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Tuesday 12 November 2019
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Commentary

A desire for authentic leadership

I have been following the lead-up to the 2020 Democratic party presidential primaries and caucuses in the United States quite closely. The dynamics of the race and the issues being discussed have captivated me. After all, when the US catches a cold, the world sneezes.

What has fascinated me most is the glaring generational differences in candidates of choice for potential voters. Nothing is starker than the phenomenon of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

At 78, Sanders is the oldest in the race, yet almost consistently polls as the most popular candidate with voters under the age of 45. His support shrinks as age increases, and plummets among those voters over the age of 65.

Sanders is not your typical Washington politician. With his slightly dishevelled looks, uncombed white hair, and sometimes-blunt demeanour, he is not exactly the image of the usual refined product of Capitol Hill.

In the age of identity politics – espoused by the liberal left – and the idea that being a woman, a person of colour, or a member of the LGBTQ+ community is more important than authenticity and track record, one must wonder why this old white man – among a field of six candidates of colour, five women, and an openly gay man – is the darling of the young. After all, we are supposed to desire diversity in representation and political correctness.

This represents one of those basic views that older generations get wrong about today’s youth. While we believe in those things, we value authenticity, are issue-oriented, and, believe it or not, pay very close attention to what people do, and not just what they say.

Sanders, who in his college years was a civil-rights activist, was supporting women's and gay rights and sounding the alarm on climate change long before it was fashionable to do so. He has been railing against income inequality for decades, and has a track record of opposing the US’s imperial ambitions.

The mature voters feel safer sticking to the typical establishment candidate, Joe Biden, whose record over the years has been questionable, to say the least, but who represents familiarity and stability. Sanders, to them, is an unviable and unorthodox candidate who represents too much of a change to the prevailing societal and economic systems.

I often reflect on my many conversations with other young local professionals in my field, and their assessment of our own professional-political dynamics.

There’s a consistent sentiment that arises in all of these conversations. We, the up and coming professionals, are tired of the eloquently untrustworthy speakers, empty words and ruthless politicking. Too many of our institutions, in charge of guiding our urban planning-related decisions, are led by professionals who seem to be under the impression that they are heads of the noble families jostling for the throne in the 15th-century English War of the Roses.

Instead of focusing their efforts on advancing their technical knowledge, studying the past mistakes of other countries – to avoid following the same fate–and actually tackling our many existential issues, they are too busy sharpening their swords, looking for allies, attempting to weaken their perceived enemies, or using their identity – whether race, sex, or a benevolent religious facade – to distract people from their questionable character and actions.

The truly sad part is that they, and many – but thankfully not all – of their contemporaries, and their young disciples, have already become so tainted or transfixed by the status-quo modus operandi that they are of the impression that this is par for the course for the behaviour of those in positions of leadership.

If they are not careful – as they are clearly not being – they will soon open their eyes and realise that they have destroyed an entire profession for a generation of planners, and caused possibly irreparable harm to the future of the nation. A future that will not be left to them to somehow deal with and mend.

One can only hope that we start paying attention to the people we put in positions of power, and that the older generations, who still hold most of this influence, pay attention to what the young, hungry for authentic leadership, are clamouring for.

Already, the number of young planners fleeing the profession is alarming. In an already small group, there are numerous planners with master’s degrees in the field, who have fled to foreign countries to teach English as a second language, who are willing to take huge pay cuts to join the local teaching profession, or who are just generally seeking work in other fields locally, or migrating, all to escape this nonsensical and soul-crushing race to the bottom.

* Ryan Darmanie is a professional urban planning and design consultant, and an avid observer of people, the human habitat, and the socio-economic and political dynamics of society. You can connect with him at darmanieplanningdesign.com or email him at ryan@darmanieplanningdesign.com

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