Friday, October 28

Civility Lost: Leaders Behaving Badly

2016 has most certainly been the year of outrage. Every time I listen to or try to read the news, I'm slapped in the face by someone's outrage over something. Yes, there has been plenty in the world about which to be outraged. And legitimately so. But now outrage seems to be the kneejerk emotion. It's as though no one bothers to listen or bothers to think through anything. It's as though everyone simply responds through outrage.

Because no one bothers to listen but simply gears up the outrage machine, no one could possibly think through a response. Everything, and I do mean everything seems to be at a heightened emotional response.

Last night I read that some are threatening a revolution if Hillary Clinton is elected president. I read last night and again this morning that the GOP is already threatening lawsuits if Hillary Clinton becomes president--Republicans: No Honeymoon if Clinton Wins. Nice. So mature. So civil. Such a wonderfully grown-up response.

And we wonder why our kids behave the way they do?

We wonder why our kids have such a sense of entitlement? We wonder why our kids expect to get their ways if they pout, scream, kick, and punch enough? Really? We wonder that?

It does not help that so many of the media insist on poking the outrage machine.

It does not help that adults who should be smarter than that take the bait and allow themselves to be outraged, which provides additional fodder for the speculators, which provides additional "reason" for outrage.

Republican Representative Jason Chaffez of Utah said this:
It's a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we've got two years' worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain't good.
Really? How grown-up. How delightfully civil and mature. How revolting.

So please don't be surprised when your children respond in like manner.

Please don't be surprised when children or young adults (or anyone) watching anyone on either side of the political aisle OR the media starts talking and behaving like this.

Please don't be surprised when kids start having fist fights over the most ridiculous of things because they will no longer be able to identify what's really important from anything else that sparks outrage. Why fist fights? Because they can hear and feel the violence in the words. Because they can see and feel the violence in the facial expressions and the body language.

Because they easily interpret all of this appalling behavior by Democrats and Republicans and media of all channels and political stripes and types to mean this: "If I don't get my way, all bets are off and I can behave any way I want until I get my way."

Am I outraged? Yes. But mostly I'm so very sad that this is what we've become. And I weep for what has become of my country and its "leadership."

Wednesday, October 26

Election 2016 Reflection

I’ve thinking a lot about this election because, quite frankly, it’s hard not to. We have what might be the most exhausting, revolting, terrifying, and yet fascinating election ever. What intrigues me is the nature of the rhetoric in this election, how so many seem to be voting against one candidate rather than for another, and how very many simply will not vote for Hillary Clinton. Period. Even if their choice is Donald Trump who is, in my opinion, a narcissistic, egomaniacal bully who rarely thinks before he speaks. But lets talk about gender.

Early on some were excited because the United States finally had a woman candidate for president. We learned or were reminded about how very far behind we are when it comes to women in leadership. And that’s leadership period. Not just corporate or political leadership, but any leadership.

In 1968, Virginia Slims launched an ad campaign with the tag line “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Maybe not so far after all.

So I've been thinking a lot about responses to Hillary Clinton because so many of the criticisms have been leveled at her simply because she's a woman. I should also say that I'm not a Democrat; I am a moderate Republican with some distinct anti-Democrat leanings.

However, in thinking about the anti-Hillary rhetoric, I did some research. I wanted to get some more information on the women’s movement even though I’ve lived it. I remember being told by a man that I would never be more than a secretary, which was a catalyst to prove him wrong. I remember being told by a man that certain work was too hard for me because I was a girl and girls don’t “think that way.” He didn’t say that to the female Purdue grad, and I’ve some speculation about that.

For all the progress we’ve made, why haven’t we made better progress?

We have long talked about the wage gap between men and women. We could also talk about the gap between genders for leave when a family has a child, adoptive or birth. Why do women get more time than men? If we claim to value a father’s time with his children, why do we make it hard for men to have paternity leave? Because it’s not manly? Because that’s women’s work? Because we haven’t really thought about it and don’t have a good reason but it’s a social kneejerk response?

In a March 2016 report, the United States is not the worst offender for wage gap, but we certainly aren’t very good at setting any examples for forward-thinking.

We have to stop with all of the “women are wired differently” claims. Yes, some women are wired differently and those are the women who do not aspire to the C-suite. And some men are wired differently and don’t have to be the leader of the pack or who truly partner with their partners when it comes to the care of their families and their homes.

When I read and hear about the evangelicals sputtering about biblical references of men and women I want to scream. Far too often they are selective about their verses and particular about the way they choose to present their viewpoints. I get that. We all select information, facts, and data that support our positions. That’s human nature. But genuine and kind people are also willing to listen to the other side and be honest that their interpretation may be skewed. Ugh. Too much to try to say here about how awful we are at being kind and honest, about listening well, about being willing to hear the other side, about being willing to step away without outrage when no agreement can be found. But I digress. . .because it’s hard not to.

Just as the evangelicals are selective and protective, so is every other agency. They want to present and represent only their sides of the story and everyone else be damned.

So this woman thing. CNN showed us all the countries that had women leaders long before the United States. In the 1960s there was Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir. Isabel Peron and Margaret Thatcher among the women leaders in the 1970s. There are some interesting observations one could make about some of these women and their leadership. I wade into this recognizing my treatment will be in no way complete and in no way represent the myriad viewpoints of any of these individuals, but I’ll leave you a trail to do follow-up research, if you’re so inclined. But, as is often the case with this sort of endeavor, I have an agenda.

My questions are these: 1) If Hillary Clinton had not been married to Bill Clinton but had similar professional political experience (minus the First Lady bit, of course), would response to her be different? 2) If Hillary Clinton had dumped Bill when the scandal of Monica Lewinsky and others broke, would response to her be different?

I heard two women talking today about the election. One woman said she was worried about Bill Clinton being in the White House again though they agreed that Hillary is the smarter of the two and they figured that Hillary has likely threatened him if he messes up her presidency. I chuckled because I've said the same thing. My theory, by the way, is that she stayed with him during the Monica Lewinsky scandal because she a) is smarter than Bill and b) knew she'd be able to use that for leverage because c) she's always been ambitious. However, they both said they were finding it hard to stomach voting for either candidate, which is what I've heard others say and post.

I also have to wonder if people actually look (read and/or listen) beyond the outrage rhetoric. Benghazi has become a trope even though many have shown time and time and time again that the outcome probably would not have been different and, oh, by the way, it’s not as though Benghazi is the first instance that U.S. embassy personnel have been attacked and killed. I don't mean to sound flip because any U.S. casualty is a reason to mourn, but there are some who seem to think that no other bad decisions have been made with regard to U.S. personnel overseas. Vietnam anyone?

CNN, a news outlet that manages to retain the occasional sense of objectivity, reported on this in March 2015. Politifact, a Pulitzer Prize winning news outlet, reported on U.S. embassy andconsulate deaths prior to Benghazi. The report isn’t just about the deaths, but about the way such attacks are handled and investigated, or not.

Would Benghazi have been handled differently had someone else been Secretary of State at the time? Would the investigation and the howling by the Republicans have been more muted, just different, or even non-existent had John Kerry been Secretary of State when the Benghazi attack occurred? And let's also recall that the 114th Congress (January 3, 2015 to January 3, 2017) is controlled by the Republicans and has the largest Republican majority since the 71st Congress (1929-1931). There is, according to the Congressional Research Service (I kid you not), the most women in Congress in history.

Back to Benghazi. In doing more research into what happened or what we think might have happened in Benghazi, I found a report by an organization trying to be objective in fact checking. Their research led them to sift through a number of reports by a number of sources to try to get to something more concrete. I hesitate to call it “truth” or “objective truth” because I’m not sure I know what those are any more. I’m not sure any of us can handle the real truth so we have to find our own and that just leads to chaos and outrage. I digress, again. Back to Benghazi.

So the group appropriately called published this on July 1, 2016; it was updated from the original report on June 30, 2016. The fog of war. It’s a new concept for me. Is it plausible? Well, I want to say no but I’ve never been the Secretary of State trying field calls from who knows how many people to try to get specific, actionable, and actual information rather than CYA-information from people who might have screwed up and are trying to stay clear of the mud-slinging. I’ve never been any sort of political administrator getting information from several sources, some of which are trustworthy and some of which are not for various reasons, and then trying to sift through reports from other governments as well as whatever spin/damage control or bs shields they’re putting up so those governments don’t look like they have any fault in whatever it is that just happened.

And then there is the actual report by the Select Committee on Benghazi. At the outset of the 800-page report, which the average American is not even going to think about trying to read, Chairman Trey Gowdy writes "Now, I simply ask the American people to read this report for themselves, look at the evidence we have collected, and reach their own conclusions. You can read this report in less time than our fellow citizens were taking fire and fighting for their lives on the rooftops and in the streets of Benghazi."

Please note he asks people to read the report, review the collected evidence, and draw their own conclusions. Now, if a student of mine gave me a researched report that was supposed to provide insight into a posed question or point and let me to draw my own conclusion, that student would be very unhappy with the final grade. In fact, I might be tempted to flunk that student.

However, in reading just the first parts of the information provided to and by the Select Committee, it seems evident there was failure at many levels by many people. It seems to me the military screwed up big time just based on these three bullet points never mind the text that support them:
  • The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff typically would have participated in the White House meeting, but did not attend because he went home to host a dinner party for foreign dignitaries. [pg. 107]
  • A Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) sat on a plane in Rota, Spain, for three hours, and changed in and out of their uniforms four times. [pg. 154]
  • None of the relevant military forces met their required deployment timelines. [pg. 150]
What. The. Heck.

Then it occurred to me to wonder about the actual job description of the Secretary of State. I’m familiar with Henry Kissinger and Madeline Albright traipsing around the world meeting with diplomats and heads of state and countries. Kissinger made “shuttle diplomacy” a thing. I found the job description for the Secretary of State of the United States and noticed this: “Ensures the protection of the U.S. Government to American citizens, property, and interests in foreign countries.” That’s a big statement and could be interpreted in a lot of ways.

Digging deeper I learned there is an Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights who has seven interesting bureaus “reporting to the Under Secretary to advance the security of the American people by assisting countries around the world to build more democratic, secure, stable, and just societies.” As I read some of the information about and reports by the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, I started to wonder how many people are involved in the process of reporting all that is or might be going in 50 to 60 countries in the world at any given time. And then I wondered how many of those people really work for us, how many of those people we pay for information, how many of those people risk their lives to give us information, and how many of those people we can really trust but whom we have to hope we can trust because American lives depend on it. Maybe I watch too many movies and read too many books.

Where does that leave me on Benghazi? The administration, led by the president, made some bad choices about how to convey information. HOWEVER, if they were trying to present this in a light other than a terrorist attack—on September 11, 2012—there might have been a good reason for it. Or maybe the spin doctors were spending so much time spinning they just couldn’t or didn’t tell the truth. Too many people too bloody concerned about optics. Is Hillary Clinton to blame? No. Could she have made different decisions? Yes, of course. So could they all including the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or any those folks who are or should be the actual boots on the ground.

People also rip her to shreds over the Clinton Foundation. Um, can we talk about the conservative Supreme Court and its decision to muck around with campaign finance non-reform? Can we just for a moment make note that the conservative Supreme Court opened the flood gates for organizations to fund political campaigns in embarrassingly grandiose ways. And can we talk about lobbyists who are paid gazillions of dollars to represent organizations that contribute still more gazillions of campaign dollars? You’re worried about corruption by the Clinton Foundation? Small potatoes, people. If you’re not familiar with the revolting practice of lobbyists, you can check out the Brief History of Lobbying. And if you want to know more about lobbyists and how they work for corporations, you should read “How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy” or “When Lobbying Was Illegal.”

Am I saying that the Clinton Foundation is completely aboveboard? No, I’m not and I doubt it is. I doubt any such agency is completely pristine in its dealings. I’m quite confident that there are people in every such charitable foundation who are tasked to find loopholes or who find loopholes or who find ways to skirt the law.

I am saying that if you level charges against the Clinton Foundation or voice adamant outrage against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Benghazi, you had better be willing to speak the same way about other organizations and individuals who have done as much or worse, Democrat and Republican.

Now back to those women leaders. As we look at the posted biographies, it appears that most of their opposition came not from their gender but from their policies. Makes sense. But we also know that part of the reason Gandhi, Peron, and Bhutto were relatively attractive to their people is because of their family history. There are people who believe that if this one thing acted and believed in this way, then this related thing might also act and believe in the same way.

I’m not going to do a close analysis of each of those women—at least not now and not for this post—because I don’t think it matters. Even if we looked at today’s women leaders we might see little similarity between them and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and certainly very little if we looked only at the size of their countries and the complexity of issues they each face.

So after all of this and other stuff I’ve not included (you’re welcome), I’ve concluded that my gut is on the right track. Far too much of the anger, angst, and antagonism leveled at Hillary Clinton is because she’s a Clinton. I’d be willing to bet there are some would might say they’d vote for a woman, even a Democrat, just not that woman.

I vaguely remember all of the brouhaha with Whitewater and the years of investigations. And how much money it cost American taxpayers. There are those who refer to Whitewater as evidence that Hillary Clinton is a “congenital liar,” something she is called during the Whitewater investigations. Is there evidence of bad judgment? Yes. Do we expect more of our president and the first lady? Of course. Should we? Maybe. They are, after all, people and buffeted by more than we can imagine. But it’s not as though the Clintons are the first First Couple to demonstrate bad judgment and bad behavior before, during, and after their stints in the White House.

At the end of the day people will vote for whichever candidate for whatever reasons. I am saddened by the number of #NeverHillary people who are in that camp simply because she’s Hillary Clinton and who may have no other reason for that decision, or not one they can easily articulate. I think there are far too many in the anti-Hillary camp because they haven’t forgiven her for not dumping Bill during his impeachment hearings, or who hated Bill Clinton and don’t want him even close to the White House. They seem to forget he’s not running for president, she is. And if they think Bill Clinton is going to get to have the kind of input the First Lady’s seem to have had for their husbands, get real. You’ve seen Hillary Clinton in action, haven’t you?

Regardless of one's position, this election has been informative in ways we could not and can not predict. We will all think differently about what it means to be a leader, what the Republicans and even the Democrats stand for, how outrage--real or otherwise--has shaped how we think and how comfortable we feel about sharing what we think. The election is shaping what we believe made or makes America great. The rhetoric, the anger, the ugliness of far too many people and the kinds of things they have said shed light on what we believe to be true about a democracy, about how willing we are to be vile to one another and how hard it has become to be kind.

Whoever wins the White House has a daunting task to try to begin to build bridges, lots of bridges. The Republican Party, regardless of the results of the election, has got to figure out what it stands for and who it represents. . .and I'm hoping it's more than wealthy, old, white men.

As for the rest of us? You know, so much of what happens in Washington, D.C. is really foreign to us. We shouldn't be surprised that the demagogues behave the way they do when we keep electing and re-electing those who seem to cater to our particular self-interest and we shouldn't be shocked or outraged when their positions change to cater to the most recent political expediency. And yet far too many are surprised by that, which perplexes me. Are we that naive? that foolish?

Even so, what happens in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, and in our communities is something we can help manage and control. Regardless of how we choose to vote, my hope is that somehow we can begin to find our ways back to kindness, civility, and mutual respect. My fear is that is longest shot of all.