The Leadership We Need

Michael Slaby
7 min readNov 1, 2019

This time last year, we were all preparing for a Blue Wave midterm election that I worried we’d misinterpret. I wondered what it might take for us to win AND turn away from our mean, self-centered, power-centered politics and whether the 2020 primary might offer a new story of redemption that might help us reclaim our civic life. But our current path and the stories we are being offered about who we are and who we can be feel as small as ever.

Citizens finding politics uninspiring and exhausting is at least in part a symptom of failed leadership. A consequence of leaders disconnected from the people they represent, disconnected from a sense of service, and possessing an almost pathological lack of ambition that leaves citizens questioning the value of their leaders and wondering whether the institutions we rely on to frame and structure our collective society are worth our belief. This subtle, cynical disbelief makes us easy to manipulate and easy to turn toward an angry exasperation.

This anger is still perhaps the loudest defining characteristic of our collective current civic life — on both sides of the aisle. A daily barrage of us-versus-them pours from our White House and is met with a slightly different version in response. Beneath this anger for those who live and die with each political battle is a tit-for-tat, fighting-fire-with-fire desire for retribution, an unwillingness to accept give-and-take, and a lost understanding that in a diverse country with uneven and imperfect traditions we will lose some arguments and that not every argument is an existential threat. This existential anger creates a fragility that leads to a meanness and pettiness that turns most of the rest of us away from politics. For many more their anger is rooted in a profound sense of unfairness — some very old, rooted in traditions of exploitation and dehumanization, and some very new, rooted in new economic upheaval (also exploitative and dehumanizing) where the two sets of rules at work in modern America are enforced against some and in many cases can be ignored at will by the wealthy and the powerful. But for most people who don’t live and die with each political battle, much of that anger (and it’s companion exasperation) is actually driven by a deeply seated anxiety about the future, about the terrible truth that an amazing new era might be coming, but that they might not…

Michael Slaby

Media, technology, politics, and saving the world in various combinations — Chief Strategist at Harmony Labs— author of For ALL the People