“All Glory is Fleeting. . .”

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters, musicians, and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him.  Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses.  A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

– Gen. George S. Patton

I am a realist – a pragmatic seeker of that which is real and possible – and I tend to dismiss those who live in some chimerical fantasyland where ‘hope’ is the operative strategy. 

For me, genuineness has always been infinitely more fascinating than make-believe.  Perhaps because the truth is such a rare and precious commodity in modern life. 

Even as a kid, I was never frightened by Halloween haunted houses – or mesmerized by the “magic” of Disney World – because I was always poking my head behind-the-scenes, pointing out the rods, pullies and animatronics that most pretend don’t exist in their desire to be willingly fooled and “entertained.”     

My life experience, which includes graduating magna cum laude from the prestigious Institut des Coups Durs, has taught me that things are never quite as good – or bad – as we think they are. 

But it has made me hyper-suspicious of politicians, magicians, and snake oil salesmen (sorry for the redundancy) who spin the truth and use deceptive persuasion, half-truths, and exaggerated sleight-of-hand to create an alternate reality that, over time, we come to accept as fact.

Look, don’t take my word for it. 

Turn on any network news sideshow – or open a major newspaper this morning – and you tell me if anything you hear, see, or read materially comports with known facts? 

In the aftermath of our local elections, I read with interest the pie-in-the-sky goals of some of our newly elected officials – many of whom are about to experience their first sweet taste of unbridled power and influence in the microcosm of city or county government – where the haughty trappings of office and the obsequious fawning of their “new friends” with ulterior motives can be more intoxicating than 101 proof bourbon. 

Meeting those highfalutin goals won’t be easy for most – and downright impossible for some – and they will have no one to blame but themselves.

In a previous life, I once heard a story about a newly minted elected official who was invited to a congratulatory dinner following his election by a prominent real estate developer, and how incredibly impressed the neophyte politician – a service industry worker by trade – was when the wealthy businessman paid for dinner and drinks with a “black” American Express Centurion card.

I thought how easily alliances are changed, ethics compromised, and campaign promises broken when the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker enter this heady new world – where they are finally treated like “equals” and everyone laughs at their jokes – a slippery slope where they are told anything is possible with the right application of the people’s money.  

An ultimately cruel and unforgiving place where they are immediately forgotten, like so much worthless rubbish, when they lose an election and no longer hold value for those once backslapping “friends” who stand at the nexus of public funds and private profit motives. 

Nobody said public service would be easy.

If I were to purchase one gift for first term politicians preparing to take their seat on the dais of power, it would be a hand mirror.

When the time comes – and it will – when the crown lays heavy and the feeling of infallibility overcomes the willingness to listen, when their neighbors are screaming and chippie critics like me are bitching about how they screwed up the difficult calls, when compromising their ethics would be the easiest course, or those times when special interests are lobbying for a controversial policy or perquisite – they could take a hard look in that mirror and remember why they sought and fought to serve in the first place.  

To those who have just ascended to high office, here are some things I learned from three-decades in public life that may help once the euphoria of the big win and well-deserved celebrations have ended.

And its some pretty good advice for anyone who currently holds public office.

Consider it a heartfelt gift from me to you – a primer on “How to succeed in government without really trying”:

Rubber-chicken dinners and galas with haughty awards, ego massage, and goofy accolades are not important – coffee with a concerned constituent is.

Humility and a true willingness to admit honest mistakes – then correcting them – is omnipotent to winning and keeping the public’s trust – because people can forgive those errors and omissions they see themselves making.

The loudest person in the room is not always right.  They are not always wrong, either.   

Your constituents understand that you are human, but they expect and deserve a commitment to the ultimate in ethical, moral and honorable behavior that respects human dignity, obeys the rule of law, and brings honor to public service.

And citizens demand that elected officials hold themselves, and others in positions of power, accountable for their actions – because anything less weakens the system.

It is also important to support career civil servants – listen to their suggestions and recommendations for improving service delivery – and never use them as pawns or scapegoats for political expediency. 

Demand a high standard of excellence from the city/county manager – he or she holds more of the cards than any one elected official – and give the executive the courtesy of frequent, fair, and objective performance reviews so they know where they stand, what you expect, and how they can improve. 

In public service, courage is defined as the mental, moral, and physical strength that sees us through challenges and allows us to do the right thing – for the right reason – and lead by personal example as you make the difficult decisions that touch the lives and livelihoods of those you serve under incredible internal and external pressures.

Find that inner courage – hold firm to your sacred oath of office and core values – and take pride in the fact your neighbors, staff, and fellow citizens have put their confidence in your ability to lead – and your vision for our collective future.

And never lose sight of the impermanence of power and position. 

“All glory is fleeting. . .” 

That is the reality of politics. 

8 thoughts on ““All Glory is Fleeting. . .”

  1. Time to learn that builder and corporate money will not buy our intelligent voters who watched a Brower is dangerous commercial 5 times a day..Bloomberg,tech and Wall Street money plus a corrupt media and polls did not create a runaway election and the GOP gain Reps in the House and Pelosi it is time to retire.Looks like the GOP has the Senate so we will be a do nothing country and apologize to the world like the 8 years of Obama and Biden.Brought to you by a Dem for 50 years. Anyone know where Hunter is or why the FBI had his evidence for a year and did nothing.Called corruption that has been going on for 5 years

    Liked by 2 people

    1. At last word, Hunter was in California with his new, pregnant wife (unless she’s given birth already, in which case he’s there with his wife and kid). But in the spirit of this column’s theme of how soon folks forget where they came from, I’m not nominating him for sainthood just because he was on the wrong end of an attempted smear job. You see, he’s in California to get away from the stripper he knocked up and abandoned in flyover country—*and* claimed poverty to avoid paying child support! 🙄 One does not simply “move to California” with no money. One also does not have “no money” when one’s dad has a rolodex like Joe Biden’s. Drug addict or no, *somebody* will give the kid a sinecure.

      (Side note: Hunter was already in CA crying poverty when the broken computer was allegedly dropped off at a repair shop on the other side of the country in DE. *womp womp*)

      We see it over and over again—one generation busts their a$$ to make it big, then the kids come along and, having little or no sense of their parents’ sacrifices and hard work, grow up with a sense of entitlement and without the realization that they were born on third base. The parents, naturally wanting things to be better and easier for their kids, at best don’t recognize this information gap; may recognize it but have no idea how to correct it (words really don’t convey years of struggle and sacrifice, or sometimes just plain chutzpah, that got them where they are); or at worst, their goal was to land themselves and their kids in the social strata where the rules no longer apply to them, so they’re fine with it. So many examples come to mind: Rand Paul… the Walton kids… the Drumpfs… the Sacklers (though the parents may have been in on that one)… one odd exception was the Kennedys, where the entitlement seems to have taken *two* generations to manifest.

      Pelosi is 2nd generation wealth and power, which explains a lot. Her father, Tommy D’Alesandro, ran a political machine. And yes it is time for her to step aside. She had said the term that just ended would be her last as Speaker. I don’t believe it for a minute.

      She and Schumer are both playing by old rules. They’re still making nice, when the other side has declared all-out war. No matter how many times GOP Lucy pulls away the football, Dem Charlie Brown keeps coming back for more. This has been going on more or less since Newt Gingrich, but they still don’t get it. It’s almost as if they’re well-paid to keep kicking at air and landing on their backs. 🤔 They’re so deep into the gravy train, they don’t see the torches and pitchforks coming over the hill. Nancy thinks she can wave her hand and put the peasants back in their place. The inequality has once again become Gilded-Age excessive, and she fails to confront it at her own peril.

      /tangent

      Like

  2. Most excellent comments, Mark. The thing I deplore most in politics, and life, is lack of integrity. Hopefully we will make a hard turn back towards responsible governance that places value in the wants and needs of the people they represent over the desires of the developers, whose only aim is to chop up our paradise and sell in off while pocketing the profits.
    Jeff Brower now has a chance to make a difference and I hope he takes advantage of the momentum to make positive and substantial changes to the benefit of ALL of our citizens, not just the rich and powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Read you every day Mr. B and we agree about 95% of the time (although I can never entirely trust a former “public servant”). I remind myself every day, as you did today, that “Hope is not a long-term plan”.
    Keep it up!

    Like

  4. Read you every day Mr. B and we agree about 95% of the time (although I can never entirely trust a former “public servant”). I remind myself every day, as you did today, that “Hope is not a long-term plan”.
    Keep it up!

    Like

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