As we approach the primaries and mid-term elections, we eagerly listen as candidates bombard us with messages of magic bullet solutions. We hear candidates define the issues, while touting how they are best qualified and capable of addressing them. They are fueled to stand in the role of heroes by constituents and reporters who ask, “What do you think our problems are? and how would YOU solve them?” Of course, those who are confident enough to run for political and administrative “leadership” positions have no problems telling us that they are not only well- but best-qualified to be our heroes. And thus, the cycle gets fed, one in which constituents want a hero, and candidates want to step into that role.
We are socialized to look for saviors and heroes outside ourselves. In his book, The Eden Project: In Search of A Magical Other, James Hollis expertly describes the phenomenon of looking outward to make our lives good and whole. The main focus of the book is of mate as savior. Yet, James Hollis also touches on the quest for a sense of completion and happiness in the perfect job, perfect organization or perfect other institution. With such socialization, it is tempting to believe the big promises made to us, by politicians who are seemingly all powerful and “successful”. At some level, I think we hope that there success will rub off on us.
Within this framework, our most current qualification for being a political or bureaucratic hero is wielding a lot of power, being wealthy, and/or being a savvy business person. In fact, one of the criteria for the viability of a candidate is their ability to self-fund, or fund through contributions, ever increasing costly political races. It was reported in the Washington Post that $2.4 billion was spent on the 2016 presidential race.
Under these conditions, it is not hard to see why a man who has no political experience, and very little knowledge of the constitution, is now serving as president of the United States of America. Nor is it difficult to understand the selection of cabinet members in the current administration. These cabinet memebers have little to no experience with the services of the agencies they have been tasked to lead. Nor, is it surprising that Austin Beutner was appointed the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, even though he has no experience as an educator. Beutner is “leading” the second largest school district in the United States. He was selected because he is deemed to be a successful business person.
As we give the responsibilities of identifying and solving our problems to politicians, and they gladly take it whether they are qualified or not, the government continues to grow in size, our debt increases, and the ability to get services comes with the price of navigating a cumbersome set of bureaucracies. This model is costly. Inflation adjusted, our federal budget nearly doubled between 1975 and 2015, while our national debt went from being 32% of our GDP to 101% of our GDP over the same time period. The government programs that are supposed to be safety nets have become difficult to navigate. Consequently, for those who can afford it, there are private consultants who specialize in helping people get the services and benefits available when catastrophe strikes. We are getting incremental bang for the buck. All this despite, or maybe because of the lofty promises made by people who we have put in hero/savior roles, and who gladly grab the opportunity to build up their egos and empires.
Many of us have heard the statement “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” By choosing politicians to be our saviors, we are going to get more of the same: an astronomical number of statutes with self-serving provisions, the growth of bureaucracies, and the inefficient use of our tax dollars. More is not better in this case.
In the next few commentaries, I will discuss some of my ideas of how to get out of this rut. In the meantime, I ask you these questions:
Is our current system one you trust to represent you? one with which you feel interested in engaging?
Do you feel like you and other American citizens are represented by the politicians and bureaucrats who are supposed to represent us and serve our best interests?
What would help you feel more engaged in and trusting of our government?
Jessica Dancingheart is a personal and organizational consultant. Find out more at www.openingtopossibilities.com.