If you are reading the news nowadays, it is easy to think that Lord Voldemort has taken over the Ministry of Magic, dementors are everywhere, Hermione Granger has been defeated, and the battle for Hogwarts is raging. The question is where is Harry Potter? In a universe of alternative facts, Hillary Clinton won the election; the British voted to stay in the EU, and Putin has been defeated by democratic forces in Russia. But this is not the case.
Unfortunately, digitalization and globalization have changed the way the world works. Global is local and local is global. We live in a world “of post-truth politics; it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire”. The truth is what we want it to be. As the last election taught us, Clinton supporters, convinced in the rightness of the liberal understanding, were blind to the growing discontent in America. Trump supporters, fed up with increasing economic and social exclusion, saw only a modern George Washington who will lead America to greatness, regardless of his personal behavior. It seems like the schism dividing the two could not be greater.
America is a crossroads, some even say on the brink of chaos, pitting two sides vehemently opposed to each other. At the center of this conflict is the newly elected president, Donald Trump and the Republican majority in Congress that has begrudgingly accepted a “President” Trump. They have an opportunity to adopt laws that will transform the economy and social order more to their understanding of the world: fewer regulations and fewer taxes, robust national security, and a scaling back of liberal social values.
The Republican hostility towards Liberalism has been building up since Bill Clinton was in office. In many ways, Obama’s achievements stem from everything that the younger Clintons did not manage to accomplish: LGBT and gender rights, healthcare reform, constructive engagement, etc. In fact, Clinton had also hoped to improve relations with Cuba, but he was thwarted by the pro-sanctions majority in Congress. The defeat of Hillary Clinton was for conservatives the apex of a war of attrition that signaled the end of the extended Clinton era and possibly the defeat of its legacy.
On the other side of the trenches, sits an uneasy coalition of liberal groups that in my opinion disagree on everything from the environment to labor rights and international policies but share one common enemy, namely Donald Trump. In fact, from what I can see, the anti-Trump coalition is a hodge-podge of leftists/socialist, centrist Democrats, Greens, and moderate Republicans who find Trump not only distasteful but a threat to American democracy.
In between these two groups are mostly Republicans and Independents who have either who have withdrawn from public commenting or have become the insider opposition. The former are well-known families and public figures who are hoping that in the aftermath of the Hurricane Don, a new consensus will emerge. There is a strong belief that the American political system is resilient enough with checks and balances to whether a Trump Presidency. It will either bring Trump to heel and tame his wild side, or it will root him out in two (next congressional election) to four (next presidential election) years sending him to the dustbin of American politics.
The latter group (e.g. Republican Senators John McCain & Lindsey Graham) have de facto accepted the new President, but they have taken a middle road approach. They will support the President on certain policies but reserve the right to be critical. This group believes that fighting from within will ensure the system of checks and balances works. If Trump continues to rule by decree, their role may become more prominent.
When Donald Trump won the election, I was in utter shock. Not only had he won Florida, but my own family voted for the guy, and I was deeply disappointed. I spent the last two months listening, reading, and reflecting on what happened, why it happened and what could be done about it. In this world where there is no Hogwarts, the reality is that there has been a growing disaffection in the US coupled with fear of the future that cuts across social, political and economic sectors.
What I have heard is that people feel poorer, overtaxed and powerless; and they resent strongly free riders. The choice for many at the bottom is between poverty and dependency; and at the top, people feel blamed for being successful. The lack of political leadership in solving problems, such as infrastructure, standard of living, affordable healthcare, and tax reform, have created a feeling that the system is corrupt, broken and only serving an insular elitist Washington.
Social conflicts have become more prominent and the epicenter of the pro- and anti-Trump camps: abortion/choice, gay marriage, gun control, and equality issues. In the world I grew up, progress was slow and the parties negotiated deals that would inch society forward or backward depending on who was in power. Alas, the political parties have lost all control of the process, discourse, and outcomes. Movements (Bernie, Trump, Women, Black Lives, Religious etc.) have taken over creating the “on the brink” scenarios.
This situation is unfortunately not going to get better soon, as we know that for any meaningful conflict management, the parties need to reach a mutually hurting stalemate and believe there is a way out.
Right now, Trump feels he can win the war against the media and the masses through executive actions, and the opposition believes that through pressure they will be able to topple him. Unfortunately, both sides are focusing more on symptoms and not the greater problem. As a result, it will continue to be a vicious cycle of actions and reactions. The only way out is for one side to realize that they have the power to withdraw from the conflict spiral in which rhetoric and counter actions escalate and relationships and trust go down. Otherwise, sooner or later they will reach what Friedrich Glasl calls “together into the Abyss”.
So this situation leaves us with several options:
- do nothing and watch the bloodbath happen;
- take sides and escalate the conflict; or
- take a middle road and seek to reduce tensions.
None of these seems satisfying. What we need to do is to create a paradigm shift away from party politics (Republican and Democrats) and think about how to transform the situation from a destructive conflict to a healthy and constructive approach. This is difficult because both sides must abandon confrontation and seeks a mixture of compromising, accommodating, and collaborating exactly at a time when there is no trust and a lack of empathetic listening.
Nevertheless, something has to give, or we will really be on the brink. Just imagine a scenario in which local police in a so-called “sanctuary city” deny federal agents access to the airport sparking another and more dangerous constitutional crisis. Are you ready to see private militias or the National Guard on the streets of San Fransisco, Baltimore, Los Angeles or New York? Here are some things that can be done if political leaders wish to climb down from the brink of chaos:
- Congress must take the lead for legislating.Obama increasingly relied on executive orders, and Trump is doing the same. It is time for Congress to begin legislating again. For this to happen, it is important to build a centrist coalition in Congress that rejects extremes on both sides. Senators and congressional leaders can build trust by creating an economic reform agenda that will garner a majority in both parties. The people need to see political leaders working together.
- Separate the people from the problem and focus on interests and not positions. Accept that Trump is the president and that no one gains from a resignation, impeachment or authoritarian rule. It is time for everyone to work towards finding a way to make his ideas, sensitive, practical and based on the rule of law. There are issues on which both sides can agree.
- Listen more empathetically to the other side. The other side is not made up of dementors and Trump is not Voldemort. They are people who breathe the same air and bleed like everyone else. They are as concerned as much as you about their future. They just see the world differently. Listen to what they have to say. Use appreciative inquiry to better understand how you can become the servant leader.
- Choose to get out of the conflict spiral. When one side or the other goes low, go high. There is no need to argue with someone you know will not listen. The best way to reject extremes is to not let extremist get to you. Step from in front of them to their side and remind them that we are all in this together. When facts do not conform to your own understanding ask the other side how they arrived at this conclusion.
- Build bridges. Agree where possible and make constructive proposal building on the other side’s suggestions. This should be not a contest, to work together we have to take the good in what others propose and build on it. Collaboration and joint outcomes only happen if everyone contributes and is ready to meet the other side in the middle.
I know that these suggestions sound airy-fairy; and pretty Kumbaya, but they work, and they work well in especially difficult situations. If you are tired of fighting, and you want to change something, try them. You have nothing to lose.
Stay safe and play fair.