The leaders we deserve

Ruth Wishart opens her column in The National by observing that the world is “crying out for strategic vision, humility and seriousness of purpose” and goes on to note the dearth of these attributes in US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Few of us, I suspect, would dispute the latter claim. Rarely have two concepts jarred quite so nauseatingly as ‘strategic vision’ and ‘Brexit’. Humility requires a degree of self-awareness that must surely be fatal to such towering egos. Seriousness of purpose is as evident in Trump on Twitter as it is in Boris on a zip-wire. Neither of these persons exhibits any of the qualities that would commonly be associated with the role of political leader in either of the countries where they have been elevated to that status. But thus elevated they unarguably have been. Which seems strikingly inconsistent with Ruth’s assertion that the world is “crying out” for leaders possessing the qualities that Donald Trump and Boris Johnson so evidently and entirely lack.

I have it on good authority that he UK and the US are two of the world’s greatest democracies. The Greeks may have invented it, but it took the Brits and the Yanks to show them how democracy should be done. We’re not supposed to laugh when it is claimed that Westminster is the exemplar of democratic parliaments and mother to all others. We’re not supposed to grimace at the idea of America bringing the light of democracy to those dark corners of the world where the wrong forms of tyranny reign. And yet, both these supremely democratic nations have somehow managed to contrive for themselves political leaders who are the very antithesis of what they are supposedly crying out for. How is this possible? How can it be that in nations where the people possess the power to choose their political leaders, the people end up with political leaders only vanishingly few would choose?

How can it sensibly be claimed that the UK and US are functioning democracies at the same time as implying that they have had political leaders imposed upon them by some power other than the people? For this is surely what Ruth Wishart is implying. Nowhere in an article bemoaning the paucity of their qualifications for their respective roles does she acknowledge that ultimate responsibility for this grotesque mismatch between requirement and incumbent must rest with the people. In a democracy, the buck stops with the people.

With what some might see as a certain lack of humility, Ruth Wishart closes by seeking to contrast Scotland’s political leadership with those of the US and the UK. She says,

There will not be a posse of the hard of thinking picketing the Scottish Government offices demanding to be “liberated”. And there will not be a trio of Scottish Government spokespeople railing at China, the WHO or any other useful scapegoat. This is a time for grown-ups. The UK and US got a short straw.

However well Scotland comes out of this comparison, humility demands we recognise that it would be extremely difficult to come out badly. And, while it may well be that this is a time for “grown-ups”, it cannot just as truly be claimed that the UK and the US “got a short straw” – as if ending up with Donald Trump as US President and Boris Johnson as British Prime Minister were a matching pair of unforeseeable and unavoidable mishaps for which nobody is at fault. We, the people, are at fault! We must be! For none is above us!

The UK and US didn’t ‘get’ a short straw. They chose the short straw! As electorates, they knowingly opted for the short straws. It was no secret what kind of person Donald Trump is. Boris Johnson’s blustering buffoonery was not concealed. That both can claim to have been democratically elected according to the constitutions of their respective countries must reflect on the people of those countries. It is no defence for the people to maintain that the democratic systems are dysfunctional. The democratic system in a democratic nation is as much a product of the will of the people as the political leadership. If the democratic system is dysfunctional then it can only be because the people have made it that way. Or allowed it to become that way.

If the people of the US and the UK really were “crying out for strategic vision, humility and seriousness of purpose” than that is what they would have. The hard truth is that we all get the governments we deserve and the political leaders we deserve. Whether because we choose them or because we fail to prevent them being chosen by choosing differently. Either way, the people are responsible. Like it or not, our political leaders are a reflection of us – collectively.

It is futile to hope for strategic vision, humility and seriousness of purpose in our political leaders if such qualities are a relatively rare exception amongst the people.



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Presumption of guilt

Presumption of innocence does not apply to Donald Trump. He is to be presumed guilty until proven guilty. Even if he is proved innocent, we should probably continue to presume him guilty, just as a precaution. Trump never looks more guilty than when he is protesting his innocence. He’s like the guy sprawled in the gutter wearing only what you like to think is his own vomit but insisting that he’s not drunk. The more sober he says he is, the more inebriated he seems. Even if there is a perfectly innocent explanation for his predicament that doesn’t involve consumption of ill-advised quantities of alcohol, you’re still going to entertain the suspicion that he’s very, very pished.

Trump is prostrate in the political gutter, awash with lies and deceit, proclaiming his honesty and sincerity in a manner that makes him less believable with every utterance.

Two examples of his dishonesty stand out. The first is when he insists that US corporations have no interest in “the NHS”. Even if that predatory interest was not as evident as I have previously pointed out (https://peterabell.scot/2019/11/27/preparing-the-hyena-feast/), we know that he is now contradicting an earlier statement when he was quite explicit about US trade negotiators setting their sights on “the NHS”. Plus we have the recently revealed documents which confirm that “the NHS” is very much on the table.

Trump is lying.

The second lie is evident when you ask why Trump is telling the first lie. He has previously been far from reticent about the fact that US corporate hyenas regard “the NHS” as a juicy bit of prey. Why is he now saying that “the NHS” is so unpalatable even those corporate hyenas aren’t tempted. Could it be that he has been asked to say this by his British hosts? Might he have been nobbled?

It’s easy enough to imagine friend and fellow liar Boris Johnson having a quiet word in Trump’s ear, explaining that he was getting an increasingly hard ride on the issue of “the NHS” and, pretty please, could Donald help out his old Tory chums.

Trump has obliged. The nonsense about wanting nothing to do with “the NHS” is clearly intended to spike the guns of those warning about Tory plans to give US corporations unprecedented access as part of a desperately needed trade deal. Trump is interceding in the general election campaign on behalf of the Tories. Which is precisely what we would expect after he promised to stay out of it.



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Bad or mad?

trump_balloonIt is said that we should not attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. But there comes a point where it hardly matter. When the harm being done is severe and possibly irreparable, whether or not there is malicious intent becomes a point of academic interest only.

There may be a considered strategy behind Trump’s efforts to sow disorder wherever he goes. When he simultaneously praises and castigates other Nato members, for example, this may be a quite deliberate ploy to cause confusion and disarray as those he regards as adversaries argue amongst themselves over different interpretations of his comments. Trump can then play the disputing parties off against one another and ensure that there is no unified opposition to his plans.

The purpose of rules is to make behaviour predictable. Large complex societies would rapidly descend into chaos if individuals and groups constantly had to wonder how other individuals and groups were going to act and react. By throwing away the diplomatic rule book, Trump puts others off-balance, making them easier to topple. He may sincerely believe that the best way to remake the world in the idealised image of his business empire is to first smash the existing world order. Or he may simply be incapable of understanding the value of rules.

As I have noted elsewhere, Trump may not be a clever man. But he is possessed of a conscienceless animal cunning such as might allow even a person of low intellect to survive and prosper in business and, apparently, US politics. He is a quintessential bully who acquires the sensation and superficial appearance of strength by placing himself in opposition to weakness.

Trump’s erratic conduct and evident disdain for protocol may have a Machiavellian purpose. On the other hand, it may just be the boorish, blundering, bullying behaviour of a ‘baby blimp’ incarnate. Either way, he is dangerous.


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The hyena’s view

hyenaI smiled at the reference to Theresa May’s “Chequers Brexit compromise plan“. Whether or not it is accurate to call it a “compromise” is open to debate. The term has overtones of a strong negotiating position which are inappropriate. It suggests that May has a range of options. It implies that she’s in a position to play a game of give and take. In reality, what came out of the Chequers meeting was, not so much a compromise negotiating position, more a reluctant and partial acknowledgement of how little scope for negotiation the UK Government has. It was a compromise only in the sense of hubristic delusion seeking an accommodation with harsh reality.

But it was the word “plan” which provoked most amusement. What was set out in the statement issued after the Chequers meeting doesn’t amount to a plan. We might call it a wish-list, but for the fact that the list contains so many things that are unwanted by and/or unacceptable to so many of the parties whose agreement is essential if the “plan” is to mean anything at all.

When Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell gave the ‘Chequers Accord’ a cautious welcome as showing some signs of a dawning appreciation of reality, I suspect what they had in mind was the final paragraph of the statement which pretty much accepts that the “plan” is going to fail. It is just so characteristic of the whole Brexit shambles that a document which purports to set out a firm negotiating position concludes by making it clear that nothing is firm at all. The list of demands is immediately followed by a declaration of readiness to retreat from those demands, or abandon them completely.

Donald Trump sees this. He is not a clever man. He is, however, possessed of a conscienceless animal cunning such as might allow even a person of low intellect to survive and prosper in business and, apparently, US politics. He is a quintessential bully who acquires the sensation and superficial appearance of strength by placing himself in opposition to weakness. He would not be where he is did he not have an unerring instinct for weakness in others. When Trump evidently regards the British political elite with the casual contempt of a predator for its prey, that is an assessment we can trust.


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Donald Trump is not a GlobalScot

This isn’t really a proper blog post. More an explanation of why I now have three articles in draft form and am making no progress with any of them.
On Wednesday 25 April I watched Donald Trump’s appearance before the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee of the Scottish Parliament. Those of you who also witnessed this circus will understand when I say that I disgusted and angered by Trump’s behaviour. His arrogant disrespect for the committee, the Scottish Parliament, The Scottish Government and the First Minister was quite appalling.
He came before the committee completely unprepared assuming that he could get by with nothing more than his pompous, over-bearing bluster. And when challenged to provide evidence to back up his increasingly deranged claims, he capped his ludicrous performance by declaring, “I am the evidence!”.
I am not here to examine his “testimony” in detail. To the extent that it may euphemistically be referred to as testimony it was totally unworthy of serious analysis. Suffice it to say that I was sufficiently provoked by his boorish buffoonery that, following up on a tweet from Andy Wightman, I started a petition to request that Scottish Enterprise revoke Donald Trump’s membership of the GlobalScot network (GlobalScot: Withdraw Donald Trump’s membership of GlobalScot).
The petition reads,

By his conduct at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 25 April 2012 Donald Trump has shown himself to be unworthy of an organisation whose purpose is to promote a positive image of Scotland, foster good relations in the global business community and encourage inward investment.
We, the signatories to this petition therefore respectfully urge Scottish Enterprise to take such steps as may be necessary to end Donald Trump’s association with GlobalScot.

The response has been quite remarkable with well over 1700 signatures at the time of writing after only a couple of days. The only problem being that once you start a campaign such as this you have to devote some time to maintaining the momentum. And that’s my excuses out of the way.

If you haven’t already signed the petition you may want to do so now by visiting the page or using the widget on the right. I have also started a Facebook page as part of the effort. Somewhat belatedly I started adding a hashtag to tweets on the topic – #trumpout.

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