Are We Voting for Leaders or Ideologues?

As I stood in an early voting line at our local library last week I was thinking about the recent report that the vast majority of Americans distrust and are disgusted with politicians, including those we will elect on Tuesday, November 6. 

As reported in the August 2018 issue of Forbes magazine, research by James Davison Hunter and his team at Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture revealed that:

  • Ninety percent — nine of ten Americans — believe that “most politicians are more interested in winning elections than in doing what is right.”
  • Over 70% believe that while the “system of government is good… the people running it are incompetent.”

In spite of that we keep voting, and hoping that those elected to office are leaders or at least become the leaders we need and for which we hope.

In The Servant as Leader, Robert Greenleaf suggested that only those individuals who are proven and trusted servants should be chosen as leaders.   While he recognized that leaders can become servants he thought it best to find leaders among those whose natural disposition is to serve the common interest.

I wondered who the people around me were voting for and why?    It was a quiet, polite line with a few friendly conversations.   No one was shouting their preferences or insulting one another even though I’m sure we were a cross-section of political parties and persuasions. 

I wondered if we were voting for the best leaders or for ideologues who view their opponents as enemies to be mocked, vowing to their supporters never to cooperate or compromise with the other side?    

Our political deadlock is driven by ideologues from both the left and right rather than by servant leaders to be found among all constituencies.    

A couple of what ifs –

What if we followed Greenleaf’s advice to seek the servants among us rather than supporting extreme partisans.    We need political debate, but when partisans become ideologues and demagogues the democracy is threatened.

What if in voting for democrats, republicans, independents – or whomever – we took the time to find and support within our groups servants who as patriots put the well-being of the country before special interests?   

That would go a long way to remove our distrust and disgust with politicians.

Is that not what our founders had in mind when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and framed the Constitution for a revolutionary democracy?

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3 Responses to Are We Voting for Leaders or Ideologues?

  1. Lois Wagner says:

    I’m not quite as cynical as the research seems to indicate most American’s are about politicians. I think many people go into politics with a sincere desire to serve the country and the world. Somewhere along the line they get corrupted with power and the various compromises deemed necessary to get and stay in office. There certainly are those that seem to take on politics as one more thing to add to their experiences of power that they have already had in their lives. So it seems that if we are to look for those with a servant heart we have to look at their history of service to their local community and to the country at large. Also, I want someone who sees our country as part of this world and that relationships with other countries are essential to our own well being. It is so hard to find those who put the common good above self interest. The ego is so fed by all the attention, both negative and positive, that it takes a pretty amazing person to rise above that (i.e. Jimmy Carter)
    We need to keep trying but it certainly is tempting to give up sometimes. I respect those who study history and believe that they can be instruments to help make this country and world a better place for everyone. We have to change some things so that it’s not only the wealthy or those supported by big money that can afford to be politicians.

  2. Bob Sloan says:

    Your “what if’s” align with my hopes and desires. Unfortunately we have a number of complicating factors in our political discourse that may prevent us from finding servant leaders. One factor is the news media. Most politicians have known for a long time that fear and anger are much more motivating than high ideals or even values. In the 2016 election a lot of people voted out of anger against the opposing party instead of voting for their own candidate. Consequently candidates spend a lot of time demonizing their opponent or demagoguing an issue (the immigrant caravan). The TV news media have found that their ratings go up if they concentrate on issues that inflame tensions or passions. We are in a spiral that benefits politicians and TV stations or radio commentators at the expense of unity and the functioning of our government. Add gerrymandering in the mix and we are unlikely to get “servant leaders” in elected positions. It takes a rare individual to put the country above their own RE-election and these individuals are few and far between.

    At some point we may reach a low point and the public will demand a servant leader and hopefully one will rise up. In the interim, term limits might help but are unlikely. Finance campaign reform might help but is also unlikely. In both instances we are asking politicians to vote against their own self interests. Therefore we vote for demagogues and are ultimately unhappy and dissatisfied with the result.

    The system as currently designed (gerrymandered primaries, TV and radio commentators that inflame passions for ratings, politicians that believe that winning is everything, unbridled money) produces exactly what it is intended to produce. Our founding fathers could not have envisioned TV, social media, so much money or gerrymandering to the extent that it has occurred). We have not done a good job of adjusting the system to accommodate the elements that now impact the outcome of elections. Only time will tell if we can adjust before it is too late.

    If we vote for demagogues then we should not be surprised that we will not like the outcome. We will not get demagogues satisfying our need and desire for leaders that represent our values or seek the common good. Demagogues do not change once they are in office.

  3. I agree, Tom. This is a distressing and turbulent time, and we are paying a heavy price for having given in to the inevitability that whoever is elected will become, at one level or another, either corrupt or so deeply ideological as to not see a way of compromise for a higher good.

    It is my conviction that part of our problem is unlimited campaign money now made available to politicians so that they become enslaved to the richest contributors who wield heavy influence over every decision and conversation our representatives have.

    The supreme court decision that was purported to protect free-speech, instead destroyed the objectivity of our representatives because of the imbalance between what the ordinary campaign contributor can give to a campaign and what the Kock brothers can give. It is going to take a constitutional amendment, in my opinion, before can every have free and fair elections again.

    I pray we can get our election system back. I fear that now it is captive to the most generous special interests.

    Thanks for your wise insights. I am praying for a good day tomorrow!

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