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The Leaders We Need for the Future Ahead

— July 17, 2023

The leaders we need are capable, visionary, wise, grounded in reality, radical, and nothing like the leaders we have now. In short, completely unelectable.

Have you noticed that the leaders we have are not the leaders we need for the future that realistically lies ahead of us? So many of those in power right now (our elected Congresscritters, the captains of industry, and so forth) are not only failing to guide us through the beleaguered present and seemingly unaware of the path we’re on, they’re either aiming for a future that doesn’t exist (at best), or (at worst) they’re in it for personal gain. We deserve better.

The challenges we’re facing right now are daunting. If we were facing them one at a time, each situation would be bad enough, but they’re coming quickly and stacking up.

For starters, there’s the climate crisis unfolding everywhere. In recent days, there’s been catastrophic flooding in places as far apart as Vermont, India, Turkey and South Korea. Drought and dangerously hot temperatures blanket not only the American Southwest and now the Midwest, but southern Europe from Spain to Greece. Ocean temperatures are rising quickly in the Pacific from El Niño, and Florida’s 94°F ocean water comes courtesy of a marine heat wave seemingly circulating the globe. Antarctic ice is at record lows, and it’s winter there. Canada is still burning. It’s the hottest year yet in a string of hottest years. This is all really bad news, even for the people who deny it’s happening.

The economy may be doing well for some folks at the tippy-top (those who can afford to buy companies and break them, or perhaps travel recreationally to the edge of space), but for the rest of us, it’s decidedly down to Earth. There may be more jobs and lower unemployment, but are they good jobs? Are we still crowing victory over backfilling the positions of those dead and disabled from COVID? Younger Boomers and Gen X are heading into retirement age with meager (if any) savings. Groceries are so expensive now that 17% of Americans are food insecure. People aren’t just buying cheaper products, they’re buying less food altogether. Those who were on the knife edge before may be living on the street now.

Collective prosperity depends upon favorable conditions that produce enough for everyone to have what they need. How long will the industrial, growth-based economy continue when every year there are more natural disasters causing havoc in more places? When will heat and lack of water make the Southwest uninhabitable? How much of the country will become uninsurable because disaster recovery is just too expensive, especially if rebuilding becomes an annual event in more disaster-prone areas?

It’s plain to see that we’re on a downward spiral. Dire economic situations lead to low-trust societies, and it’s clear that we barely want to look at each other nowadays. Say what you will about former President Trump, but he was astute enough to perceive the USA’s divisions and drive a wedge through them to gain a devoted following, but at the cost of even lower trust. People are choosing sides in a culture war, perhaps feeling out who will have their back when conditions decline far enough. Civil unrest, even civil war, seem probable; it’s only a question of when.

If we’re to get out of this hole, we need, at the very least, competent leadership. The leaders we need would have a solid grasp of reality and a sense of how dire the situation really is.

And yet, these are the leaders we have:

Culture warriors who are so afraid of people unlike them that they’re willing to undermine military readiness in order to do them harm. The leaders we need would understand that diversity is strength in a military context, at the very least because ignorance is weakness.

A blond man with a comb-over.
A major Presidential candidate. Photo by Michael Vadon, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0

Senators who lionize the rural farmer, but when the farmers are endangered by climate change, merely tell them to “pray.” The leaders we need would be helping Big Agriculture transition to more resilient, decentralized models to make sure we can keep as many people fed as possible, whether or not they appeal to the heavens.

A major Presidential candidate who, if elected, implies that he’ll deport native-born Americans he doesn’t like for the offense of thoughtcrime. The leaders we need would either understand that we’re all in this together, or would seek a more equitable resolution to political disagreement.

A President who, even if he were to keep to his campaign talking point by raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, may not realize that increasing the contents of our wallets across the board doesn’t necessarily change the amount of goods and services we can access. If, for example, food becomes more expensive because fields are flooded, housing is out of reach because it’s being hoarded by the wealthy, and there’s not enough water to go around, problems will ensue regardless of wages. The leaders we need would look for ways to solve the root causes or distribution problems.

What passes for the American Left, at least in a Congressional context, continues to pursue “bright green” technosolutions like the Green New Deal, as if we can simply move our current consumption and industrial way of life over to “clean” energy sources that still rely on the existence of cheap fossil fuels to build a boatload of new infrastructure with mineral resources that still need to be mined, often in ecologically sensitive areas or in countries with horrific human rights, labor, and environmental records. The leaders we need would look for real transformation, rather than a thin green veneer.

The leaders we need, to be perfectly honest, are never, ever going to lead from the top. Any politician suggesting solutions that are big enough to work (because there are no non-radical solutions, or futures, at this point) would be too radical to win public office.

That leaves us. You and me. We’re going to have to be the leaders we need.

Related: If It Feels Hotter, That’s Because It Is


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