Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Danger of The Cult of Personality

Richard M. Nixon was president when I was a senior in high school and resigned when I was a freshman in college.  He is the only president who has resigned.  It made for a very interesting era.

At 17, I was not much into politics.  I hadn't even cast my first political vote.  But, I hated this man. Absolutely. Totally.  Just despised him. If you had asked my 17 year old self who knew everything there is to know about the world, I wouldn't have been able to articulate my reasons.  The truth is, I hated him because everyone else I knew hated him and without understanding Group Think, I too, hated the guy. I grew up in Maryland which is historically Democrat in its politics and no one in Maryland liked him simply because he was a Republican!


Now as an adult, I understand that he wasn't a totally bad president.  He started the end to the Viet Nam war which should have gained him sainthood status from all of us young people. And, he was the President who began discussions and relations with China that has shaped world policy since. If I knew more about politics, I'd be able to tell you what other things he did well. But, I can't. Just like millions of other Americans who couldn't warm up to his cool, peculiar and distancing demeanor, we just hated him because.

Then along come these two beat reporters from the Washington Post who dug deep and ferreted out the story of a lifetime. Theirs is the story that brought down Nixon's White House around his ears. It's a complicated story as things like this are and too Machiavellian for me to explain in this blog. Essentially, it was all about how Nixon's senior staff and he decided to bug the Democratic National Committee headquartered in the iconic Watergate Building.

Woodstein, as they became known, caught this break of a lifetime because of their unnamed source, known far and wide as Deep Throat.  A Washington insider, this man (whose identity was a closely kept secret for over 30 years eventually revealed to be Mark Felt, the Assistant Director of the FBI,) gave them the info because Washington Elite were incensed that the Republicans would stoop so low as to break the law spying on and wiretapping the opposition party.

The resulting book of the entire affair, All The President's Men became required reading. It was all anyone talked about. And it launched thousands and thousands of students into journalism majors because of the unprecedented event and the Media's power to reveal the truth.  Bernstein and Woodward changed journalism and for a long time, we were better off because we had reporters and editors who understand that a free society must have a Media who is non-partisan and continues to day-light the truth. As a Mass Communication Major, I sat through countless hours in class discussing ethics, truth, these two reporters but with very little frame of reference to the political story. If you've never read it, maybe you should. It's thick and filled with things that I don't understand even to this day but it sure is fascinating the way watching an accident on the road is compelling!

At the start of Nixon's second term, he resigned. Seven top staffers were indicted and served jail time for their actions. Since Nixon's VP, Spiro Agnew (a Maryland Governor,) resigned prior because of fraud and tax evasion, that left Gerald Ford as the next President. Poor guy. I remember him as being nice, bumbling, and basically ineffectual. Again, I could be wrong because I was young and what did I really know? However, I clearly remember the celebratory feelings around that resignation. And just like that, a United States President became Personae Non Gratae.

Now years later, Donald J. Trump is the President. Elected despite what the best political pundits and Media reported and predicted. And, just like Nixon, he is despised by thousands and being protested at every turn. He too, is a Republican. His personality is bombastic and large. It makes him difficult to like and warm up to. He's been in office less than 100 days and daily the coverage is about what he's not done, what he's not been able to accomplish. The news is filled with political infighting, not just between the Dems and Repubs which one expects, but even within the Republican Party itself. While the Dems flat-out admit like it's a good thing, that they plan to oppose him on every thing.

How bad is it? Let me put it this way- if Trump walked on water in front of everyone, I'm afraid the media headlines would be, "Donald Trump Fails To Swim!!!"

Full disclosure, I voted for the man. For the soul purpose of not allowing Hillary Clinton to gain the seat in the Oval. Do I love the man? Not at all. Do I think he is the candidate of my lifetime? Only in how bizarre it all is that he's even the President in the first place.

But now as an adult, and a person who follows politics much closer, what concerns me is not the President so much as our reactions to this President. I am very concerned about the Cult of Personality that seems to be the driving force behind news coverage and our behavior.

Are we so shallow that we only want political leaders whose personality we like? Can the person only be considered a winner if they make us feel all warm and fuzzy? Seriously? Would you choose a surgeon that way? If I were to tell you that the only surgeon who could possibly save your life had the bedside manner of Attila The Hun, would you pass because you didn't like him? My suspicions are that you wouldn't.

So why would you hate the President because you just can't stand his personality? Why would you crow with glee when everything he and his staff attempt to do is thwarted by politics? Why would you hope that our President fail? If he fails we all fail.

Yes, he's difficult to understand and is totally unorthodox.  His communication style makes me cringe. Yes, he's a billionaire. He walks in rarefied air that most of us can't imagine. To be honest, so do most of our politicians who are, while not billionaires, certainly quite wealthy. Even President Obama who everyone loves in terms of his personality is an elite worth many millions. But, Mr. Obama has a much easier personality that's simple to like in terms of being a good family man and a loving husband and father.  Here's the thing, though, so is Mr. Trump. His children are extremely successful and well regarded. His beautiful wife is an immigrant now citizen, who was a successful model, speaks several languages, and is a fabulous mother.

Mr. Trump has many life long friends who say he is constantly supportive and loyal. So, in terms of the Cult of Personality, should we dismiss a person simply because we don't think we'd like them personally? Should that be the criterion? Or should we be making that decision based on their qualifications and accomplishments? Wouldn't those be a more accurate measure?

Interestingly enough, this story has another angle proving that everything in history comes around again. A storm is brewing; no telling where it will all end. It seems as if The Trump Presidency is in the middle of a wiretap controversy just like Nixon's. Only this time, it would be Democratic operatives who are playing fast and loose with surveillance of Trump staffers.

And, I can't help but wonder, where are the Woodwards and Bernsteins who genuinely care more about reporting the truth instead of being contemptuous of the guy who holds the office? Are they even there anymore? Maybe not, but the dangerous Cult of Personality is still very evident.

Namaste' Till Next Time,
Holly aka She Who Is Older And Hopes Wiser


Donna Hufman Warrington said...

I may stand alone but I like the guy....yes, his way of communicating and maybe it's from working in the department for so long, makes me think he should have taken a public speaking class for sure, maybe twice....but, his actions are better than his words...and I truly believe he is looking out for ME.

West Friendship is in Howard County Maryland, known for their rich farm lands but also for their million dollar homes...so, the scale is pretty balanced here in West Friendship and TRUMP signs are everywhere, it's like the elections are over but these people want to make sure everyone knows...

As for the media, they don't care what Trump does but boy....let him do something off the wall, you're hear about it. I want to hear good things, when I watch the news..therefore, I never watch the news.

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