These days I’ll do just about anything to insulate myself from the election rhetoric and speculation and stay away from the cable news channels on TV. Thus I find myself occasionally watching shows like ‘Pit Bulls and Parolees’ or ‘Cesar 911’.
I like dogs and I have had two dogs, Duke and Rose, as faithful companions in my life but, unlike my youngest son Michael, I’ve never succeeded in becoming a dog whisperer. I now know that showing your dog unwavering love, attention and respect while all the time asserting yourself as the ‘alpha leader of the pack’ is key to success in training a dog to be the companion you want to have. That, together with plenty of physical exercise and positive reinforcement of desired behavior (and absence of abuse and corporal punishment) will shape or rehabilitate the behavior of just about any dog that is considered aggressive, dangerous or unmanageable by their untrained owners and their community. It is amazing to see what a difference people like Cesar Millan (in Cesar 911) and Tia Torres (in Pit Bulls and Parolees) can make in the behavior of dogs who, by their owners and bystanders, are considered beyond control.
This, as a recurring nightmare, brings me back to thinking about the 2016 presidential election. It strikes me that the voters, who have brought Trump to the top of the GOP ticket and Sanders close enough to give Hillary Clinton and the DNC the jitters about a repeat of the 2008, are much like the misunderstood and mismanaged pit bulls of the dog rescue shows. If a dog’s aggressive and unruly behavior can be blamed primarily on bad treatment and neglect from its owner, so can the voters’ ballots in favor of unconventional candidates like Trump and Sanders and their disdain for conventional candidates like Bush, Clinton and Kasich, be blamed on near criminal neglect of the voters by the political establishment. So many constituencies that, together, form the American voting bloc have good reasons to be raving mad about the disregard for their plight and grievances demonstrated by the ruling political elite. It seems that all three branches of government are failing the American people at the same time, just like dog owners who don’t provide proper care and leadership to their pets are failing their ‘best friends’. None of the pressing issues facing the American public get resolved. Not the monstrous inequality, not the out of control national debt, not the immigration reform, not the addiction problems, not the cost of education or healthcare, not the unfunded future of Medicare and Social Security. The political establishment rather sticks its head in the sand than face the need for corrective action.
It is only logical then that people start looking for a dog whisperer, a pied piper, who gives them a voice and articulates their grievances. In different times and nations this would be a time for revolution, for forced quantum change in government like a military take-over or a dictatorship based in an activist power base. In contemporary America, people seem to be pinning their hopes on a dramatic change in control of the White House and are willing to place their bets on candidates that, in their words and politically incorrect behavior, promise a diametrical change in policy. That is why they flock in droves to the two populist demagogues this campaign has put forward.
But this is where the analogy with the dog whisperers ends. The dogs that end up in the care of Cesar Millan or Tia Torres are lucky to be in competent hands that have the expertise and means to rehabilitate the ones that were about to be given up on. The American people are not so lucky. If they follow the pied piper and put either Trump or Sanders in the White House, they are sure to be more malcontent and mad four years from now than they are today. And if the silent segment of the voting public prevails and brings Hillary and Bill back to the highest office in the land, the next four years will look much like the past sixteen and the frustration is likely to grow. It will make the dogs only meaner and more unruly.
What allows the dog whisperers to turn around a seemingly lost cause is the assertion of commanding leadership, supported by compassion, trust and respect for the beneficiaries of their leadership. All of that is sorely missing from this election campaign.
When, ever, has a populist demagogue become the salvation for a nation? Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines? Juan Peron in Argentina? Fidel Castro in Cuba? Hugo Chavez in Venezuela? Abdul Nasser in Egypt? Lenin in Russia? Adolph Hitler in Germany? Benito Mussolini in Italy? Francisco Franco in Spain? They all found the words that soothed the pain of neglect and humiliation in their followers but they lacked the moral authority and statesmanship required to offer their people more than a band aid. To the ears of experienced listeners, the words of Trump sound so hollow, so phony, demeaning and biased and the words of Sanders, while genuine, sound so impractical and retrograde that I find it hard to believe that the voters in November will swallow them as gospel. Yet, if the voters do just that and put their trust in a modern day pied piper they put a nation at risk at a time that it needs to pull together behind a future oriented strategy to stay ahead in the global competition for economic strength and social stability.
Yes, voters have good reasons to be raving mad, but they are barking up the wrong tree.