Power and Decision-Making in the Age of Trump: “What If It Were Me?”

I have been thinking about power. (I don’t have much, so ironically perhaps, I am thinking about its many facets and ramifications.)

Power is a sticky wicket (and to be quite frank, sometimes a son-of-a-bitch). Leadership comes with power. There is no denying this fact and no changing this fact. Power corrupts. Power often brings wealth and fame.

One can gain power as quickly as one can lose it. We can be defined by power or power can be defined by us. Unlimited power has the potential to destroy us and if abused, can have consequences that may be felt for generations. Our founding fathers created checks on power for this very reason. Power is IT. It can make or break individuals or entire nations or our entire planet.

Power can create change – good change and bad change. Depending on how it is used or abused, power can send our society and our lives into turmoil or when used with wisdom, compassion and thoughtfulness, it can lift us, together and as individuals, to new heights of personal and professional achievement.

Money and fame bring power and power brings money and fame.

To make matters even more complicated (and patently unfair), those who will be most affected by the important decisions made by people in power are likely to be the people with the least power to change their circumstances.

As an average person with limited power myself, the most important thing I have noticed about power (especially now) is that those who have the power to make the most critical, life-changing decisions over others’ lives – have rarely been in the shoes of those who will be affected by those decisions.

Here are some examples:

  • Those with the power to decide who may live in the United States and who must leave have rarely been immigrants or refugees themselves.
  • Those with the power to decide on another’s deportation have rarely been deported or even known someone who has been deported.
  • Those with the power to decide whether to send another back to a war-torn country have rarely fled war or poverty or hardship or ever been desperate to save the lives of their own family.
  • Those with the power to decide who may live in our country and who may not rarely have been faced with the impossible choice of a starving child or  an illegal, frightening and perilous journey to a safer place with the possibility of regular meals.
  • Those with the power to decide who may have health insurance and who may not have rarely been without health insurance for a long period  – and rarely have faced a chronic, life-threatening illness without health insurance to pay for their medication.
  • Those with the power to decide whether an oil pipeline will be constructed on Native American lands are rarely Native American and have rarely lived on Native American land (or even near a pipeline).
  • Those with the power to decide if a pipeline can be built on another’s land have rarely had their own home or drinking water threatened with contamination from an oil leak or oil spill.
  • Those with the power to decide whether an oil pipeline will be constructed on their land rarely have been so poor that they have no choice but to stay and risk the life and safety of their family.
  • Those with the power to decide whether a woman may make her own choices about her own body rarely have been in the shoes of an unemployed, ill, homeless, young, poverty-stricken, frightened or abused woman faced with an unexpected pregnancy.
  • Those with the power to decide the fate of a pregnant woman are often not even women.
  • Those with the power to decide the fate of a man detained without charge at Guantanamo Bay rarely have been accused of a crime he did not commit or been denied the opportunity to prove his innocence or stand before his accusers (in a nation where the rule of law is “innocent until proven guilty”)
  • Those with the power in our government to decide the fate of Muslims are rarely Muslim themselves.
  • Those with the power to decide how to regulate guns have rarely been shot themselves or lost a loved one to gun violence.
  • Those with the power to decide the fate of a young black man have rarely experienced the racism of living as a black person in America.
  • Those with the power to enact travel bans to protect our country from terrorists rarely have fled another country because of terrorism.
  • Those with the power to decide the future of wildlife have never been anything other than human.
  • Those with the power to decide whether oil shall be drilled in a natural preserve have never been a bird or a fish or a bear or a tree or a seal or a deer or an antelope living in a natural preserve.
  • Those with the power to protect the air we breathe have rarely lived in Delhi where hundreds line up at medical centers each day desperate for oxygen.
  • Those with the power to protect the water we drink rarely come from Flint, Michigan or places like it.
  • Those with the power to decide whether rising sea levels are a real danger to life and communities on earth rarely will experience the devastating impact of rising sea levels.
  • Those with the power to decide whether the polar ice caps are melting will be unlikely to ever experience a world without polar ice caps.
  • Those with the power to decide whether to tear apart parents and children by deportation rarely have experienced being permanently separated from their only family.
  • Those with the power to decide whether to cut funds to the arts rarely have struggled to pay the rent living as a working artist.
  • Those with the power to decide whether laws should be created for hate crimes rarely have been a victim of a hate crime.
  • Those with the power to decide which bathrooms a transgender child may use in his or her school rarely have lived with the experience of knowing that he or she is transgender in a world of intolerance and bullying.
  • Those with power who call a free press “the enemy of the American people” have rarely been thrown into jail for years or decades for writing an article criticizing their government.
  • Those with power who claim to be “the least racist person you have ever met” or “the least anti-Semitic person you have ever met” – may be rightly questioned on their veracity if they have selected their closest advisor from a media outlet with a history of racist or anti-Semitic speech.
  • Those with power who would build a wall rarely have lived in Berlin or Palestine or been separated from loved ones or food and resources because of a wall.
  • Those with power who would build a wall to keep others out have rarely been kept out of another country themselves.
  • Those with power who would build a $20 billion wall rarely would use their personal finances to pay for it.
  • Those with power who demand “extreme vetting” for others rarely refuse to accept the demand from voters for the same kind of vetting (i.e. releasing tax returns).
  • Those with power who boast about sexually assaulting woman have rarely experienced the horrible violation of another person touching the most intimate parts of their body without permission.
  • Those with power who have said that those captured by the enemy in war-time are not heroes rarely have been captured in war-time.
  • Those with power who would take away protections of retirement savings have rarely lost their retirement savings because of greed from a deregulated Wall Street.

You get the picture. The list is endless. This is our world. This is our country and it is not so much about fairness (although that is a major and massively complex part of it) as it is even more about empathy.

There are harsh realities about the times we are living…indeed about all times…but for us to realize the “American Dream” – the real American Dream, for me it will always be about empathy. Empathy for those who came before us, for those who will come after us and empathy for our fellow human beings right now, no matter where they come from or how they got where they are.

While those in power may never know the experience of the people’s lives whom they affect, there is one thing they can do even without direct knowledge – they can try to have empathy. They can dig deep and try to imagine.

I am not sensing empathy now. I am not sensing imagination, especially from some of our leaders. I am sensing greed. I am sensing selfishness. I am sensing political expediency. I am sensing stubbornness. I am sensing racism, xenophobia and hate.

Above all, I am sensing fear….monstrous, destructive, massive and widespread fear. Decisions are not being made based on empathy. Decisions are being made based on fear. If we are not careful, fear will be the end of us.  If the human race ever does become extinct, my guess  is that the root of our demise will be traced back to fear.

This is our choice – and likely the most important choice of our time – empathy or fear?

Empathy will never be the same as experiencing what another has experienced, but it is the best we’ve got….and it has the capacity to ease fear. This applies not only to those in power but to you and me.

Empathy is not liberal.  Empathy is not conservative. Empathy is human. Empathy is humane.

Each time we think we know the right or the wrong of a situation and each time we are truly afraid, we must ask ourselves, “what if it were me?”

Each time those in power are faced with a decision that will affect the lives of others without power, this question must rise to the forefront…what if it were me?

If one were to ask me what I desire most right now from our leaders, our President, all those in power – and from all my fellow humans — it would be that each of us – every one of us — would ask ourselves the same question every day: “what if it were me?”




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