There are many excellent reasons why we hold those in leadership roles to even higher standards than we already want and expect from everyone else
The balance between pragmatism and emotion is dynamic. They are inextricably linked, usually inversely, but not necessarily proportionally. It depends on the issue, problem or concern being addressed. When these are informational and data-driven, it’s more intellectual than emotional. But…there are circumstances when the emotional component is equal or even greater, and there are pragmatic reasons for this. I am specifically thinking of human nature and how we assess and react to its many aspects — personality, character, integrity, empathy, respect, temperament and so on.
For me, personally, I start out assuming the best regarding each of these interlinked qualities within individuals, whether I know these individuals personally or only know of them. As I perceive and discover variances, I eventually arrive at overall judgements about them. With personal relationships of varying kinds, what I know depends on time and circumstances. Others, such as those in politics, entertainment, journalism and business, are not direct and therefore my assumptions are only what I accumulate from reading publications of integrity — New York Times, The Guardian and The Economist — and interviews/profiles on television.
To me, the most unique category is politics. The reasons for this are found in the very nature of the endeavor. Candidates and those elected strive to be liked and popular, but simultaneously are engaged in a profession of dubious distinctions. Judging the attributes noted above is made difficult by aspects of being political — intellectual dishonesty, obfuscation, misinformation/disinformation, fact-free simplification of complexity, ideological nonsense. It takes time to perceive their character, values and personality, which may attract supporters but may also do the opposite.
Which brings us to the new president elect of our country. I’ll be blunt. I have never had less respect — as in absolutely none — for any president elect as I do for this one. His character, behavior and values are antithetical to what I (and most of us) strive to achieve as individuals and as a society. What can parents say to their children about how they behave and how they speak about others when the president is the worst example in public view. A leader who is a terrible human being making terrible choices with terrible consequences represents societal failure politically. What were so many voters thinking — those who voted for him, those who voted for unintelligent third-party candidates and almost half of eligible voters who simply didn’t vote?
I get that those who voted for him are simply ignorant regarding the complex issues they’re so angry about, believing his dishonest assertions and accepting his equally dishonest “solutions.” And I assume they decided his highly flawed humanity didn’t matter or it feels much like their own and thus is familiar. For the rest of us — shock, dismay and horror are the appropriate and unavoidable reactions to his election. There’s no reason to believe there will be good outcomes in the coming four years. Those who say to just give him a chance are betting on something that contradicts his obvious and well-documented shortcomings as an individual, which were brazenly exhibited during the primaries and campaign, and well known to those who are inexplicably fans of his “reality” television shows.
There are many excellent reasons why we hold those in leadership roles to even higher standards than we already want and expect from everyone else. Those who lead set the example for excellence in demeanor, temperament, intelligence, wisdom and respect for others. We want good character and strength but also compassion and empathy. We expect self-confidence, but do not want narcissism, egocentrism, self-obsession. Thoughtful communication, insightful observations and intellectual honesty are highly regarded, whereas bragging, hyperbole and unkindness are not. We want leaders to be inclusive, generous and caring.
Low expectations are justified when we perceive the true character of someone and it fails to meet reasonable standards, let alone truly high ones. There are many pragmatic reasons to want excellence, and when not met they have emotional consequences. Those who are not sleeping well, anxious and even depressed have good reason for these, but we don’t want to miss the important lesson in circumstances such as these. Instead of running away, physically or mentally, we must step up and become the unavoidable voices of a majority demanding moderation, fairness and inclusion. From climate change to civil rights for all regardless of gender or heritage, we need to push back, so even a president as deplorable as this one gets the message. It’s the only pragmatic, and emotionally satisfying, thing to do.