This blog was originally published in the Washington Examiner and has been republished with permission from the author. Click here to view the original article
We succumb to the temptation over and over: Let’s just hand it over to the guy who promises to take care of everything for us.
One mayor introduced a bill to change the rules, and got the votes to pass it, allowing himself to run for an unprecedented third term. One president claimed to be able to solve all of our problems unilaterally with his pen and phone after having said as a candidate that his nomination would slow the rise of the world’s oceans. A later candidate asked for control of solving the nation’s problems saying, “I alone can fix it.” He would later say, “I am the only one that matters.”
Throughout our history, men who have viewed themselves as saviors and strongmen have risen to power by claiming that they can solve our problems. And throughout history, while things might have gotten better in the short term, over the long haul, they have all been wrong, have failed to deliver what they’ve promised, but have amassed more power in the process.
Americans tend to look at the autocrats in Russia and China and think that, since unlike them we are a democracy, we would never embrace a Vladimir Putin or a Xi Jinping. We get a little less sanguine when we observe democracies in Mexico or Turkey — or the democracy that once existed in Venezuela — where voters, in their frustration with festering problems that never seem to get better, opt for strongmen.
Why are we also tempted by the cult of personality from those who promise deliverance if only given power?
Because the problems are real and the frustration that they never seem to get solved is real also. Too many people cannot access opportunity. People face discrimination, harassment, assault, and death. Wars rage on without end. Corruption continues, debts and deficits continue to grow, drug abuse spirals, immigration reform never happens, needed reforms of programs and institutions somehow always gets delayed. Somehow, life doesn’t seem to get better.
Our Constitution was written for the express purpose of preventing the collection and concentration of power — our Founders had seen too much abuse of power. It is why they designed a government of three coequal branches of government as a check on power. It is why they gave the federal government real and important responsibilities, but specific, enumerated, limited responsibilities that only they could carry out — and left absolutely everything else to states and localities.
It is why they were not in favor of political parties, because they feared a concentration of power by those parties, away from the people. As George Washington famously noted in his Farewell Address, the trouble with political parties is they will come to care only about winning.
It is why they made citizens sovereign — not presidents, not judges, not Congress, not government or political parties. They imagined citizens as being the most powerful actors of all.
Despite such a strong and clear Constitution that distributes power widely rather than concentrates it, we are still lured to the easy route of just handing it all over for some guy to fix it.
People hope it can be that simple. Unfortunately, it never works that way. When power is concentrated, it is always abused. The empty bombast and raucous thoughtlessness of strongmen can only be countered with real leadership.
Real leaders know their purpose is not to collect power but to change the order of things for the better. Actual problem solving always requires collaboration with others; others who might actually understand the problem better than someone who has never experienced it or is thousands of miles away from it. Actual problem-solving requires collaboration with others who may not agree with you on everything, but will work with you to build support for a solution so that it can be lasting.
If we want problems solved, we need to be clear-eyed about what problem-solving actually takes. We need to be clear-eyed that the “pen and the phone” never works in the long term and “I alone” can never actually get it fixed.
Solving problems in America’s intended citizen government requires that each of us do some heavy-lifting in our own communities and spheres of influence — and that we lift up others who are willing to do the same.
Let us shake off the urge to look up for a savior who will make it all better. Let’s instead look within and around ourselves. Who are others we can work with to change the order of things for the better? How can each of us make progress and have a positive impact?
Carly Fiorina, Founder & Chairman, Unlocking Potential; Former Chairman and CEO, Hewlett-Packard (1999-2005), was the First Woman to Lead a Fortune 20 Company. Her mission is to inspire, equip and connect individuals and teams to seize opportunities, face challenges, and accelerate impact in their communities.