Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 29, 2018
There’s a certain strain of leader, men mostly, who just do not want to be questioned.
Strip away all else about the confirmation hearings about the exact dispute that brought about Thursday’s extraordinary Senate hearing, and what you got is this: Judge Brett Kavanaugh doesn’t think his actions should be questioned. Neither, surprisingly or not, did Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC, who ended up trashing his own hearing set-up, who, by yesterday, sounded as if he was regaining his composure.
Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump, who shows daily that he does not want his opinions, actions or speech to be challenged. So, Trump lets loose about taxes, tariffs and finances without thinking through the effects, makes pronouncements about Muslims and immigrants without fact, and ignores what Science and reality reflect — all without a second thought.
Indeed, besides anti-woman sentiment, Harvey Weinstein and all of the corporate leaders who have been targeted as part of the #MeToo movement share one trait: They are indignant that their judgment has been questioned. Indeed, we have come to associate a cockeyed-view of power in the workplace, in office or elsewhere with an explanation for running afoul of the societal rules.
In public life, we have come to value “strength” in leadership without really thinking through what really constitutes strength. Think about your own bosses: Were the most insistent bosses the most effective? Over centuries, our society has adopted a love for the hero riding in on a white stallion as a leadership style.
By contrast, in her testimony, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford went out of her way several times to talk about working cooperatively with senators to find the “information” behind her sexual assault, about ways to “help” the committee. That relative cooperativeness was among the elements that made her appearance so appealing.
The insistence on always being right obviously is not related to issues of sexual assault. Tune in to cable news these days, and you’ll hear one talking head after another building arguments based on intellectual sand. But you may hear the tell-tale signs of certainty from your investment adviser, your plumber, your neighbor or even your spouse.
People have studied this style of decision-making, of course, including the folks who make up those testing instruments like the Meyers Briggs self-report measure of personality traits (there are plenty of other such measures). Through a variety of questions, the questionnaire offers differing psychological preferences about how people perceive the world and distill information, and then encapsulates them in thumbnail sketches; it’s not predictive, and it applies only to personal preference for distilling information, not behavior. So, if you align traits associated with whether your processing matches best with elements like Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving, Sensing/Intuition, and Extraversion/Introversion, you get a snapshot.
Nevertheless, as an oversimplification, the thumbnail sketch of leadership we likely are seeing playing out in these very assertive personalities we’ve been seeing is “commandant,” that combination of most judgmental, least uncertain processes. Of course, commandants also are people, including me at times (though not strongly so) who might be astronauts, editors, scientists or lots of other perfectly wonderful ways of life. Over time, people change and tend to take on the opposites of their personality elements, and so, each of us is a mix.
Unless they don’t change.
Earlier in his confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh described his potential judgeship as an umpire calling balls and strikes, a classically acceptable view of what we might accept as a Supreme Court justice. Under pressure at the hearing, we saw something quite different, of course. We saw a highly agitated, sarcastic, bombastic party partisan. We saw someone who, in his own defense, was rude and sarcastic with Democratic senators. That picture is the opposite of what we generally find acceptable in a judicial nominee.
Indeed, editorials in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post all suggested opposing the Kavanaugh nomination right now exactly because of this demeanor reflected at the hearing. This is an issue quite separate from the possibilities of any sexual abuse, of course.
There is a difference between speaking out strongly, persuasively, and insisting on always being right. There is a difference between listening hard, asking questions when necessary, guiding a discussion and simply insisting that there is a single way to interpret information. We all could use a bit more feeling and perceiving qualities, along with our sureness.
Surprisingly, the Senate Judicial Committee majority Republicans hiccupped before from moving ahead with the Kavanaugh confirmation to gain support from Sen. Jeff Flake, who said his price for support of the nominee was a short, directed FBI inquiry of the current allegations.
As a result, we all will live with this current craziness, snug in our still-uninformed beliefs, for another week.
Nevertheless, the moral is that it’s up to the rest of us to keep raising questions, whether or not they are wanted.