Democratic societies aren’t new. They’ve been around for centuries, fading in and out of fashion and favour across the globe. They vary in form and substance, law and regulation, but ultimately aspire to the same goal: to produce a leadership comprised of the people, with a mandate to rule in their best interests.
It’s a great theory. It’s worked, seemingly, in place of hereditary monarchies where power rests in the hands of a few, and the structure of and access to government is cut off from outsiders. In the west, we understand this model to be broken, archaic and unfair. Why should anyone have the right to rule a population based solely on an accident of their birth?
We pride ourselves on fostering and protecting a ‘better’ model, one where the voices of many decide the actions of a few, and those in power are representative of us. While any among us could rise high enough to lead us, they are beholden to us, answerable to us, and therefore they must behave as we dictate. This is fair and good. In theory…
Unfortunately, 2016 has shone an unforgiving spotlight on the greatest failing of this system.
For every job on this planet, be it held by a teenager in school or a senior nearing retirement, there are expectations. There are pre-requisites. There is training, education, and experience required to qualify you for that job.
We expect CEO’s of companies to have qualifications and experience. We expect doctors and lawyers and truck drivers to be experts at what they do. We require food service staff to be trained in responsible service and retail staff to understand mathematics. We have long and exhaustive lists of what qualifies or disqualifies a person for a job, and generally, the more responsibility that role maintains, they higher the bar is set.
Now consider the job of National Leader.
We in the west operate on the understanding that ‘anyone can grow up to be (insert leadership title here)’. In some countries, this is a fundemental tenant of their government. But what are the pre-requisites? What are the qualifications? What makes you suitable for the role of National Leader?
There are none. There are no stipulations or kaviats on what one must have achieved before becoming eligible for the position of National Leader. There is no selection criteria for the highest, most public, and arguably most important role in a western democracy.
Except, of course, for a nation wide popularity contest. A contest that requires no prior qualification to enter and results in an elected leader who frankly, may or may not have the capacity to mange the role granted to them.
For generations, representative democracy has operated with this reality, with varying degrees of success, across the world. In essence, it has survived on an understanding that the majority of people have common sense on their side. The majority of people can spot an idiot when presented with a selection of specimens and aren’t at all likely to vote for that idiot when given the chance. So far, it seems to have worked, however 2016 is offering a demonstrably different outcome to what we have come to expect.
This system, that relies on popularity and common sense, is breaking down. With no kaviat on the candidates able to enter the race, it’s not being run by horses trained for endurance and with the skills to get the job done. It’s being populated with runners who have little to no experience in public office, no training or qualification in the management of the vast array of portfolios and ministaries, and the diplomatic acumen of a wet dish rag.
Now, let it be made clear – this is not a ringing endorsement for a return to monarchy. It’s well known that even when educated from birth for the role of Leader, many fall painfully short. Similarly this is not an endorsement for career politicians who spend a great deal of time chatting and not much time doing. It is, however, a call to question the system we have and wonder if it might be high time we put some boundaries on what one must know and have experience with before they can qualify to lead an entire nation, and possess its nuclear launch codes.
With a system such as this, is it any wonder that a candidate in the world’s biggest popularity contest is the guy who once owned one?
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