A Paradigm Shift In Leadership Style: Why The Strongman Has No Time For Political Correctness

A Paradigm Shift In Leadership Style: Why The Strongman Has No Time For Political Correctness

by Shanthu Shantharam - Jan 6, 2017 11:23 AM +05:30 IST
A Paradigm Shift In
Leadership Style: Why The Strongman Has No Time For Political CorrectnessDonald Trump
  • No doubt, people want peace and prosperity, but they are not willing to tolerate unequal and discriminatory social and political engineering that debases their values derived from religion and culture.

    Whether this will result in a less tolerant world remains to be seen.

Even with a superficial glance over the global political landscape, one cannot help but notice that there is a strong wind of change in the kind of political leadership that people of most countries seem to be seeking. It is a strong political leader who can take momentous and courageous decisions by defying conventional political correctness or wisdom.

In most countries, the middle class that has usually remained silent over political outcomes for all these years, is now taking a stand. It started with India, whose political landscape was riddled with the ethos of left-of-centre political leanings for almost 70 years since Independence. Pakistan threw out Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, India threw out the Congress-led coalition government, Philippines elected a bullying right wing president, and USA just elected a right-of-centre businessman who showed strong leadership characteristics to deal with the country’s economic and social problems.

It seems a right wing political boiler is brewing in France and Italy as well. Why is this new political trend raising its head now? There cannot be easy answers as all politics is local and domestic, but there is a common thread that runs through this emerging trend. That common thread is middle-class frustration with the left-wing liberal dispensations that in the name of social and economic justice seem to be carrying out all sorts of social engineering through legislation to the detriment of national progress. Most of it is through appeasement of minorities—justified or unjustified, and immigration policies that seem to upset the social and cultural milieu of countries. Without a doubt there is also religious fervour that snaps every time governments give concessions to religious minorities that seem to threaten debasement of their own religion and culture.

In addition, the numerically strong middle class has become frustrated with their taxes being used for purposes other than broad social welfare and economic development policies, and have lost hope that things will change for the better in their lifetime.

Rodrigo Duterte, left and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony on 20 October  2016 in Beijing, China. (Ng Han Guan-Pool/GettyImages)
Rodrigo Duterte, left and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony on 20 October 2016 in Beijing, China. (Ng Han Guan-Pool/GettyImages)

There is a lot of analysis to determine the winnings of right wing leaders in USA, India and the Philippines. In addition to middle class anger, an important feature of winning personas, like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte and US President-elect Donald Trump, is a strong leadership characteristic, what left liberals call authoritarianism, and which is disdained in democracy. However, a strong leader is the one whom people want to tackle their long-standing problems head on, and speak the language that most of the people say in private, fearful of being chastised for political incorrectness.

Ordinary people too say lots of strong things in private that they dare not say in public for the fear of being ostracised. This political correctness that has been established by the left-liberal forces is something people have come to detest with a vengeance.

Narendra Modi is not all that conservative or right wing as much as he is a market-oriented liberal who has taken a businesslike approach to tackle economic and social problems. His theory of economic development sab kasaath, sab kavikaas resonated extremely well with India’s middle class that came out in droves to vote for him. BJP’s approach of non-discrimination based on religion and caste, and its belief in science and technology and people’s merit and wisdom, and market forces are some of the things that appealed to the Indian middle class who were tired of socialist approaches of the past seven decades.

The year 2014 was the time for that change and Modi appeared on the scene like a messiah. The Indian public had seen and heard of his fantastic governance for almost a dozen years in Gujarat and wanted such a kind of development throughout the country. Moreover, people had become tired of the corrupt crony socialism of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that had not yielded any result for the betterment of society. On top of it, Modi’s no-nonsense style of governance and strict oversight of his cabinet to do their job properly and on time were something the Indian public wanted to see after putting up with an ineffective Manmohan Singh as the prime minister for a decade.

Modi took charge with decisiveness, which has often been called authoritarianism, especially after the demonetisation effort, which in part can be faulted for inefficient implementation. What galls the opposition is that in spite of so much of difficulties that the general public had to put up with, they were still in support of Modi’s decision. He may be the first prime minister in the past three decades who has kept a tight leash on his cabinet and the Prime Minister’s Office and held their feet to the fire for their performance, which is in stark contrast to his predecessors. This is exactly what the Indian public wanted in a prime minister. The Indian psyche really appreciates stern leaders in all walks of life.

The former Tamil Nadu chief ministers M G Ramachandran (MGR) and Jayalalithaa, former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N T Rama Rao (NTR), Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Laloo Prasad Yadav are also examples of political authoritarianism and the feudalistic brand of democracy in India. But despite their strong leadership and whip cracking style, the wheels of their parties and the governments they lead get derailed easily due to the internal bickering of their flock. This has been seen so many times that a unique brand of personality-led feudal democracy has evolved in India. Modi, in fact, is not all that authoritarian as he is being portrayed by the leftists and the liberal media. But he holds cabinet colleagues and officials accountable.

After Modi came to power, the term “nationalism” has taken rebirth in India, which has drawn strong criticism from the left-liberal media. The simple question is: why his asking the people to rededicate themselves to nation building so much an affront to the leftists and socialists who have never inspired the people to work hard for nation building. Their motto has been: ask what the country can do for you, and not what you can do for the country. This renewed national fervour inspired by Modi is also considered authoritarianism of the right wing. In India, most people don’t know the distinction between right and left wing politics as they have seen only socialism all their lives without even realising that it is socialism.

What is really happening is that with a wide array of media channels available in all Indian languages and social media outlets, the only political ethos that was in currency for almost seven decades is being challenged in real time and other political and economic views and philosophies are emerging with a bang that are pushing the left-liberal ethos against the wall. The relentless attack on Modi by left wing liberals and intelligentsia stands as a testimony to their lack of tolerance for anything other than what they perceive to be good for India. India is still only 70 years old and will take another century or so to fully emerge as a mature democracy, and until then this tumultuous churning will continue.

Modi is admired for his surgical strike against Pakistan, the sign of a strong and decisive leader. Recall Modi saying during the 2014 election campaign to stop writing love letters to Pakistan, and deal with it in a language it understands. He has instructed the army to decide for itself to deal with any act of violence or aggression or attack from across the border as it sees fit. Of course, Modi will have to be a little authoritarian to control his flock of parliamentarians, some of whom have a wayward tendency to utter absolutely nonsensical things that can hurt the government and party’s prospects in the future.

Indira Gandhi was really a dictator in the government and in her party. It was because of her dictatorial nature that she was able to tame all party members to tow her line. Authoritarianism started sliding during the Rajiv Gandhi era and the party has hit the rock bottom in its history for want of a strong and charismatic leader. Somehow Indian political culture is such that in order to keep one’s party workers under control, the leader will have to crack a strong whip.

Looking eastward, the Philippines elected a brand new president Rodrigo Duterte who is the embodiment of a strong man and a truly authoritarian politician. The country was getting tired of murderous criminal gangs controlling drugs and eliminating anyone who came in their way. When Duterte was mayor of Davao City in Mindanao, he ruthlessly put down gangsters and drug dealers, which is exactly what he promised to do if elected as president. The people accepted his promise and he gave a complete free hand to the police to stage encounters and eliminate drug dealers and criminals. Since he took office less than six months ago, his administration has killed more than 1,500 such criminals drawing lots of flak from human rights organisations around the world, including US President Barack Obama. But his people love him for what he is doing.

Duterte is a no-nonsense man and a rough politician who uses the choicest epithets on anyone who opposes his style of functioning, and did not even spare Obama. He openly says that he is answerable only to the people who elected him and no one else in the world. Human rights be damned. He has thrown all diplomatic cautions and conventions to the wind, and does not give a hoot for anyone. He also has no left or right wing political leanings. He just means business and is the new gun toting sheriff in the Philippines.

Trump has been buoyed by working class white Americans, who have authoritarian inclinations. There are authoritarian people in both the Democratic and Republican parties, so his support base is likely to grow in due course of time. Republicans do not favour a candidate based on education, gender, age, ideology and religion, but fear of terrorism and threat to their social order really shakes them up.

Trump’s pledges to make America great again, build a strong wall to stop illegal immigrants and drugs at the Mexican border, and institute extreme vetting to screen Muslim immigrants to USA has stuck a deep chord with a majority of Americans. This was in contrast to the soft peddling of the immigration issue by the Democrats for decades that has resulted in about 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. Also, far-right conservatives in the Republican Party were tired of several socialistic policies of Obama including his health care policies, his withdrawing of armed forces from Afghanistan, and leaving Iraq in a lurch that resulted in the emergence of ISIS. But they were happy with Obama’s broken promise of closing the Guantanamo Bay prisons for terrorists arrested from all over the world. They are also happy for Trump promised to bring back water boarding of prisoners and terrorists. Trump keeps repeatedly saying that he will bomb ISIS out of existence, and that excites his base.

Donald Trump shakes hand with retired US Marine General James Mattis after naming him Secretary of Defense at Crown Coliseum on December 6, 2016 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. (Sara D. Davis/GettyImages)
Donald Trump shakes hand with retired US Marine General James Mattis after naming him Secretary of Defense at Crown Coliseum on December 6, 2016 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. (Sara D. Davis/GettyImages)

The trend of admiring authoritarianism in the US started decades ago when the Democrats started embracing civil rights, gay rights, abortion rights, employment protections and other political positions emanating from freedom and equality. Republicans don’t believe in equality, but they believe in fairness. Trump has also ignited nationalistic passions among the whites and they want to protect their country by clamping down on immigrants and terrorists who are changing their culture. Trump’s strongman campaign rhetoric appealed to white Americans who had started feeling that they were losing their nation.

Trump has also been unconventional when it comes to his campaign style. He was freely expressing views that most people say in private and mocking his opponents, and deriding women. That goes against conventional political correctness. He gave a short shrift to all diplomatic niceties. Anyone who watched his almost two-year-long campaign for the presidency will know how he used expressions, words and actions to mock his opponents and his supporters were cheering for him very loudly. It still remains to be seen how he will shape his presidency once he takes office. For sure, there will be lots of exciting times ahead, going by the cabinet picks he has made so far. So far he has selected four retired army generals for his cabinet which is considered a sign of a strong leader.

Authoritarianism and nationalism are twin slogans that seem to be the currency of political discourse these days around the world. One can see evidence of that rising in socialistic Europe as well. It shows that people are tired of soft socialism that has more problems than it solved. One has to only realise the kind of societal problems refugee immigrants, who have poured into Europe due to war and terrorism in the Middle East, have caused. Germany has announced establishing a 50 million euro fund to pay for refugees to return to their homeland as the public is not willing to admit these refugees into their communities.

Europe will no longer be so kind to political refugees as in the past. It seems that the time has come now for other political dispensations to be tested in different parts of the world. No doubt, people want peace and prosperity, but they are not willing to tolerate unequal and discriminatory social and political engineering that debases their values derived from religion and culture. Whether this will result in a less tolerant world remains to be seen.

Shanthu Shantharam is a Professor of Biotechnology at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. A former biotechnology regulator with the United States Department of Agriculture, Dr. Shantharam has served as a consultant to UN-FAO, UNIDO, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank. He was responsible for initiating the development of India’s biotech regulations in the early 1990s when he was a Fulbright Scholar at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.

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