If, several hundred years from now, our descendants want to consider giving representative government another go, they’ll need to figure out a better way of picking leaders.
I don’t mean things like “restricting the franchise to stakeholders” and “IQ tests,” though those are great ideas in themselves. I mean they’ll have to overcome systemic selection bias — a kind of Peter Principle that promotes people not just to their level of incompetence, but based on a completely different set of skills.
Football coaches are a good example. Chances are good that a brilliant coordinator will flame out as a head coach, simply because the skillsets are so different. Head coaches have to “coach up” — their day-to-day jobs involve handling the owner, general manager, the media, and his subordinate coaches. Their relationship to the day-to-day, X’s and O’s of the game that’s played on Sunday is usually pretty tenuous. Coordinators, on the other hand, “coach down.” They do the nuts-n-bolts stuff, handle the players and their issues, devise the specific schemes and match-ups. There’s almost no overlap between those two areas of responsibility.
(The less said of college head coaches who jump to the pros, the better. College kids aren’t pros, the boosters aren’t the owner, and you don’t get the ridiculous recruiting advantage bigtime college programs do. Examples are numerous, but my favorite is Steve Spurrier — in his brief tenure with the Redskins, he really did seem to believe his “huck it downfield and let his five-star receivers blow past the opponent’s two-star DBs” would work in the pros. But everyone in the pros is a former five-star recruit).
Either way, though, there’s simply no relationship between the two skillsets, and thus no way to judge. A brilliant X’s and O’s guy, who gets the most out of limited athletes, might be great at schmoozing the owner and handling PR…. but then again, he might not. The point is, there’s no way to tell if or how his X’s and O’s work will translate over to schmoozing and PR, and — given the demands of the business — there’s no way to give him a trial run. Yet coordinators always get promoted to head coach, because… well, how else are ya gonna do it?
Politics works the same way. The traditional cursus honorum — state legislature, national legislature, state governor, president — selects for a very different set of skills than those the President needs. A dull-but-clubbable party man makes a great Senator, but a lousy President. It takes some real skills to be a state governor, but high among them is the ability to massage entrenched local elites — you have to be wired in, but in a totally different way than a Senator does.
The system, in other words, is set up to produce dull-but-clubbable party men. They were quite open about this in the 19th century, in case you think I’m making it up. That’s why “nominating conventions” were real things back then — the wheeling and dealing was brutal, smoky back rooms weren’t just a metaphor, and sometimes it broke down spectacularly and you ended up running Franklin Pierce or someone like that. This was because the 19th century actually believed in that “federalism” stuff, and the savvy operators avoided national politics for state governorships.
Trump is a huge anomaly who has exposed just how systemically flawed our process is. We need to figure out how to overcome this selection bias effect… or, at least, our great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren do.Loading Likes...