No Room For Humility In American Politics

We’ve all heard that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Next month the squeakiest wheel might also get elected president. It occurred to me the other night as I watched from my parents’ couch as President Trump and Joe Biden shouted over one another on a national live stream. I laughed. I cried. I went to bed early.

At this point in the week, I think everyone agrees that they both behaved badly. Trump and Biden were engaged in nothing more than a battle of egos, trying to win for the sake of winning. I learned very little about “the issues.” Today I’m convinced there’s no room in American politics for any quiet, humble human being, which is too bad.

As a quiet person myself, now and again, I am confronted with the realities of being quiet. Given a situation with a cohort of peers, aside from my minority characteristics, I tend to blend into the background, drowned out in the competition for the top squeaky wheel. I don’t mean for this to sound ho-hum. It’s just part of my deal. I’m an introvert, and I’m fine with it.

But I’m not fine with it. So I picked up the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, and I laughed at myself and the world and how there is a book for every problem today. So far in the book, Susan Cain confirms what I and every introvert already know: it’s hard to get ahead in the world as an introvert. At least in the U.S., this is true. But our premium on extravertedness is cultural and not an absolute. See diagrams below from When Cultures Collide, 3rd Edition: Leading Across Cultures.

Several years ago, at a graduation party, I chatted with a friend of a friend of my sister’s, a woman who worked for a non-profit dedicated to promoting third party candidates for public office. By the time I met her, the startup had been dissolved, and she was looking for new projects, still fresh from the experience.

“The main thing I learned from it,” she said, “was that third-party candidates couldn’t break through the media noise without money.”

That sounds about right. We reward those who are loud and memorable and capable of breaking through the noise of day to day life. We want to be entertained everywhere we go, and we want to win for the sake of winning where the ends justify the means. We wanted to see an old-man brawl on Tuesday night, and that’s what we got. It’s a depressing thought for the introverts of the world, not to mention the country. But there’s still time to think, and a couple of debates left. The squeaky wheel can get the grease, but the squeaky wheel can also get replaced.