This incessant clamoring by voters and punditry for better “leaders” and more “leadership” is one of the most unsavory, dangerous, and un-American tendencies in political discourse.
When Donald Trump was asked last week by Joe Scarborough what he made of an endorsement from Vladimir Putin—a thug who’s probably murdered journalists and political opponents, and more—the GOP frontrunner responded: “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” before offering an incredibly dumb moral equivalency about the United States also doing “plenty of killing.”
There was plenty of well-earned criticism directed at Trump’s comments. Most commenters weren’t offended because the Russians are being aggressively “led,” mind you, but that Putin does things we don’t approve of. Perhaps if the Russian strongman had used his muscle to tackle global warming, like the Chinese communists are pretending to do, The New York Times editorial page would praise him for his forethought and willingness to act. If Putin banned protests aimed at abortion clinics instead of Pussy Riot, how many progressives would cheer him?
In contemporary American parlance, and maybe it’s always been this way, a “leader” typically describes someone who will aggressively push your preferred policies. How much do Americans really care what this aggressiveness entails?