Sunday, September 9, 2018

Competence


Just back from the annual Opera in the Park, the free event where select singers perform arias from the operas to be staged this Fall and some 5,000 people are spread out on the grass with their elegant picnic lunches and champagne ready to toast, listening like parched travelers in the desert sipping cool water. The trees are gently waving to the conductor’s beat, the planes flying overhead are always in the wrong key, the clouds are floating by as our spirits are lifted high into the air. Simply lovely.

And what is mostly obvious struck me quite forcefully. Not a single person sang off key. No one got off the beat or entered at the wrong time in the music. No one flubbed a note—at least one the audience could hear. The sound system worked perfectly. The stage didn’t collapse. In short, everyone who was hired to do their work well did it well and we expect nothing less. And for these musicians to get to where they are was no casual saunter up the career path. They worked, they practiced, they networked, they showed up, they demonstrated time and time again that they were worthy of Mozart’s and Verdi’s notes and intents. They delivered in front of audiences who expected not only a high standard of competence, but also a fair dose of genuine inspiration so that they could honestly hold up the “Bravo! Brava!” card.

And the same for the sound engineer and the stage crew and the same for my car mechanic and doctor and airline pilot. When I avail myself of their services, I assume that they have entered the necessary training and passed all exams and continued to improve their sense of mastery in their field. Can you guess where I’m going with this?

What happens when a person completely unqualified is elevated to a position they neither earned nor deserved in a field in which they have little or no background or expertise and have no motivation to improve? What happens when they get fired or resigned not because they prove to be unqualified, but because their boss, the most unqualified of all for the job, simply gets tired of them and wants to throw his weight around and then hire the next incompetent?

It would be as if you went to the Opera and someone randomly picks someone from the audience to come up to sing the lead part. You go to the jazz club and Josh Redman hands his saxophone to you and says, “Here, you try it. 1, a 2, a 1-2-3 go!!" As if you brought your car in to be fixed and the mechanic says, “I don’t know what’s wrong. Let’s ask this guy walking down the street.” Walked into the restaurant and cook said, "Hey, I'm tired. Would you mind making the creme brûlée tonight?" You get the idea.

Politicians do have job descriptions. They’re supposed to be knowledgeable about and swear to uphold the Constitution. They’re supposed to serve their constituents, not just the people who voted for them, but all the people included in the “of the people, by the people and for the people” clause in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. When we allow incompetents to be elected whose only qualification is they know how to manipulate emotion through hate speech and false promises, well, the music starts to sound pretty bad. The planes get dangerous to ride and the food in the restaurant becomes inedible. And the dishes aren’t too clean either.

I found a Website that named all the people who Trump appointed who he later fired or they “resigned.” In key positions like National Security Adviser, EPA Administrator, Homeland Security Advisor, Director of the National Economic Council, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Chief Strategist. US Deputy Attorney General, White House Chief of Staff and 15 other jobs in which we hope competent people are leading the country, 23 people have left. (See
https://www.businessinsider.com/who-has-trump-fired-so-far-james-comey-sean-spicer-michael-flynn-2017-7) That's a little scary. Incompetence has become the new number 1 job qualification in this administration, to be quickly replaced by the next incompetent.

In the face of this extraordinary list, it’s time to bring competence back into the American public sphere. Don’t you agree?

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