Shout out to Matt Taibbi, for provoking me to write this article.
On December 22, 1989, the Romanian Dictator was in his Presidential Suite when he picked up the phone and called for military support - he asked for two helicopters and an armed guard.
The response from the other end came from his unit commander: “There has been a revolution, you are on your own... Good luck.”
How come President Ceaușescu needed to be told about the revolution, after it happened?
The previous afternoon, Ceaușescu had given his, now famous, speech from the balcony of Bucharest’s Central Committee Building. A speech that began like hundreds of others, with Ceaușescu praising the communist party's achievements and shouting down his critics, but this one ended differently.
His team had positioned the usual “plants” in the crowd, Peasants standing up front, enthusiastically cheering and waving flags under threat of violence. But five minutes into Ceaușescu’s speech, a taunt was yelled from the back, another followed. Then like a waterfall, the taunts became chants, and Ceaușescu lost control of the crowd. He stood there in disbelief, unable to recognize what was occurring in front of him. He shouted “Halo! Halo!”, for close to five minutes, as if the issue was his microphone.
Realizing a riot was breaking out, he followed his play book and sent out the military who attacked the crowd with clubs, water cannons and bullets.
Believing he had dealt with the threat, Ceaușescu went to bed. The revolution did not sleep.
In 24 hours, Ceaușescu went from being one of Europe's most feared men to scrambling through farmlands, running for his life.
He was captured by peasants and stood in front of a firing squad a mere four days later.
President Nicolae Ceaușescu had been the authoritarian dictator of Romania for over 20 years. He ran a vast network of spies, constantly outing dissenters and dealing with them violently. His secret police, the Securitate, had eyes and ears everywhere.
Despite this, Nicolae Ceaușescu had no plan for a revolution. He never anticipated one..
Ceaușescu suffered from a common symptom - availability bias. After 20 years of purging dissenters from his party, banning opposition parties from organizing, and dealing with his critics with distance and violence, Ceaușescu had no-one around him who would point out his blindspots. The information supplied to him only reinforced his conviction, and never challenged it.
He built his own echo chamber and it became his downfall. He thought he was too big to fail. His perception did not match reality.
With a far less dramatic outcome, Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election to Donald Trump due to similar perception. She did not believe that her opponent had any credibility in the minds of American voters.
When Clinton started dropping in popularity, her campaign advisors actually told her that her “appeal was just becoming more selective”. An absurd twist, as if to say, “you are less popular, but in a good way”.
Instead of addressing the issues, they changed their interpretation of them.
The defining moment of Hillary Clinton’s campaign was when she confidently alienated herself from half of the country by proclaiming from the podium, “You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables… racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, - you name it.”
She carved a line in the sand between herself and millions of American voters.
Who wrote that speech? Who failed to tell her that the populist uprising was real? Why did she have the confidence to assume that the “intelligent” were obviously on her side, and the rest must be a “basket of deplorables”?
Leading your supporters is easy. Dialoguing with your opposition is hard. Leadership requires hard work.
Two weeks ago, the now famous “Freedom Convoy” was traveling across Canada. I sent out a text to some friends asking the question, “Will this blow over in two weeks, or become an iconic Occupy Wall Street moment that defines the year?” The responses were mixed.
At that moment, I truly believed it could have become either - depending on one thing: Leadership.
The world watched to see how Prime Minister Trudeau would respond to thousands descending upon the capital. But there was no response to see, he disappeared, to an undisclosed location for “security reasons”.
The message sent was loud and clear, he felt unsafe in his own capital city, surrounded by his constituents. The equivalent of sending a press release titled, “I have lost control”.
As if he had hired Hillary Clinton’s speech writer, he dismissed the convoy supporters as a “fringe minority with unacceptable views”, drawing a line in the sand between himself and millions of Canadians.
He name called, and accused unvaccinated of being racist.
When the vaccines became available, a very close friend of mine hesitated. She was pregnant and didn’t feel like she had enough information to make an educated choice. She decided to delay her vaccination.
I thought she delayed because she was an over concerned parent. I didn't know it was because she was a racist.
But my situation is duplicated thousands of times across the country. The Prime Minister told me that someone I love has unacceptable views and is likely a racist.
This forced me to make a decision - I could acknowledge that the Prime Minister of my country knows my close friends better than I do, or acknowledge that our leader is vilifying people I care about.
He drew a line in the sand.
When I fight with my wife, I can engage, or I can sweep it under the rug. One path leads to a better understanding of her needs and an opportunity to express my own, and the other leads to a festering resentment and distance.
If my employees question my decisions, I have two choices, I can force the change, or I can open the floor to debate. I know that if I want true buy in, I need to open up the issue for dialogue.
Am I trivializing the leadership of a nation by drawing these parallels? Maybe.
But as the consequences increase, so does the need for best practices. I can overpower dissent within a group of 3 or 4. It is much harder in a group of 300 or 400.
The more we scale, the more important leadership becomes.
I sent my text out to friends on January 30th. At that time, there were no blocked streets, no demonstrations, just a convoy traveling across the country.
Today, thirteen days later, three international borders with the US are congested and in-operational. The scale of parked semi-trucks and heavy machinery is a logistics puzzle authorities lack the resources to solve. This will not end anytime soon.
There has been a strong attempt from liberal media to paint this as a white supremacist movement. More than anything, this displays how lazy and incompetent mainstream journalism has become. In any mass gatherings there will be some bad actors, but if you are trying to convince me that there have been 50,000 highly organized white supremacists in Canada… that have just been hiding for the last 50 years… I don’t believe you.
Awkwardly, US liberal media outlets have shown trucks flying the Confederate flag. It might convince American viewers of nefarious behavior, although it overlooks a key point… that most Candians couldn’t even identify a Confederate flag. That wasn't our war.
Democratic societies need to welcome opposition. We need the confidence for tolerant debate. We need to respect arguments that challenge our values even when the logic seems irrational.
We all arrive at decisions with baggage - our biases, blindspots, life experiences and core values. These things impact our interpretation of reality. We will never see eye to eye, we are too unique.
When leveraged by a great leader, diversity is a strength.
I supported the Freedom Convoy because I enthusiastically support civil disobedience. Authority left unopposed is a hazard to everyone. I also believe a day will come in the near future when I will feel like the convoy has gone too far.
But the reason it will go too far is not the fault of the demonstrators. It will go too far because of the failure of the leadership to engage.
The leader did not respect his opposition. He did not believe in the scale of his critics.
The whole country will pay the price.