Touchy-Feely or Command and Control? How about Neither?

A story on the inaugural summit of the new Obama Foundation gave me chills, and not good ones.

Particularly queasy-making, for me, was this:

“… [I]n between breakout sessions with titles like ‘The Adventure of Civility’ and ‘Who Narrates the World?,’ people took pastel-colored chalk and filled out a blackboard customized with ‘I hope _______.’ (Samples: ‘we speak better and listen,’ ‘Americans will see each other,’ ‘my nephews can escape toxic¬†masculinity’).”

This thrust me back to my corporate days, when I’d be at my desk trying to work only to be interrupted by having to trudge to a conference room for an all-staff strategizing session. Or — if my department was merging with another one — it might be an “ice breaking” meeting with new colleagues.

Whenever I entered a room and saw big flip-pad pages taped to the walls, and colored markers and ribbons of sticky-dots set out on the table, my heart sank. These were the cues that for the rest of the afternoon I would be trapped in a sort of hell. Presiding over that hell would be a chirpy HR manager directing us to “break into small groups,” “brainstorm for ten minutes,” “report back to the whole group,” “put a blue dot next to the idea you like best,” and on and on, one grade-school-type exercise after another.

Team-building retreats were even worse, because then you had to reveal personal information about yourself and play silly games. The free cookies never compensated for the boredom and embarrassment of these events.

What astonished me was knowing that some people actually liked these sorts of things, lived for them even, and assumed everyone else did too. I wonder where such people would cluster on Myers-Briggs or one of the other personality typing systems. Nowhere near me, I’m certain.

I get the sense that the folks who organized and attended the Obama summit would, if they could, have everyone in the country writing their hopes and fears on flip charts (or blackboards) and attending group sessions to discuss how to “see each other” and deal with “toxic masculinity” and other perceived societal and personal ills. Self-criticism meetings would surely follow.

You’re unlikely to find any such nonsense going on over in the Trump camp. Not for Team Trump is the soft dictatorship of the encounter group.

Employees of Trump’s companies probably never got called to some time-stealing meeting to write their ideas, let alone their hopes and fears, on a flip pad. They took their marching orders, and that was it. The Trump White House works the same way.

Trump’s style is command and control (with a notable element of crazy, it must be said). That’s probably why he loves to surround himself with former generals. It’s why personal loyalty to him is the most important trait in anyone he hires, almost to the exclusion of all others.

If Trump could have his way, we would all be working shoulder to shoulder in interlocking organizations, strictly ordered from the top down, to implement his vision of America the Great — and, of course, to glorify him.

Fascism has no place for touchy-feely. It’s bad enough that Congress, judges and rebels in Trump’s own party stymie him at every turn. Why would he care about the peons’ feelings on anything? He’s the tweeter-in-chief, and he’ll tell us what we’re feeling.

The trouble with the Trump-ites, who are in power, and the Obama-ites, who are chomping to regain power, is that neither want to leave the rest of us alone. It simply doesn’t occur to them that 325 million people can see to their own lives without being commanded, corralled, hectored, lectured and, most of all, forced to surrender their own plans and resources to someone else’s notion of the common good.

Both approaches — touchy-feely decision-making and command-and-control — can lead to dictatorships that are anything but soft. Whether it’s men barking orders or people taking turns writing in pastel chalk, so long as they wield the power of state there’s always a gun in the room. In the end, we all have to do what the supremo or the people’s block committee tells us to, or suffer punishment.

Touchy-feely or command and control? When it comes to governing by coercion, say no to both.