We are living in an age where diplomacy is becoming a dying art and politicians believe that being overly aggressive and confrontational is evidence of being a strong leader. Gone are the days when politicians, at least outwardly, cared about their reputation for keeping calm during the storm and maintaining the dignity of the office which they hold. Today, politicians are dismissive and, in many cases, downright rude.
Making derogatory comments about a political opponent is par for the course. Calling people “dumb”, “idiots” and a host of other insults are no longer deemed to be too low for a politician to stoop. Diplomacy has made way for name calling, vulgarity and bullying.
Losing one’s cool and going on the attack has suddenly become, in the politicians’ minds, good character traits. How did we reach this far? Who wants to be led into battle with a thin-skinned commander that cannot keep his or her cool under pressure? In the world of sports, these types of people are considered weak and vulnerable to trash talking and all sorts of mind games. We wouldn’t want these types of players on our team, let alone, to hold the position of captain.
In the United States of America, President Donald Trump is well known for his tasteless tweets and crass jokes which he uses to belittle his opponents. His defenders say that he is just a tough businessman that is ‘fighting fire with fire’ but as one person retorted, in most cases you fight fire with water.
Informative debates on issues of importance are no longer necessary when you can just hurl insults at your opponents and dismiss critics as ‘cry babies’ with a ‘political agenda’. We would like to call it a phenomenon but that give it a feeling of being unique and temporary. From our perspective, this vitriol is the new norm. Politicians seem to like the freedom of flipping the middle finger to anyone who disagrees with them as their kool-aid drinking fans cheer from the side-lines.
About a year ago, during the Democratic National Convention (DNC), the then First Lady of the United States, attempted to buck the trend and sought to swing the spotlight toward the traditions of diplomacy in the face of nastiness. In a now famous speech, which many refer to as the highlight of the DNC, Michelle Obama talked about the lessons she and President Obama tries to instil in their daughters in the face of all the badmindedness. She posited, “How we urge them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that this hateful language they hear form public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is: when they go low, we go high.
“With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We, as parents, are the most important role models. And let me tell you, Barack and I take that same approach to our jobs as President and First Lady, because we know that our words and actions matter. Not just to our girls, but to children all across this country. Kids who tell us, ‘I saw you on TV. I wrote a report on you for school.’
“Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope, and he wondered: is my hair like yours? And make no mistake about it, this November when we go to the polls: that is what we’re deciding. Not Democrat or Republican, not left or right. No, in this election and every election, is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives.”
Many people have openly wondered if there would have been a different outcome at the DNC and the election if Michelle Obama had been a presidential candidate. We will not speculate on that but if the reaction to her speech was a gauge then she definitely wold have had some momentum in that race.
The ‘take the high’ road may seem like a cliché but it is extremely important in the world of diplomacy. A world that includes our bit of paradise – Antigua & Barbuda. We cannot expect to lift our society to that of “economic powerhouse” if everyone is slinging mud in the gutters. Who will lead us on the high road to achieve that lofty goal if everyone is preoccupied with going low?
The overall message of Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” speech is applicable everywhere, including here at home. The call for invoking and preserving diplomacy and taking the high road is searing and compelling. That said, the real power of the speech is in her reference to the children and the future. Like it or not, our politicians are role models and children are sponges. We must therefore ask ourselves, is this the type of behaviour that we want our children to admire and absorb?
If anyone is interested in our opinion, we vote no! No to bullying. No to nastiness. And yes to diplomacy.