House Republicans voted earlier this week to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics. Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy both opposed the move, but were unable to dissuade the group. Then President-elect Trump issued a series of tweets questioning the proposed changes. The group then reversed its position, a decision that is making headlines this morning.
Ford Motor Company announced yesterday that it will cancel a $1.6 billion plant planned for Mexico and will invest $700 million in a Michigan assembly plant. The company tied the decision to “pro-growth policies” espoused by President-elect Trump. This after Carrier reported last month that it would keep hundreds of factory jobs in the US. Mr. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence negotiated the deal personally. The announcement earned high praise from Americans.
Tweets and personal deals—are you wondering what is happening to the political process in America?
In The New York Times, David Brooks notes that “normal leaders serve an office. They understand that the president isn’t a lone monarch. He is the temporary occupant of a powerful public post. He’s the top piece of a big system, and his ability to create change depends on his ability to leverage and mobilize the system.”
But what if the system can’t be mobilized? What if partisan politics in Washington are so heated and hateful that traditional government processes are gridlocked?
According to political scientist James Campbell, in the 1980s there were a significant number of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. However, “the polarized perspectives of the public are now firmly embedded in the parties.” Today, politics are a zero-sum game. If your party wins, my party loses. So I must oppose what you support, knowing that you will do the same.
In a divisive culture like ours, what if leaders primarily exercise authority not through their office but through their personal influence? For instance, celebrities like Oprah Winfrey wield enormous power when they endorse politicians or take stands on issues such as same-sex marriage. They do so not as actors playing a role, but as people expressing their personal opinions. In many ways, their personal influence outweighs their professional authority.
In Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership, Howard Gardner notes that leaders influence people directly through their office, as when a sociologist speaks to other sociologists. They influence people indirectly through their person, as when a musician articulates his theological views. For example, Albert Einstein was asked to be president of Israel in 1952—not because the country sought his scientific expertise, but because it valued his personal character and cultural influence.
There are two opportunities for Christians here.
In a “post-truth” culture that treats objective truth as subjective opinion, we have the opportunity to emulate the Berean Christians who “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11, NKJV).
No matter your job or position, if you are willing to serve, you are able to lead.
And in a social media environment that gives everyone access to the culture, we have the opportunity to use our personal influence for eternal significance. No matter your job or position, if you are willing to serve, you are able to lead.
After Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he instructed us to do the same for those we would influence (John 13:1–17). When you stand before God one day, he will not ask about your title. But he will ask about your towel.