How can the world’s leadership be so world-class hideous? And how many more wars and jackbooted atrocities before we toss the despots and incompetents out on their considerable stumps?
Judging from the clown show in Washington, D.C., the bloody authoritarians in China, Iran and elsewhere, and the Madman of Moscow, it’s not a stretch to suggest that any number of small towns in Missouri and Kansas have vastly superior leadership.
How perverse is that? How is it that the mayor of Wamego, Kansas or Kimmswick, Missouri can run rings around those on the world stage for sheer competence and humanity? In every other endeavor in life, as you rise from the local level up to national and international planes – think sports, spelling bees and entertainment – the talent usually gets better and better. The one exception seems to be politics.
The world is following the absolute dumbest lemmings of the lot over the cliff.
Things are bad enough in the United States, where Congress’ approval rating is at 18%, albeit a full 10-point improvement from 2013 – when Public Policy Polling said Congress was less popular than such things as root canals, head lice, colonoscopies, traffic jams and cockroaches. (Arnold Schwarzenegger was wrong when he claimed the list included herpes; the poll actually asked about gonorrhea, which, for the record, did indeed beat Congress in popularity.) Then there’s President Joe Biden, whose approval rating in a new Washington Post and ABC News poll is an alarming 37%. Just 29% feel America is on the right track.
With polls such as these, can it truly be said this government has the consent of the governed? Can President Biden genuinely say the state of the Union is strong?
Yet despite all that, America is an evaporating oasis of promise compared to the rest of the world. Most of the planet is under the foot of tyranny, or in danger of being visited by it like our friends in Ukraine. Just look at the United Nations, which is little more than an urbane collection of Barbary Coast sensibilities.
Why do leaders in small-town America seem so much more decent and capable?
A number of reasons, beginning with our form of government, which starts with the U.S. Constitution. (It should be our No. 1 export.) For another thing, small-town leaders have much less strife to deal with. It’s also much easier for lousy leaders to abuse people they don’t know, and in small towns you know about everyone. In addition, sharply elevated amounts of power and authority feed humanity’s darkest ambitions and urges.
Justin Dyer, political science professor at the University of Missouri, says office-seekers’ motivations differ greatly as well; you tend to get more civic-mindedness at the local level. And, as opposed to more merit-based pursuits such as sports and singing, politicians aren’t necessarily promoted for their governing skills. The primary talent that gets rewarded at the ballot box? Beating up on one’s opponent.
“I think you have that kind of a personality type – somebody who has an insatiable thirst for power and domination,” Dyer tells me. “Politics becomes their outlet for that. And they are not satisfied with being the mayor of a small town in Kansas. It’s the hard reality of human nature.”
Still, although there are orientation sessions for a lot of local and state leaders, it’s a good bet most world leaders never went to one hour’s worth of world leadership training. You get more training to run a forklift than a nation.
As Dyer notes, even after what’s recognized as the bloodiest century in history, we’d like to think we’re past this kind of medieval leadership in the 21st century, “as though somehow human nature’s changed from what it’s always been.”
Certainly there are tin-pot dictators in the smallest of burgs, big fish with serrated teeth in the smallest of ponds who, Dyer says, “just don’t have the opportunity to do it on a grander scale.” But for some reason, the cream rises to the top there more than it appears to on the world stage, where it’s needed the most.
Whatever the reasons, historically awful leadership has been the biggest blight on humanity since the dawn of civilization. Well into the 21st century, it seems little improved.
Oh, for small-town goodness.