By Richard Elfers
When sizing up someone, which trait is more important? Trusting that person, or knowing that person is competent? This is the question that social psychologist Amy Cuddy posed in her book, “Presence.” What she found can give us an insight into our political leaders and their effectiveness.
President Donald Trump’s supporters both trust him and believe he’s competent. They trust him because he supported their concerns during the election. They looked at his vast corporate empire and reputation as a successful businessman and judged him competent to be the nation’s president.
Those who despise Trump see him far differently. They neither trust him, nor do they consider him competent to be president of the United States. They don’t trust him because of his lies, his criticism of minorities and Muslims, his tweets, the uncertainty he has created and the narcissism he has displayed.
His detractors discount his competence because of his lack of experience in government and the mixed and contradictory voices that are being emitted from his administration in its first months. His foes are quick to cite the many contractors he has stiffed of their rightful payments in construction of his many buildings.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is not trusted because he has waffled and rationalized over his relationship and support of President Trump during the past year.
Ryan’s detractors don’t trust him or the president over their desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a different health care plan. The concern as voiced by a “Christian Science Monitor” writer is that looking competent by passing a new health care bill seemed to be more important than the impact of the changes upon the American people. Speaker Ryan and President Trump failed to even get support from their own party.
This was due to the lack of trust that either was representing Republican values. Because Ryan and Trump failed, their competence to govern has been greatly degraded.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, has shown himself competent by getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed as the new Supreme Court justice but, in the process, has lost the trust of Senate Democrats.
The Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have shown themselves to be neither competent nor trustworthy. During the 2016 elections, the Democrats told their supporters they had a strong chance of winning both houses of Congress and the presidency. They failed miserably in all three. These defeats, combined with congressional losses in the 2014 election, have weakened the Democratic brand and put into question both the trust and the competency of the Democrats.
Democrats have traditionally won elections because they were very relational, not necessarily because they were competent. Many of their social programs have been well-meaning, but have turned out to be expensive failures. But, since trust is usually more important to people than competence, they still have power to get elected.
Republicans, on the other hand, have not been very articulate or relational with the exceptions of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, but they have been strong in portraying a competent image due to their success in the business world or the battlefield. Republicans have emphasized self-discipline, hard work and strong moral values, which have won them voter support.
At this point in history, neither political party has shown itself to be either trustworthy or competent. The nation and the world are desperately seeking leadership from the United States.
When President Barack Obama first took office in January 2009, Sen. McConnell stated publicly: “I hope he (Obama) fails.” My hope for President Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress is that they will begin to act competently by being concerned for the welfare of the whole nation. Doing so will build trust with the voters who didn’t vote for Trump.
I hope they succeed, for the good of he nation.