Yesterday, David Brooks called out independent American voters for their poor judgment. Having seen a Quinnipiac poll in which 60% of independents agreed that Hillary Clinton had strong leadership skills, Brooks responded by explaining what it means to have leadership skills.
Since 61% of these voters declared Hillary not to be honest and trustworthy, clearly they do not understand what leadership entails. Or better, they believe that all leaders are corrupt bullies who push people around.
Worse yet, many Americans admire the Clintons for their amorality, their ability to get away with things. The American character has been corrupted to the point where people believe that the Clintons are role models for success and that they should become like the Clintons.
It’s the price of idolizing amoral individuals. It’s the price of extolling shamelessness.
Thus, when riots break out in a great American city more than a few commentators rush to the airways to explain it away, to plead for understanding, to try to redeem it by finding the meaning behind it all.
Brooks gives voice to the thinking of those who voted in this poll:
Politics is a tough, brutal arena. People play by the rules of the jungle. Sometimes to get anything done, a leader has to push, bully, intimidate, elide the truth. The qualities that make you a good person in private life — kindness, humility and a capacity for introspection — can be drawbacks on the public stage. Electing a president is different than finding a friend or lover. It’s better to hire a ruthless person to do a hard job.
And then he essays to enlighten them:
People who are dishonest, unkind and inconsiderate have trouble attracting and retaining good people to their team. They tend to have sleazy friends. They may be personally canny, but they are almost always surrounded by sycophants and second-raters who kick up scandal and undermine the leader’s effectiveness.
Leaders who lack humility are fragile. Their pride is bloated and sensitive. People are never treating them as respectfully as they think they deserve. They become consumed with resentments. They treat politics as battle, armor up and wall themselves off to information and feedback.
You might think to yourself that this excellent analysis also pertains to other politicians-- ones that Brooks has praised-- who surround themselves with sycophants, see all politics as a zero-sum game and who never get anything done.
Such politicians are in it for themselves. If they are not in it to fill their coffers, they still believe that it’s all about them. Call it the triumph of ego over the duty to serve the public:
You may think they are championing your cause or agenda, but when the fur is flying, they are really only interested in defending themselves. They keep an enemies list and life becomes a matter of settling scores and imagining conspiracies. They jettison any policy that might hurt their standing.
It is a paradox of politics that the people who set out obsessively to succeed in it usually end up sabotaging themselves. They treat each relationship as a transaction and don’t generate loyalty. They lose any honest internal voice. After a while they can’t accurately perceive themselves or their situation.
What does a good leader look like? Brooks explains:
We live in a world in which power is dispersed. You can’t intimidate people by chopping your enemies to bits in the town square. Even the presidency isn’t a powerful enough office to allow a leader to rule by fear. You have to build coalitions by appealing to people’s self-interest and by luring them voluntarily to your side.
Modern politics, like private morality, is about building trust and enduring personal relationships. That means being fair, empathetic, honest and trustworthy. If you stink at establishing trust, you stink at politics.
People with good private morality are better at navigating for the long term. They genuinely love causes beyond themselves. When the news cycle distracts and the short-term passions surge, they can still steer by that distant star. They’re less likely to overreact and do something stupid.
People with astute moral sentiments have an early warning system. They don’t have to think through the dangers of tit-for-tat favor-exchanges with billionaires. They have an aesthetic revulsion against people who seem icky and situations that are distasteful, which heads off a lot of trouble.
Of late Americans have gotten in the habit of casting votes that will make them feel good about themselves. They elected the first African-American president because they believed that it would show that they held to the right beliefs and that they would feel that they had purged their souls of all traces of residual racism.
Now they are seriously considering voting for Hillary Clinton because they feel that it will make them feel good about themselves. They will show the world that they have overcome all traces of residual sexism.
If they have no qualms about electing manifestly unqualified candidates to do it, so be it. Such actions show a higher level of moral virtue, a willingness to sacrifice the nation to an ideal.
And yet, when you perform an action in order to feel good about yourself you will most likely fail to consider how it will look to other people. Then you will quickly create problems for yourself.
America may feel good about itself for having elected Barack Obama to the presidency, but it should have known that in order to function as leader of the free world the American president would have to command the respect of other foreign leaders.
In Obama’s case, it has not happened. Nearly all world leaders quickly understood that the Obama presidency was amateur hour, that Obama was not even close to qualified for the job.
The same will apply to Hillary Clinton, the world’s most famous cuckquean. What is there in Clinton’s performance as secretary of state that tells us that government officials around the world will respect her leadership?
An America that might elect Hillary Clinton to the presidency will feel good about itself while the rest of the world is adjudging it as amoral, decadent and corrupt.
The surviving remnant of world leadership will pass beyond our shores.