By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
“We sent him to Washington to represent our interest, to be our representative in Washington. We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing, or whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us.” – Chair of the Washington County, Pennsylvania Republican Party Dave Ball. Ball was one of the local Republican officials who voted to censure Pat Toomey for his “guilty” vote in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.
Just a short time ago we commemorated what could be described as our most over-looked holiday – Presidents’ Day.
This holiday was once named (and in some places is still best known as) George Washington’s birthday (which actually falls about a week later).
This holiday, for better or worse, often passes without much notice (except for the sales on mattresses and furniture).
There was a time, however, when we Americans were proud of our presidents.
Our presidents stirred us with their speeches and their visions of what we, as a nation and as individuals could, in spite of current circumstances and difficulties, become.
These presidents roused us against foes and difficulties. We prevailed against unjust kings, foreign threats and economic collapses.
They saw and articulated a vision and identity when it was still murky to most of us.
They embodied principle, courage, grit and determination, authenticity and integrity.
Even as I write these words, they feel like remnants of an ancient, long-lost era, a legendary time of chivalry and knights in shining armor.
In our political realms, we barely comprehend those lofty terms.
In politics, we are learning anew, nothing is more threatening to one’s reputation and career than honesty or standing up on principle.
We can only hope that such a trend does not spread to businesses or local agencies.
Politicians, almost by definition, live in a world of abstractions – where they make decisions and set policies that affect everyone except themselves. They, as a body, rarely need to stick to budgets or pay their bills.
They don’t speak of dollars earned, they speak of monies allotted – with more zeroes than most of us could imagine – millions, billions, trillions, it’s all the same to them.
It is no wonder that they speak so rarely on authentic principles – they barely encounter any direct human experience. From hunger to cold, to shopping for groceries to almost any human need, they live insulated from the lives most of us live.
Several years ago there was a popular business philosophy – Management by wandering around.
Promoted mostly by the business writer Tom Peters, the premise is simple – the best manager pays attention to what is going on in every corner of the business (https://cio-wiki.org/wiki/Management_by_Wandering_Around_(MBWA)#:~:).
The best manager, even CEO, was the one who brought his or her expertise to the nuts-and-bolts daily reality of the business.
Those bosses who sat in their ivory towers behind their massive desks in their corner offices all too often had no idea how their businesses were really doing.
And those once flourishing businesses, from Sears to General Electric to the Big Three automakers failed to respond to innovation or foreign competition or shifts in consumer preferences and flounder, if they even still exist.
Any lasting business, organization or even relationship is based on a dynamic relationship of guiding principle and direct, practical experience.
Without principle we are adrift. And without direct experience we become distant and disconnected from our purpose and identity.
Our guiding principles guide us through challenges and confusing times. When times get tough, our principles remind us who we are and what we stand for.
The Disney parks for example, are “The happiest place on earth” – and they mean it.
You will not hear blaring news of murders and mayhem from cable news stations, you won’t even see newspapers or magazines with gruesome headlines, you will virtually never hear a crying baby or see a piece of litter on the ground. No “bad news” is allowed.
We as a nation identify ourselves with equally grand and imposing statements of belief; “liberty and justice for all”, “Pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and many more.
What does our business, our community, even our family stand for?
On January 6th we saw an angry mob attack our nation’s Capital Buildings. They smashed down doors, broke windows, injured more than a hundred people, killed several, threatened duly elected officials and deliberately sought to disrupt a long-established political process.
What those people “stood for” was brute force and intimidation.
“Mob-rule” will never bring out the best in us, and often brings out the worst.
On the calendar we find ourselves about mid-way between a recent example of mob-rule and a historic, even religious, example of mob-rule.
You might not have thought of is this way, but what we celebrate as Easter, like the siege of January 6th, was inspired by enraged, barely coherent mobs.
The mobs back then also had murder in their hearts – and in their slogans. “Crucify him” was their cry. And they had political slogans too – “We have no king but Caesar!”
In both cases, I would guess, if a member of the crowd had been pulled aside, calmed down, and asked if what they were doing was “good” or “right”, most, I am sure, would agree that crashing down a door, beating security people or threatening to kill their political representatives was not, after all, a “good” thing to be doing.
A guiding principle, like holding a fair trial, adhering to justice, or trusting our political processes will keep us all far safer and productive, even proud of our actions and achievements.
In contrast to the quote at the beginning of this article, we do in fact elect people to stand by their consciences and to do the “right thing”.
Our most memorable politicians, from presidents to local neighborhood advocates, represent us, perhaps not who we are today, but who we, at our best, could be and are becoming.
Yes, we elect them to “represent” us, to lead us and remind us who we are and what we, at our best, not our worst, can become.
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to
succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.” – Abraham Lincoln
Our best, and most memorable presidents (and bosses) lead the way, they don’t follow the worst impulses of the crowds.
That’s precisely why we honor them.