For more than 200 years, the United States has been considered one of the greatest countries on earth by any number of measurements. This has been accomplished by having great leadership during that time.
However, in 2016, national polls report that roughly two-thirds (66 percent) do not trust or believe in either of the major candidates in the presidential election.
In Stockton, the two finalists for mayor — while serving on the Stockton City Council — have each been arrested. For one it seems to be an isolated incident. For the other, it is more confirmation of his character.
In the past, we elected leaders who demonstrated a certain moral character. When we elected them to office, there was a common belief that we were electing trustworthy and honest people who may or may not have the competency to do good job. But we expected they would do their best to serve the people.
We elected people who from the outside seemed to be strong leaders with good ethics and a track record of making good decisions. Happy marriage? Check. Plays well with others? Check. Respectful? Check. No skeletons leaping out of the closet? Check. Never convicted of a felony? Check.
Of course, we have some people who get elected and later, things surface that voters were unaware of when they cast their votes. Sometimes elected officials make bad decisions that end with a limo full of intoxicated people that is pulled over by the CHP.
In the past, we have elected politicians but were later disappointed because they had character flaws that kept them from being effective.
Today we are electing politicians knowing their faults (some criminal) and hoping that they will become something more than who they are currently. It is as if we are hoping that by electing them, all of their flaws will go away, and they will be the politician we feel we deserve.
Yes, many folks elected may not live up to our high expectations as elected officials, but in the past, we didn’t have all the red flags that we have today. Why are we electing (or re-electing) people with so many red flags? Are we that desperate?
Why are trust and respect so important? In our democracy, every elected official has a limited amount of power. The more they can build trust and relationships, the greater power they have and the more they can potentially accomplish.
In practice, this means it is critical for the mayor of Stockton to have the trust and support of most of the other council members — four out of the seven in this case. If a mayor or president alienates him or herself from the others who make up their authority, they become ineffective. That which usually leads to them blaming others.
Saying or doing certain things used to be the kiss of death in an election. How many things has Donald Trump said in this election that would have eliminated others running for office? An FBI investigation of Secretary of State Clinton for using a private server for sensitive official emails, some labeled “top secret,” would typically have a crippling effect on a campaign.
Recently, the mayor of Stockton was arrested. Many would think that would slam the door on his political career. Not so fast. In 1990, Marion Barry, then-mayor of Washington, D.C., was seen in a videotape smoking crack cocaine. He served six months in jail. After his release, he was re-elected to serve another four years as mayor. Elected officials being convicted of crimes is so prevalent that even Wikipedia has a section on federal politicians who were convicted of crimes.
This raises one very important final question: if George Washington had been caught playing strip poker with Betsy Ross’s daughter, would he had been our first president?
The American public likes to complain about all the problems we face as a nation, state and city. But remember, we elect the leaders who are supposed to fix problems, and if they don’t, we need to look in the mirror. If we are supporting a candidate who is constantly under scrutiny, we need to take a closer look. Sometimes there is so much smoke that we can’t see the fire, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
We get the elected officials we deserve.
Peter Johnson is the director of the Westgate Center for Leadership Development and the Institute for Family Business in the Eberhardt School of Business at the University of the Pacific. He welcomes your feedback at peterjoh[email protected].