Adaptation by me. Images chosen by me.
TO SIMPLIFY, to be simple and even shallow is a great strength-to win elections- and a great weakness -to govern- of political characters like the Presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and the United States of America.
Winning elections is easier than governing, ask Mexico’s 55th and 57th Presidents, the governors of Veracruz and Morelos, and even Lopez Obrador himself. An election is a single event that ends with a simple result: Whoever gets more votes wins.
Governing is different. It’s a permanent responsibility with multiple, and complex implications.
No human group is easy to govern, not a family, not a classroom, not a corporation, not a neighborhood, not even a county. Now imagine a nation!
Let’s write it a thousand times on a blackboard: governing is not easy, governing is not easy, governing is not easy...
The difficulty of governing has been scandalously uncovered by the failed response of new simplifying leaders to the COVID-19 crisis. This incompetence will cause thousands of deaths and millions of jobs lost atop the inevitable ones. Truly, a tragedy.
The United States is the country with the most deaths in the world already, Brazil is the worst performer in Latin America and nothing could suggest Mexico will be an exemplar country either.
Simplifiers stick out for being untrustworthy at the helm as we travel through the worst global storm we’ve ever lived through.
The leadership styles of simplifiers have many traits in common.
They’ll always choose the “easy” path and the “easy” exit. (They said “everything that’s wrong will be fixed once we drain the swamp”, it was something like that?)
They nourish magical thoughts -ideological, religious, or idiosyncratic-as they combat factal and scientific evidence.
They try to place themselves atop and claim their superiority. They are not -not intellectually, not morally, not “in virility”- but they act as if they are.
They wield that their electoral triumph invalidates any challenge to their administration. All criticism is disqualified, underappreciated, and labeled as illegitimate for harboring supposed hidden interests.
They detest and waste collective intelligence. They don’t think two minds think more than one. Only theirs matters.
They love the power of their will. They attribute their success to their capacity to squash dissent, as opposed to compromising.
They don’t accept responsibility. They’re masters in the art of blaming others, distracting, and deflecting attention. It’s always someone’s fault. Finding culprits, and pointing fingers are day-to-day activities.
They don’t understand- and aren’t eager to understand- complex problems: The economy, global warming, oil markets, the characteristics of a pandemic.
They don’t study topics, they don’t do desk work, they speak little, and with disinterest, to their councilors.
Their intuition drives them: reflexes and preconceived notions. Their constituent’s luck depends on the degrees of error of their intuitions.
They’re blind to changes in context, they never see change, but mostly they don’t want to see it. It’s a self-induced blindness
If reality doesn’t coincide with their points of view, then reality is harmed. They think their beliefs are more valuable than evidence. They always shield behind “otros datos” or “alternative facts.”
Despite intuitively understanding the feelings of their electorate, real people with names and faces don’t matter to them. If you scratch past the surface it takes very little to see their lack of empathy. Nothing is more valuable than their own image.
They listen to too little and speak too much. They don’t dialogue; they monologue. They don’t debate, they assign nicknames, make bumper stickers, and catchphrases. They entertain or irritate.
Dominating the media and placing their narrative is their strength. When they focus on it they neglect the administrative roles in government. Their main objective is managing public opinion, to the abandonment of public policies.
They focus exclusively on administrating their narrative. Other than that they can’t even brew coffee. Their main indicator of success is their approval rating, as opposed to any practical results of their administration.
Protecting their narrative is their first instinct, and they don’t mind hiding or twisting reality, and even straight-up lying. Their first reaction is to hide information, hoping the problem will disappear, a false escape; the problem in reality grows and becomes putrid.
The complexity of institutionally counterbalanced government -their very own cabinet secretaries, legislators, judges, and decentralized agencies- is a pain in the ass to them. Their focus lies on upending the complexity, be it through debilitation, annulation, or participation in the balanced branches of government.
They keep loyal (honest?) characters nearby, as opposed to competent ones with an uncomfortable independent voice. Save for limited exceptions - which keep their governments afloat- they surround themselves with rubberstamping collaborators. The more the better, in the end, they offer little but offer much-needed symbolism (Trump’s generals, Bolsanaro’s Captains, and Obrador’s historic last names).
To survive them, solutions will be complex. We won’t move on with idioms and fantasies but with science, experience, administration, statistics, clinical treatments, mass testing, organization, coordination, dialogue, implementation, negotiation, finance, creativity, and innovation. All together and amongst ourselves.
Social life is much more complex than the coarse simplification tormenting us morning after morning*, and night after night. In times like these, accepting and embracing complexity is literally a matter of life and death.
All of the characteristics of the simplifier’s leadership style, which have come to all of us precisely at COVID-19´s complicated crossroad, will be reflected through the pain, suffering, anguish, frustration, and mourning we’ll suffer. These are the realities that matter, not those reflected in the approval ratings. These will be the casualties of the terrible failure of the simplifiers.
Guido Lara is the founder of LEXIA, a marketing consulting group. In the past, he participated in presidential campaigns and designed public policy. He studied communications in Mexico’s Universidad Iberoamericana and later obtained a doctorate in the theory of communication and methods of social researching by Madrid’s Complutense University.
OP-ED writer for Animal politico
*: This could be a reference to Obrador’s daily press briefings at 7AM called Mañaneras.