When I was in London earlier this year, up close to the awkward, endless manoeuvring over Brexit, I was reminded of Thomas Friedman’s questions about it in a television interview with him I had heard. “Who is it going to benefit? In what context are we doing it? It’s what has been completely missing from the debate,” he commented. While both Remainers and Leavers were looking for a win, they had never thought through for whom the win would be, never mind when and how in the prevailing global context. “It’s all about the morning after the morning after,” he pointed out inconveniently.
“They’re trying to pull out of the European Union,” the author of ‘‘The World Is Flat’’ observed, “and nobody has a clue what to do.” It’s what he observed happens when even a slight majority of a country follows someone who has a policy that’s just one paragraph with none to follow. “Brexit, we’re going to Brexit. We’re going to get out of Europe, and everything’s going to be fine.”
Unsurprisingly, New York Times columnist Friedman is not a Trump fan, while admitting that the president will get applause from 30 per cent 6of the country no matter what he does. As Trump himself boasted, even if he shoots someone on Fifth Avenue.
Nothing Trump ever says has a second paragraph, according to Friedman. Build a wall to stop illegal immigration; tear up the nuclear deal with Iran, and trade deals with all and sundry; kill climate policy, and the one on family planning; cut taxes and raise military spending… “Every box just marks an applause line he needed somewhere to get elected. Nothing connects,” he scoffs, just as he found in the UK with the Brexit issue.
“Britain’s political system is in turmoil and its economy is facing declining growth prospects, because a bare majority voted to follow leaders with no second paragraph. That’s what happens when you vote for ‘disrupters’ who never spent a second thinking through how all of their disruptions connect the morning after the morning after.”
Friedman asked what Trump will have accomplished. Because his base elected him not just to generate applause, and for that he needs to forge compromises so as to improve things for those who voted for him because they were hurting.
For Friedman the Trump doctrine is “Obama built it, I broke it, Congress fix it; okay?” And when Republican and Democratic Congressmen and Senators get together and reach a compromise, which is the only way you can get anything done, then you run back to your base. “Do you want to make a point, or do you want to make a difference?” he asks.
Earlier, in an October 2017 New York Times article, he explained that you’ve got to stop and ask what the big trends in the world are. “What’s in our favour? What’s working against us? How do we align ourselves with the best and cushion the worst? But if you just say, ‘I’m here to cut taxes,’ well, why are we cutting taxes?”
As in past articles where I have related something I have come across elsewhere to us here in Kenya, Friedman’s “second paragraph” question naturally led me to ask who here has and has not thought through theirs. My conclusion? We are unusually good at laying out the sequence of needed paragraphs, whether with Vision 2030 and its Medium Term Plans, or the Big Four or other national initiatives. Our challenge is different. It’s in the follow through, the execution. It’s bringing those subsequent paragraphs to life.
Having said that, at other levels – like everywhere else – second paragraphs do lack. A good example is when I run outdoor teambuilding activities with ropes and suchlike: the first person to come up with an idea launches the team into frantic instant action. But almost without exception they flounder, and the reason is that there was no second paragraph.
It is only then that someone must follow up “the big idea” with the “how” of full implementation to desired impact. It requires strength of mind to venture beyond that easy first paragraph. Always make sure you do… even if those around you don’t yet see the need to.