By Brian McKay
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with a wonderful man (we will call him Mr. Z). We chatted for almost an hour. He was 70 years old and had owned several businesses and was now retired. It was amazing how he told me of his pilgrimage (the Hajj) to Mecca last year and gathering in the Grand Mosque. Certainly it all sounded like an amazing site to behold.
He told me of the five pillars of Islam, the prophet Abraham and his devout beliefs.
Mr. Z came to this country from Pakistan with nothing as a young man. His work had been as photographer and he had traveled the world in his trade. Shockingly, he said he had been a lifelong Republican, as he believed in never taking anything from the government. I say “shockingly” as I wondered how he was currently reconciling his support of the Republican Party with his Muslim beliefs.
Mr. Z repeatedly told me that the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world. He is a truly patriotic American and a credit to the country. He shows how positive our immigrants have been at creating an amazing culture of diversity and achievement.
The thing that really stuck with me though was his statement in regards to the current political debate. Mr. Z stated, “That Cruz and Trump, they are degrading this great nation… The whole world is watching us right now.” He also did not have kind words for Hillary Clinton and said nothing in regard to the Sander’s campaign.
He couldn’t have been more correct. The political dialogue of late has degraded us and compromised our position as the world’s leader. That the American people, or at least some large portion of us, are allowing such words to come from our presidential candidates, degrades us in the eyes of the world. How can we lead anything when we allow such vile statements and hubris to come from those that might ascend to the highest office in the country?
Have we fallen into the trap of so many leaders? Often, those in leadership positions for long periods become entranced with their own superiority. Hubris takes over and, as humility fades away, mistakes become frequent as the leader assumes a position of infallibility.
It happens in businesses and organizations all of the time. We see it in the fall of companies like Enron or the recent disaster that has become Bill Ackman’s hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management LP. Dramatic success at one point can lead to the overconfidence and entitlement that later destroys.
Another sign of success gone awry is typically seen in excess and overindulgence. Stories of the excess of Roman Emperor’s abound with stories such as Caligula having a private lake upon which to have full scale naval battles waged for his enjoyment. We see the excess around us now in mansions that sell for well over $100,000,000 and the ascent of luxury goods manufactures. Maybe nothing typifies the excesses more than that our collective political campaigns now run into costs of billions of dollars.
One need only watch a few episodes of the Real Housewives to see how entitlement and success brings about atrocious behavior. It is clear that once someone falls prey to their money, power or fame, they start to undermine it all. The lack of respect seen in the Presidential nomination process seems to mirror the reality TV perspective.
Our current crop of presidential candidates has frequently cited U.S. military supremacy without acknowledging that our military success record over the last 6 decades since World War II, has mostly been atrocious. With Mr. Trump extolling the virtues of committing war crimes as a means to stop ISIS, the hubris has certainly reached scary levels.
A recent viewing of a nomination debate between Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush in 1980 showed a civility in the process that we no longer see. They even (gasp) waited their turns to speak and then were respectful to one another. Now the common rhetoric is centered around personal attacks and grand statements. Candidates simply cannot agree with one another for fear of appearing weak and conciliatory.
That there has been the civility we have seen in the Democratic debates, seems solely due to Bernie Sanders having the personal integrity to take the high road in his approach. Had another candidate risen to challenge Hillary Clinton, there is no doubt more deterioration of the process would have been seen there as well.
In all of this, I blame us. The American people for allowing this entrance of hubris into the process. As past empires have taken on the trappings of success they have also begun to fade away. We are allowing such putrid rhetoric into the process for the same reasons we create massive ratings for horrific reality TV programs. It almost seems that we no longer care that the world is watching us, as they have since the end of the Second World War. Maybe now we think that having established ourselves as the wealthiest nation in history and sole super power, makes us special?
Being special is what kills countries, businesses and organizations. President Obama entered office with a pledge to rebuild our relationships with other nations. That so much of the electorate eschewed this approach in favor of glorifying our supremacy, is a bad sign for our country.
It is time for the American people to come back to earth and realize that we share a space with others in this world. The thinking of supremacy and the allowance in infantile and disrespectful debate are degraded the world leadership we once had. Until we as American’s demand civility, manners, humility and respectfulness back into the process, we will continue to “degrade this great nation” in the eyes of the world.
Brian McKay is a co-founder of zenruption and has his degree in political science from Gonzaga University. He believes strongly in respectful and considerate debate, as did his hero Thomas Jefferson. A few times, he has yelled at people driving for down the center lane. We allow him that one.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license