The System is Rigged

When Presidential candidate Donald Trump starting harping that “the system is rigged,” it dawned on me how insightful this statement was. To be clear, I am by no means agreeing with his implications of corruption in the voting or electoral systems. No, I am referring to a much more encompassing system surrounding the 2016 election. And there is a big leadership lesson from it.

For this election may be less about the two last standing candidates and more about the outsider vs. the  establishment status quo. The status quo, inside or outside of politics, can be a mighty powerful force, and is almost always rigged to preserve itself. No one should be surprised that the Democrats have thrown everything, including the kitchen sink, at their opponent. But the novelty in this election is how so many in Trump’s own party have abandoned him. You might argue that he has given them plenty of fodder for doing so, and there is no doubt about that. His behavior has been called everything from obnoxious to insensitive, and his policy positions labeled as ill-conceived to un-American.  Coupled with his self-funding for much of his campaign, Trump  has earned the reputation of the despised outsider, creating controversy, confusion, and very real concern for those invested in the current system. He has made many in his own party very, very uncomfortable, and they have reacted to those threats by shunning him.

Attacking the status quo has always been part of Trump’s message, and his Republicans critics are definitely part of that status quo, when you think about it. Funny thing – virtually every candidate makes the claim that Washington is broken and they will fix it. Is it possible that because Trump is not a member of the club, he is seen as a greater threat?

Now you might be wondering if Trump is being rejected by his own  party mainly because of his “unacceptable” behavior or because he is an outsider. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson were considered outsiders early in the race, since neither had no political experience. As a nominee, would either have had grenades launched at them by their own party, assuming their behavior had been, shall we say, less Trump-like? My answer is  it would depend on how much real disruption they were proposing, and whether their colleagues thought they could actually pull it off. I suspect if either of those two candidates had placed a bulls-eye on the back of the Republican establishment, they too, would also have faced some level of contention.

That said, I believe the mutiny would have been smaller, since their behaviors and policy approaches seemed much more in sync with those of their fellow party members. Neither Carson nor Fiorina appeared as if they were going to venture too far off the well-established path, so perhaps they were seen as ‘tolerable outsiders.” And since they came across as reasonable, professional people, it would be assumed that either could likely be brought back into line without too much fanfare.  The other party would of course hammer at them, but their own kin would have likely been more supportive.

Bottom line – if the current political establishment status quo was a planet, the Carsons and Fiorinas would have been seen as rather stable moons orbiting around it. Reasonable outsiders like them might have some effect on the establishment’s tides, but even those changes would soon become predictable and manageable.

Trump, on the other hand, has been like a raging asteroid on a collision course with the planet, about to cause an extinction level event (for all of you “Deep Impact” movie fans). He is clearly a disruptor. One of his crucial messages is that Washington politics is fundamentally broken and needs to be scrapped, not just mended. He rants about it and never lets up. He views culprits in both parties, probably equally. And, I have the feeling that his message would have likely been the same, regardless of his opponent. And fortunately or unfortunately, Clinton has also given him a lot of  fodder to make his points, even to those in his party who have opposed him.

Based on all the noise he has made from the onset, one would easily draw the conclusion that Trump believed he could swoop in as an outsider, upend the current political process, and  be crowned the victor, or he would not have wasted the time and money. I am not sure that even he, as savvy as he claims to be, could comprehend just how large and powerful the establishment was, that he was trying to challenge.

Whether in a country’s political system, or in the way a small businesses operates on a daily basis, the status quo is alive and well in all aspects of life. For those of you in business, you are familiar with its power. How many times have you heard something like “you just can’t turn a ship on a dime, or some other rationalization for slow steady change. To some degree the status quo (and its accompanying sacred cows) is rigged – to maintain the comfort, safety and predictability which people have come to expect from it. Often, it is simply easier to go along with the status quo, and attempt to tweak it a little bit here and there. With enough tweaks, there can be real change. The downside is, if it takes too long, you might find yourself playing catch up to more nimble, flexible and innovative competitors, who no longer abide by the old thinking which is still guiding you. Just remember that taking on a well – entrenched status quo, will always be a formidable task. That is one reason we never describe leaders, who are challenging the process, as comfortable or complacent.

So leaders, when you attempt to affect change, especially big change, expect the kitchen sink to be thrown at you by the caretakers of the status quo, even those you thought were on your side. Just don’t give up, and for Pete’s sake, don’t make it harder on yourself by alienating those you need to ultimately support you.

PS: In a few days we will know if the outrageous outsider will triumph against the status quo. Whether he wins or loses, it is doubtful that the world will come to an end or that Washington will immediately be turned upside down. Whether functioning well or not, the current political system is strong and deeply rooted, and no single outsider can dismantle it overnight.

All the best.

Comments

  1. Jodi Landers says:

    I like the political comparison as status quo and outside ideas are always in play in the workplace. What’s happening currently is just a more publicized picture of what happens every day. While I think neither candidate is a “prize pick”, I think many would agree that we are due for some positive changes in our country. Neither side appears to possess authenticity, sincerity, genuineness, real, in touch concern…because neither is capable of those feelings in the position they are in. Make sense? The system has become one that puts a person in the most powerful position in the world, but who has no earthly idea who lives under his/her reign. It’s rigged in that way as well…rigged to be ineffective, disingenuous, unauthentic, etc.

    There’s a book that came out quite a while ago, probably out of print now. It’s called “The King Pickers”…interesting spin on how political big shots are “grown” from early in their careers.

  2. Thanks for the comments. Perhaps you will find the current bumper sticker relevant – “help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope.” I have met many who want change, providing it does not make them too uncomfortable. If only life were so easy. Take care.

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