We Have Got Our Priorities Backwards

When leaders are loyal only to power and their staff loyal only to their boss – who is representing the interest of the actual people?

As Andy Smarick at has pointed out, by 2016 American domestic policy produced the two most loyalty-centered candidates:

The 2016 primaries elevated a tandem of presidential nominees possibly unparalleled in their combined prioritization of loyalty. Hillary Clinton, as documented in Shattered, “priz[ed] loyalty most among human traits.” After her 2008 election loss, she rummaged through old emails of campaign staffers to unearth disloyalty. She and her husband even assigned “loyalty scores” to members of Congress.

President Trump is growing infamous for his insistence on loyalty. He evidently asked then-FBI director Comey to pledge loyalty. Entire articles have been written about Trump’s surrounding himself with loyalists throughout his career. He deploys subordinates to publicly display their loyalty (even if he subsequently undermines them).

— Andy Smarick,

But by placing loyalty above everything else, we de-prioritize truth, justice, even public interest. The same is happening in Hungary, with Orbán and his party revolving around him, loyalty to him, and with party soldiers going above and beyond to prove it, often proactively.

Worse, even? That we seem to appreciate that mafia-like loyalty that transcends law, morality and naturally, the public interest.

Pundit after pundit goes live on TV to evaluate politicians’ moves as if they were looking at a chess game: Does the move help the politician win? To get what he wants? To get the power? To get elected? To gain popularity?

They call themselves value-neutral analysts, but their audience misses the point. When the analysts says that Politician did well, analyst means that he did well for himself. Viewers often take it as Politician did well for them. (Or just support the winner.)

But the game should be different. It is not chess between two players. It is a contest for an opportunity to serve the public. But there can be only one priority.

I don’t care whether a politician is winning or losing. And neither should you. What I care about is how they affect my life. And not just their policies. The communication itself is more and more debilitating and damaging to the interest of the public.

Compound this confusion with the sentiment that wants to empower a strong leader and you have the toxic combination of a power-hungry leader and his uninhabited soldiers, both doing what it takes to hold and accumulate power. No regard to law, justice, just lots of lip service paid to the public interest. The public, meanwhile, keep coming up with reasons to shrug off what they cannot deny.

Loyal party soldiers are often excused for just being loyal. When they do it stupidly, they are ridiculed for parroting the party line. Or dismissed as just lining their own pockets. As if it was perfectly understandable, the evil lies somewhere else. It doesn’t.

As a result, the leader’s subsequent decision-making will be formulated in a toxic environment. We can trust neither the seriousness nor the rectitude of decisions made by leaders who need not appeal to justice, morality, ideology, history, or other legitimate justifications in order to earn their subordinates’ support. And if a leader’s colleagues routinely fail to pressure-test his or her ideas, those decisions will be extremely fragile.

— Andy Smarick,

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