There’s a magic trick that’s going to get played on us every day during the 2020 election cycle. It’s a fairly simple trick, once you see it.
I’d like to talk about what leadership is and what governance is.
I’d like to talk about the compass, the navigation, the travel, and the corrections.
Let me begin by proposing ‘movement’ as a metaphor for coordinated human activity.
Sometimes the metaphor actually involves movement: Humanity moved from the earth to the moon.
Sometimes the metaphor is figurative: The United States moved from legal slavery to abolition.
When people decide to leave the place they are and move to a different place, there’s an observable order to it.
The order is very important.
So, in movement, there is the moment of arrival at the destination.
But before that moment, there is the actual trip.
We began here. We moved until we got there. We put one foot in front of the other. We set sail and kept going until we arrived. The aircraft cut its way across the sky.
But before that, there was a plan.
We are here. We will go there. Here, after study and research and consultation and testing and training, is how we’ll do it.
But before that, there was a determination to move in the first place.
We are here. We should be there. We will go there, in that direction, as opposed to all other directions.
Coordinated movement begins with a determination to move in one direction over all other directions.
Then comes the plan.
Then comes the actual trip.
But the trip may turn out to be something quite different than the plan.
Sometimes the trip is smooth and easy, and goes exactly to plan.
More often, especially if the destination is an ambitious one, or the path is long, there are challenges and setbacks and unforeseen difficulties.
The route went off-plan, requiring delays and divergences and detours.
We thought we would be here. But we are still going there.
A successful correction requires the same tools that motivated the original trip: the determination to arrive at the destination, then the plan to do it, then the actual travel.
In that order.
The compass determines direction.
The navigation determines the route.
The route leads to the destination.
In that order.
The order is key.
As long as you’re determined to end at your destination, and know the direction, and have the ability to chart your course, and the ability to actually move from one place to another, your original plan can absorb any number of corrections.
You may even learn of a better destination on the way.
But first you have to actually decide to move.
You wouldn’t make a plan before you knew where you were going.
You wouldn’t begin travel before you’d figured out how to get there.
It wouldn’t work.
So now let’s talk about leadership and governance, and the magic trick that gets played on us over the difference.
Say we humans have a problem.
It could be anything.
Like 50% of the wealth in the hands of a few hundred people among billions.
Or a medical system that only cares for those who can pay.
Or millions of people without homes in the world’s richest country.
It could be anything.
But I don’t want to be controversial, so let me make up a more sci-fi premise.
Let’s pretend there was a climate disaster that threatens extinction of life on the planet.
Say the evidence was incontrovertible.
Say the early effects were present and observable.
Try to imagine this.
Now, let’s say the remedies were known, but very challenging.
Let’s say they would require a major restructuring of the political and economic and social order, globally.
And let’s say as a result, there were a lot of people who didn’t want to do it.
Again, try to imagine.
Let’s pretend that the people most resistant to changing the world order were the people who had gained the most power and wealth within that world order.
Let’s pretend the next election would actually be about whether or not to even respond to the threat.
Again, try to imagine.
Let me locate us in this scenario.
We’re not yet at the point to start enacting a plan we haven’t yet decided to make.
We’re not at the point to argue about the specifics of the plan—though we need a plan!
What we need is the determination to move.
We need the compass.
Leadership is the compass. Leadership is the thing that says, “even though it is controversial, even though it is disruptive, even though it is hard, we are going to move from here to there.”
Leadership statements are compass statements.
Once we’ve determined we are going to move in a direction, we will need a plan, and a good one.
The nuts and bolts of how it’s going to happen—the navigation.
The actual logistics of doing it—the travel.
That’s governance. It’s very important.
It doesn’t come first.
“The Green New Deal” is a leadership statement. It’s a compass statement. It’s a declaration about coordinated human movement.
You might disagree with this statement. If so, you have some options regarding how you might respond.
You might claim that there is no reason to move. You’d say something like, “this is a hoax.”
You might claim that it’s too early to move. You’d say, “the science is uncertain.”
You might claim it’s too late to move. You’d say, “human activity isn’t causing it.”
Those are the direct responses.
But remember there’s a magic trick.
Some might realize that the danger is real, and the moral call of movement is absolutely uncontestable. They might decide the best way to oppose is to perform some slight-of-hand.
They’d say things like “The Green New Deal is unrealistic.”
That’s a matter for navigation. We’re not there.
We’re making compass statements.
“The Green New Deal is unrealistic *sounds* like a governance statement.
It’s not. It’s a leadership statement. It’s a compass statement.
It says “actually, we will stay where we are” just as much as “climate change is a hoax” does.
It says it with more subtlety, but it still says it.
I want to be careful, because even as we talk compass, we want an eye on navigation.
It’s OK to point out that the navigation is off.
But when one does so to close off or delay questions of coordinated movement, then it’s the magic trick. Leadership disguised as governance. A compass statement disguised as navigation.
If one wants to critique The Green New Deal’s policy, it needs to be within the larger context of a firm commitment to a robust and prioritized response to climate change, and a willingness to engage in the significant disruption that will cause. Otherwise it’s just using the challenge of the problem as a reason not to start.
It’s one of the slyest tricks of opposition there is, to deny a clearly needed solution to an obvious problem, not because the need for a solution is great, but because the route hasn’t been charted thoroughly enough, because all of the potential problems haven’t been identified, because every last correction hasn’t been made.
But leadership comes BEFORE governance.
The compass determines the direction.
The direction determines the navigation.
The navigation determines the travel.
And corrections can be made on the way.
This is the reason that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (for example) has so many people who oppose her obsessed and frightened, by the way.
Whenever someone arrives who actually makes bold and needed compass statements, people respond.
And, it reveals all the people who have been refusing to make them.
She’s showing us the magic trick.
Once you know the trick, you can see it everywhere.
Who’s going to PAY for Medicare for All?
Magic trick. “Medicare for All” is a compass statement. We WILL care for everybody’s medical needs, because that is what a civilized society does.
The country won’t accept gun control, it can’t happen here.
Magic trick. We WILL minimize gun violence. Letting our schools become war zones is unacceptable.
A 70% marginal tax rate is socialism run amok!
Magic trick. We ARE going to address the scourge of wealth disparity, hording and corrupt billionaire welfare.
The Green New Deal is flawed!
Magic trick. We ARE going to drop literally everything else to address a potential extinction-level crisis, because of course we are, my god, what the hell is wrong with you?
This is going to matter in 2020. Remember that leadership is the compass, governance is the navigation. Both are important, but one comes ahead of the other, and you can make adjustments on the way.
And watch everyone’s hands closely.