I end my radio show on My88.3FM daily with a quote from the late great poet Maya Angelou: “People may forget what you said and they may forget what you did, but they will never ever forget how you made them feel.”
It is often said that effective leadership is best reflected in how a leader makes people feel; how they feel about their lives, their future and how they feel about a particular leader. If someone in a leadership position should ask his or her constituents “How do you feel?”, their answer is a usually a reliable indicator of the status of the country. This is why in the United States significant weight is placed upon the common survey question: “Do you think the country is headed in the right direction?”
So, lately, if you were to believe the alarms raised by our leaders, our democracy is apparently under attack. They won't tell you why, but they will tell you that they are being attacked personally, which they imply is the same as our democratic system as a whole being threatened. Words like “this is not how our democracy works” and allusions to outside forces trying to “change the way we live” are fascinating when they come from people who seem completely oblivious to the significant influence they have had on how we live on St. Maarten today.
We have reached a point in our development where leadership appears to be caught in a never-ending circle of self-serving concerns, as demonstrated by expressions of concern for our democracy when perceived dangers hit too close. Put another way, when the media was being repressed, which can hinder the free flow of ideas and reduce the capacity of citizens to make informed judgments, democracy was not in jeopardy. There was no threat to democracy when legislation restricting civil freedoms and rights was passed. When political opponents in the citizenry are singled out and subjected to political victimization, democracy is not at peril. When leaders manipulate facts and spread false information, democracy is not in jeopardy.
However, democracy is currently and suddenly in jeopardy because demagogues climbed your fence. Apparently democracy is in danger from fear-mongers and rumor-peddlers that have brought their poisonous tongues too close to leadership. So, leadership flipped the script and claimed a moral high ground as defenders of democracy; a manifestly self-serving move if ever there was one.
Evidently, there is no time to stop and contemplate why citizens are turning away from their elected officials and instead listening to fear-mongers and rumor-peddlers. Truth be told, it is not a new trend. It is a trend that has been on the rise, and it’s essential that the politicos among us understand the underlying causes behind this troubling shift which, once again, comes down to how people feel. How leadership makes them feel.
When people feel that their leaders are not serving their interests, it erodes their trust in the system and in leadership. They see decisions being made that seem out of touch with their needs and priorities. It’s no surprise that when their concerns are repeatedly disregarded or dismissed they begin to seek alternatives, even if those alternatives are driven by fear and rumors. The absence of good governance fuels a vacuum that demagogues are quick to exploit.
People also feel victimized by the very system they helped create through their votes. The policies and actions of their elected officials often have real and tangible effects on their lives, on their immediate and extended families and on their children’s future. When you are vindictive and do harm to your citizens, they remember.
They feel uninspired to stand up for “leadership” and “democracy” that haven’t made their lives better. When people are already struggling to make ends meet, how do you build up the nerve to tell them that the state of our democracy is a matter of concern that they should rally for? How do you ask people to stand up and protect a democracy that is conveniently in “danger” when they are on their knees and suffering from absurdities like a fuel clause. People will naturally seek out alternative sources of information and “guidance” when they feel, or actually do experience, that your policies are detrimental to them or insufficiently promote a respectable level of living.
When people do not see their living standards rise, their access to quality education, healthcare, and economic opportunities improve, they become disillusioned. When they perceive that their elected officials are more interested in partisan squabbling than in solving real problems, they turn to others who promise quick fixes, even if these promises are grounded in baseless rhetoric.
Fear-mongers seize upon feelings of resentment to inflame grievances and fan fears. Suspicion festers, and people become more susceptible to conspiracy theories and misinformation. It is essential to recognize that the rise of fear-mongers and rumor-peddlers is not solely a problem of the citizens themselves. It is the result of leaderships’ inability to understand how their people feel and govern accordingly.
As such, when calling for the defense of our democracy against perceived or real dangers, leadership should consider arming the population with weapons with which to proudly defend our democracy. Start with a sword of good governance, a heavy armor of trust, and a shield of transparency. Implement unwavering people-centered priorities which will serve as the helmet that completes their battle readiness. Give them a sense of security, complete justification for their vote, and unwavering faith in the future.
Michael R. Granger