by John Borst,
Rotary is one of America’s greatest and most unique cultural exports. It ranks right up there with Rock and Roll and Supermarkets.
Even though Rotary is now very international and influenced by Asian, European and African cultures, it is still, first and foremost, influenced by changes in American culture. Our presidents and boards of directors have been, for decades now, a polyglot of the world’s nationalities but the Americanness of the institution has not lessened.
Hence, when America lurches through an unprecedented election cycle, one that many on the victorious side are calling a “revolution” rather than an election, we need to ask what lessons Rotary may learn from such a momentous “cultural shift”.
The first conclusion is that Rotary’s values are not deeply ingrained among American Rotarians. They play little part in how a candidate is judged for the highest political office in the country and most important leadership position in the free world.
Certainly, any Rotarian who would claim that the victor exemplified the principles embedded in the “4 Way Test” and 4 “Objects of Rotary” would be laughed off the stage, especially internationally. Although no exit data exists, the likelihood is extremely high that Rotarians voted for the victor in numbers greater than the American average given Rotary’s gender, age, and geographic distribution within the country. There are over 340,000 members in the USA, hence tens of thousands put aside their Rotarian principles and voted for a candidate who did not even nominally, meet our cherished standards.
This, I think should give pause to Rotary as an institution, just as it should to the many faiths embodied in the American electorate whose belief principles were likewise put aside in the name of change.
The second result of the 2016 election is that Rotary’s peace initiative may lay in tatters. How can a Rotary trained Peace fellow ever again stand tall in a third world country when the host that provided the training, is fraught with warring factions who have lost the spirit of compromise, the first principle upon which all democratically elected representative governments successfully operate.
Everyone everywhere saw the depths of incivility to which this election descended. We were aghast at the gap and hypocrisy between American ideals and reality. We were shocked at the outcome.
We should now be wondering, how badly hurt will Rotary’s peace ambassadors be when they are asked to mediate conflicts abroad? Will Rotary even need to think about applying peace ambassadors to local conflicts at home?
Thirdly, this election also mirrored the many ways in which the conflict between women and men in leadership positions both within Rotary’s founding nation-state and Rotary itself. This election has laid bare the difficulty American males have with a woman at the highest echelon of power, the presidency. Is it any wonder that Rotary has made such slow progress in building a cohort of women who are eligible to be president of the organization and has taken no action to change the nomination process which acts as a barrier to such a nomination?
It has also laid bare the reality that Rotary in America is closer in its demographics to the preponderance of white electors who supported the victor, than to the diversity represented by the loser. Only very recently has Rotary asked of its District Governors to set targets for increased diversity leaving out any reference to such components as race, nationality or gender. Given the divisions now visible within the general population, one has to wonder if Rotary in America can actively even pursue greater diversity. Does it even know in what direction it must turn, in order to remain relevant to future generations of Americans?
Finally, this election should give pause to Rotary’s leaders and its 100 percent hands-off anything to do with elections. Yes, it must not endorse any candidate to protect its Foundation’s legitimacy. But clearly, this election demonstrated that Americans, including Rotarians, need to be reminded that their constitution and system of representative governance is founded on behavior which works to the benefit of all citizens. It’s an action to which Rotary should give some serious thought, both within America and within Rotary.
A post you may also want to read: 5 months ago I posted the following piece https://5550opinions.wordpress.com/2016/06/21/rotary-and-a-candidate-named-trump/. It was made private during the official election campaign. The piece is a fictional story but the issue remains germane to Rotary.