Like all social animals, humans are socialized through personal interaction – first, our families, then through our friendships, and lastly through our community. This last group can be as small as a neighborhood or as large as a country. It is through these relationships that we understand the world and our place in it. Because of this, our relationship with the world is an emotional one.
From our first breath we have an innate need for social connection, and our brains are developed around this need. We are taught – imprinted, really – to relate to our world and the people in it based upon how we feel about it and them. Reasoning and critical thinking emerge much later in the development of humans. What we can say without much argument is that emotion clouds reason.
But you actually live in a physical world that’s objective. You can’t have an emotional relationship with it, or all the people in it that you can never know. To function successfully in that objective world requires high-level cognitive development and critical-thinking skills.
Politics is part of that objective world, and everything in it is transactional. As former Congressman William Clay so insightfully pointed out, in politics “there are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests.” Therefore success – survival, even – means you have to subordinate all of your human instincts to this cognitive reality.
Because of this reality, politics has only one real operating principle you need to understand. “Quid pro quo” is a Latin expression which means “this for that,” indicating an arrangement where two parties agree to make a mutual exchange.
Since mistakes are an effective teacher, I’m going to use the monumental political failure of the proposed professional soccer stadium to illustrate quid pro quo.
In 35 years of governmental service, I never heard anyone black say that a $200 million soccer stadium would solve any problem in St. Louis’ black community. Fortunately the voters in the City of St. Louis, including an overwhelming number of black voters, saved us from the political malpractice of African-American elected officials (the proposition never would have gotten on the ballot but for African-American political support). So how did it also most happen?
The soccer stadium was the fantasy of some nouveau rich white guys who thought they should own a professional soccer team, and naturally they wanted the working people of St. Louis to give them a stadium.
Here is what a soccer stadium scenario could look like with competent black politicians operating from the principle of quid pro quo: “You want a $200 million soccer stadium, I don’t. I want a $100 million development fund for North St Louis. I’ll support your soccer stadium in exchange for your support for my development fund, plus 40 percent of contracts and 40 percent of the employment on the construction of the soccer stadium. Take or leave it!”
This is critically important at this moment because St. Louis’ white business leadership is actively pushing the city to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport. There were probably only white people in the room when this scheme was hatched. But the damnedest thing is, they have no power to execute the idea. To dispose of any real estate assets of the City of St. Louis, it requires the approval of the Board of Estimate & Appropriate and two-thirds of the Board of Aldermen. The fate of Lambert is not in the hands of the white business leadership of the St. Louis region, but entirely in the control of the African-American elected officials of St. Louis.
I have no idea what African-American elected officials will do with this deal, but I can tell you what competent black politicians would do. They would remind the St. Louis business community, “It’s not personal, it’s business,” and make a deal that benefits the black community.
Mike Jones is a former senior staffer in St. Louis city and county government and current member of the Missouri State Board of Education and The St. Louis American editorial board.