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Diplomacy First PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jay Beskin, BT Contributor   
December 2016

In these tough political times, try to encourage people’s inner virtue

NPix_JayBeskin_12-16o Trump voter I, but I do acknowledge that his victory in the presidential election is a boon for the State of Florida, particularly the South Florida region.

First of all, the Donald has for several decades maintained a luxurious home away from home in Palm Beach, where to his credit he was a strong voice fighting discrimination against race or creed in uppity social circles like country clubs. Add to that his more recent purchase of the Trump National Doral resort, and he has sunk some serious roots in our shifting sands.

Second, voters in this state did collaborate on granting him our 29 representatives in the Electoral College, an institution presumably more enduring than the ill-fated Trump University.

Third, Gov. Rick Scott backed him consistently, even when others abandoned him over the various embarrassing revelations that dotted the campaign. Even when the reality star’s trek seemed to be seeing stars and missing reality, Scotty was there to beam him up.

Add to all this Trump’s long career in development and construction, a prime facet of our state’s growth track, and it would be fair to deduce that Donald J. Trump in the White House is good economic news for Florida. That being said, a thoughtful strategy needs to be…developed, you should excuse the expression…so as to maximize the upsides of this relationship while minimizing the downsides.

Yes, we should be in favor of development here, but not at the expense of real environmental hazards. Nor at the expense of our precious natural areas, such as the Everglades or beautiful beaches. In the past we had Republican governors who took those balancing obligations fairly seriously. Indeed, that responsible style was a key component in the popularity of Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist (before he became an Independent…before he became a Democrat). The case of Rick Scott is more complex. We haven’t seen clear evidence that he is weighed down very heavily by such scruples.

Scott has not been an egregious violator of environmental or ecological concerns, but he also has not really been tested. The economy was sluggish and the big dreamers with the big projects were in short supply. But if a perceived Trump entrepreneurial boom breeds some odious projects alongside the laudable ones, will the governor be motivated (with no reelection opportunity) to bar the door? Some of us are skeptical; we hope for the best and fear the worst.

So I believe that we must be vigilant against the possibility of plans that may find a way over the top and under the radar, or over the moon and under the table. We are happy to be the boom town, but we do not want to be the ka-boom town. We would like to see our economy explode, but we do not want to see it blow up.

The key to being effective in this area is to avoid confrontational, belligerent, and guilty-until-proved-innocent accusations. These kinds of overwrought assumptions may be effective in campaigning, but only serve to breed hostility in real-life situations. This may be my degree in diplomacy talking, more than my career in public office in Aventura, but I continue to believe that loud voices should be reserved for crises. Pleasant voices are more likely to assure mutual respect and encourage both sides in a political or business relationship to avoid stepping on each other’s toes.

In that spirit, I would caution against accusing President-elect Trump of being hostile or indifferent to environmental or ecological concerns. I do not advocate digging up old battles he may have had with municipalities or unions in past construction projects. Trying to impute ill will to him or labeling him a bad guy in one way or another will serve as a provocation, not a pathway to conciliation.

My approach would be to praise him as a great builder, as a man of vision, as a man with an aesthetic sensibility, as a recognizer of potential, as a man who demands the best in himself and others, and accepts no less, as a man who follows through on his projects start to finish, as a man who has the capacity to reimagine a challenge and invent new ways to overcome it -- in short, reinforce the self-image he is always eager to project.

But then, continuing in the positive mode, I would praise him for being responsible, for recognizing the boundary lines, for understanding that adding aesthetics to the world cannot involve adding destructive elements. The message should be: We love our state, we do want it to grow, we do not want to be primitive or outdated, but neither do we want short-term growth at the expense of long-term health.

Enough about President-elect Trump for now, but I think this is an important model for engagement. Arguably, it would be a good idea to think this way about all people we encounter in the political realm: assume good intentions, good faith, good will, until shown otherwise. But even a cautious type who is afraid of thinking in this way should appreciate the importance of speaking this way.

This should not be condemned as lying or pandering or misleading or manipulating or sycophancy. This is simply diplomacy. Address people as if you were meeting “the better angels of their nature,” and you might very well find yourself in that very meeting. Give people the benefit of the doubt, even if you initially doubt the benefit. People are motivated to live up to the noble image of themselves that you lay out before them.

Granted, con men may do something similar to this, and they see it as buttering up people and catching them off guard. They then take advantage of the vulnerabilities they discover, seeing them as frailties. They begin with an image of their interlocutor as undeserving of their praise, so the praise becomes insincere and manipulative by its very essence. The diplomat, in contrast, addresses the best part of a person in an effort to bring that to the fore. By seeing -- perhaps with some wishful thinking -- his interlocutor as deserving of his praise, the diplomat is a coach of virtue, as well as a miner of virtue.

We hope that our state will benefit by having one of our part-time citizens residing out of season at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We do intend to engage him in positive and respectful ways.

But we have to be alert in order to prevent hijackers from turning his victory into a Pyrrhic one. We want to build the future, not tear it down.

 

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