The global crisis summed up in a single word

It has been seven months since I last posted here and most of you have probably decided I passed away, fell off the edge of the earth, or some such fate. But there has been a reason, a very simple reason.

I am going to do something a bit odd. I am going to return to a commentary I wrote here two and a half years ago in October of 2010. It was the very first post to this blog. But instead of just providing a link to that earlier commentary, I am going to present it here again and in full. Although it is dated, the election it refers to is gone and has been superseded by yet another, I can’t say that I feel any differently today than I did then, except more strongly. Two and a half years and I can add this. I am fed up. That commentary isn’t long, so before I add a few additional comments, here it is.

Two Tea Parties?
October 4, 2010

Two Tea Parties in less than three years. Who predicted that? Two, you say? Yes, I would argue that the first Tea Party was the movement that brought Barack Obama to the Presidency. To avoid confusion, let’s call the first Tea Party, the Obama Party, and consider the parallels.

  • Both can be considered “grassroots” movements.

  • Both reject the traditional leaders of a major party.

  • Both can legitimately claim to be fully “insurgent movements”, surging against not only a party establishment, but against the opposition as well and simultaneously.

  • Both offer ill-defined slogans, allowing each to be many things to many people. How does “Yes We Can!” differ from “I Want My Country Back!” in substance? Yes we can…what? And what do you mean by “my country”?

  • Both began with a tabula rasa on which their supporters could write what they like, while avoiding their internal differences prior to holding power.

  • Both demonize their opposition and canonize themselves.

There are differences. The Obama Party is focused on a single personality. Sarah Palin may aspire to the same position with the Tea Party, but she still has much more to accomplish before she can claim that. And of course, the Obama Party won real power, not just some party primaries, while the Tea Party awaits the November results. The Obama Party’s tabula rasa has now been written on, indelibly, while the Tea Party’s remains covered with the chalk scrawls of millions.

There is one remaining major difference. The Obama Party won power, but lost its way. Disappointment and confusion have replaced inspiration and a call to action. Will the same occur should the Tea Party and its supporters feel they have won in November, only to feel they have lost their way a few months later?

It is no surprise that during a time of national crisis, an insurgency challenges incumbency. But I suggest the Obama Party is not yet truly an incumbent party, but rather a failed insurgency. In effect, a new insurgency faces a failed insurgency and should it fail as well, what do we have left?

At times of great financial distress threatening the futures of tens of millions of Americans, great leaders have risen. You know that Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were great leaders because both could claim majority support of the public when they needed it, despite a minority that saw each as a grave danger to the republic. With the circumstances they both faced, damaging deflation for Roosevelt and damaging inflation for Reagan, both may have been extremely controversial figures, but no one could deny that both led. You did not have to ask “Who’s in charge?” It was obvious who was in charge. Love him or hate him, he was a leader.

The greatest potential threat facing this United States today is not poor leadership, but no leadership. No one is in charge. We deserve better than that.

32 months later, here I sit, fed up and disgusted. There is only one small, mean, pathetic “comfort” left. It is worse in Europe. I read today of riots in Sweden. Riots in Sweden?! That is beyond “sad”. I don’t have a good word for it, just bad ones that I will keep to myself. In any case, that is no excuse for the United States of America. But it does help me explain my point today.

I have spent 46 years of my adult life (I am 68) working in one sector of economic development or another in nations all over this earth, sometimes living in them for extended periods of time as I do now. In decades past, the US was in the center ring of the human circus. Sometimes it was amazing, sometimes it was not, but most of the time there was no doubt in my mind that it was the class act, the center of envy and attention for good reason. Today, it it is in a smaller ring, off to one side, seemingly intent on ending up as a sorry excuse for a sideshow outside the Big Tent.

I do not care if you call yourself a Republican, a Democrat, a liberal, a conservative, a Tea Party supporter, a libertarian or whatever other category suits you today. I am as much an Independent as I can be. And I have given up trying to understand which of a dozen versions of “liberal” or “conservative” is worth supporting, none of them are sufficiently convincing, so I have no choice but to be a “moderate”, despite the difficulty of defining that term. Above all those insufficient labels, I stick to the one that is the most important. I am an American.

For decades, I sat on the “American” side of the table in nations in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia and worked with people of every religion, ideology, and sensibility to help them understand the global system that America had done so much to create. I worked in many disciplines from agriculture to to nutrition and public health to business development and more. In those days, you had to be a “Jack of all trades” to deal with the multiple problems these “developing nations” faced as they struggled to adapt. I stressed two fundamental concepts – financial responsibility and managerial competency. That is what I represented. Many of these nations are now referred to as “emerging markets” and “frontier markets”. They caught on. They adapted. They are the centers of growth today.

Now I sit on the other side of the table in just one of the many frontier markets. I am an American citizen and have every intention of remaining one, but Panama is where I call “home” today and happily so. Now I look across the table and what I have seen for the nearly six years since the term, “sub-prime” (aka, “high risk”), hit the global headlines? I see financial irresponsibility followed by managerial incompetency.

This may upset you, but you can only imagine how much it upsets me. I am so happy to see some of the nations where I once worked make substantial, year on year, progress. If I had some tiny part (and it would be tiny, I harbor no illusions) in their progress, than it brings me satisfaction. Through good times and bad, I had faith they would rise up economically, socially, and politically, and they have. But it never occurred to me through all those decades that both sides of the North Atlantic would go to such great lengths to tear up the very rule book they wrote and bring themselves down.

I will pull back now from focusing on the US and include all of the North Atlantic, both sides of the Big Pond. I have no time to demonize. I will leave that up to the screamers and shouters up north. I have worked in nations with real dictators, both civilian and military, as well as one-party nations that hid their authoritarianism behind a distorted image of democracy. Much as some in the north may disagree, I assure you that the men and women elected to lead nations on both sides of the North Atlantic today are nowhere near as bad as they could be.

But they are also nowhere near as good as they should be, given the gravity of the global situation that seems only to become ever more grave and ever more threatening to themselves and everyone else on the planet each week, each month, year after year after year.

No, they are not as bad as they could be nor as good as they certainly should be as leaders. They represent something in-between. They represent mediocrity.

So there you have it, the global crisis summed up in a single word. These “leaders” do not deserve to be called the best or the worst, just plain mediocre will do. Really awful leadership can kill a nation’s future like a gun to the head. Mediocrity kills by slow, agonizing strangulation.

Will this be followed by more at Future Brief? I make no promises. I am not sure anyone is listening anyhow, but I do feel a responsibility to add more than just criticism. Time will tell.

For the moment, I will end this commentary as I ended my very first at Future Brief. although it now truly qualifies as understatement.

We deserve better than that.


I write when time and spirit allow. If you wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no use for email addresses. I already have too many in my “address book”. Rest assured, yours will be kept private.

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