals will agree that some people make better leaders than others. Reviewing the literature, common themes appear as to what makes up a good leader. Often cited are traits such as honest, charismatic, visionary, compassionate, and decisive. Historically, good/strong leaders have brought people together, championed innovation, and acted in the interests of their communities over personal gain.
I’m open to arguments on whether or not his presidency was truly transformational for America[1,2,3,4], but I think it is pretty tough to argue against the idea that, at the beginning, Barack Obama represented true transformational-leadership whether you loved him or hated him for it. Referring to Leadership expert, Dr. Ronald E Riggio, transformational-leaders represent these four distinct traits:
Idealized Influence — the leader serves as an ideal role model for followers; the leader “walks the talk,” and is admired for this.
Inspirational Motivation— Transformational leaders have the ability to inspire and motivate followers.
Individualized Consideration — Transformational leaders demonstrate genuine concern for the needs and feelings of followers.
Intellectual Stimulation— the leader challenges followers to be innovative and creative.
Even before he ran for president, his “One America” speech at the 2004 Democratic convention arguably catapulted him to prominence. Obama truly inspired Americans with a message of hope and change when he ran in 2008, and it effectively brought Americans together earning him a 2-term presidency.
Transformational-leadership is sought after and an effective leadership strategy. Of course anyone can try to make the argument that different times call for different leaders…
The Rise of American Anti-Leadership
I’m willing to admit it… I wanted to see someone stick it to establishment and stir things up. For the left, it was Bernie Sanders. For the right, it was Donald Trump. I can see how Trump duped America into thinking he is a transformational-leader. His “No-BS” bullying tactics and “America first” rhetoric, in juxtaposition to the platforms of the entrenched life-time politicians, surly seemed enticing and intoxicating to those who felt disenfranchised by the status-quo.
I think it is important to understand what anti-leadership really is.
I will not make the argument that Trump has done nothing for America. I simply have neither the time nor the resources to fact check everything on his presidential list of accomplishments. Additionally, before criticizing Donald Trump’s presidency, I think it is important to understand what anti-leadership really is. The anti-leader positions him/her self for personal gain over altruistic pursuit. The anti-leader plays favorites and rewards blind loyalty. The anti-leader uses divisive rhetoric and undermines optimism. The anti-leader demotivates. Lastly, the anti-leader champions narcissism at the expense of those around him/her.
One must look neither hard, nor far to find Trump’s record-setting turn over within his administration, disbanding those who aren’t loyal. Likewise, those who are loyal reap the rewards like pardons and lofty positions. For example, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner work in the White House along with Giuliani’s son and Barr’s son-in-law. Barr’s oldest daughter works in the Treasury Department.
When I look at Trump’s America in 2020, I see nothing short of disastrous domestic leadership, impeachment and distrust. I see abysmal global-economic policy responsible for trade wars that have damaged American farmers. I see blatant corruption of the highest order imaginable, and it has left civil society divided and broken. Making matters worse, in the midst of a pandemic that has killed over 100,000 Americans to date, Trump and company continue with rhetoric so divisive, like promoting racism and ignoring science, that the American people can’t even come to an agreement on how to protect ourselves from contagion.
…anti-leadership in America is pushing people towards extremist and absurd beliefs.
While I could go on and on, bashing American presidents isn’t the point I want to make. The point I want to make is that anti-leadership in America is pushing people towards extremist and absurd beliefs. One such belief I see sprouting up all over leftist social media is a call to action for dismantling capitalism.
In Defense of Capitalism
I cannot turn a blind eye to the absurdity that is the call to dismantle capitalism in America. Does our system need some reform and regulation to help reduce despair and close the wealth gap? Of course! People can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they have no boots, feet or legs on which to stand. I think social safety-nets should be in place to ensure every American is provided a standard of living that includes things like access to clean water and food, healthcare, education, housing in a safe community, and economic opportunity. All of that is do-able within the constraints of capitalism, but our leaders are failing us.
What is the proper mode of administering wealth after the laws upon which civilization is founded have thrown it into the hands of the few?
To me, Capitalism is truly the art of wealth management to scale. It begs the questions, “how much can I, as an individual, own, produce, manage, and accumulate?” and deeper, “how can wealth be distributed after it has made its way into the hands of the few?” It’s even posited in the Capitalist Peace Theory, the idea that trade and foreign investment can act as pacifying forces and dis-incentivize war and imperialism.
Looking beyond the Capitalist Peace Theory, no government exists with complete authority to control means of production or the value of commodities, and thus on the stage of global trade, the international economy has leaned to capitalism in some form or another. Open markets controlled by individuals are likely the best wealth-accumulation engine ever invented. Markets have moved many many people up the social-economic ladder. Other systems have been tested and tried to replace capitalism, and they have failed. They will always fail. Nearly every nation in the world today practices some form of capitalism on the global-economic scale, regardless of domestic policy. Capitalism will always sit at the head of the table.
Life in America will never be a level playing-field as social-economic heterogeneity is the price we pay for consumerism.
We Need Transformational-leadership
I am pro-taxation and pro-regulation, and far from a free-market capitalist, but to think dismantling one of the most successful social-economic ideas ever practiced is going to move America forward is completely backwards to me. Life in America will never be a level playing-field as social-economic heterogeneity is the price we pay for consumerism. Regardless, the people at the bottom still deserve a chance at prosperity. Capitalism is their best chance. No other systems have matched its success.
America needs transformational-leadership. We need to come together, innovate and solve these problems. We need to show compassion for our neighbors and recognize the fleeting opportunity for America’s destitute. People need to embrace capitalism and advocate for consumer protection, harsh anti-trust policy, and high taxation. Humans operate on varying degrees of altruism and intellect, and people certainly act out of malice and ill-intent, but I truly believe the plight of the American middle class can be overcome by a leader who can bring us together. I certainly do not have the answers, but I firmly believe the wealth will always end up in the hands of few. Give us opportunity to own our wealth. Its redistribution, or lack there of, is a problem that stems from human leadership.