We may live in an age of ever accelerating change, but some things hardly change. One such thing is leadership quality, which is not easy to define. But we recognize it in whomever we see it. Among the many aspects through which this quality is judged is what the leader says, and what he or she does not. Not just oratory which can so easily degenerate into demagoguery, but rather the sentiment and content of the leader’s words impresses us profoundly. Presently, the raucous campaigning in the US presidential election less than a month away, has raised a question that is of interest to the rest of the world, particularly other democracies. When seeking votes from the people, what is it that makes a candidate sound presidential, or prime ministerial? Surely it is the content of what the leader is saying, which in turn shows his or her grasp over complicated issues of the day, breadth of experience in public matters, and intellectual bandwidth. But it is also as much about old-fashioned character, about decency, sensibility and high-mindedness. Judged from these ever-relevant yardsticks, Republican Party candidate Dold Trump has been an eye-popping wonder to not just Americans but people elsewhere. The real-estate tycoon has openly confessed to evading millions of dollars in taxes, and then has the temerity to blame his Democratic Party opponent Hillary Clinton for framing laws with loopholes to help him slip through. He has called for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the US, while putting those within the US under constant surveillance. When grilled about that in the second presidential debate, he tried to act clever by playing fast and loose with words like ‘extreme vetting’, which again meant putting Muslims closely under the scanner. It took the father of slain Captain Humayun Khan, who died while fending off a suicide bomber to protect over a hundred American soldiers in their camp near Baghdad, to publicly challenge Trump to read the American Constitution and imbibe its ideals.
While some Hindu tiolist groups in the US as well as in India see a savior in Trump for his anti-Muslim rants, he has also cocked a snook at the Indian-American community there by mimicking their accents. Mexicans have been at the receiving end of his vitriolic rabble-rousing, cursed with choice epithets like ‘rapists, drug dealers, crimils and dunderheads’. Trump has long been promising to erect a high wall at the US border in the south to keep Mexican immigrants out. An opponent of free trade in those sectors where the US is not an exporter, Trump has threatened trade wars, most notably against Chi. He went to the extent of likening the huge American trade deficit vis-à-vis Chi to ‘rape’ of the US. His views on women have been similarly bizarre, if not downright misogynistic — body-shaming them for their menstrual cycles, or being overweight and uttractive. This is surprising, considering the voting power of women in US elections. But a video recording of Trump in 2005 has recently surfaced to well and truly expose what critics call his sexually predatory ways. Uware that the microphone fixed to his coat lapel was ‘live’, Trump is heard boasting in the audio clip to his show host about how he ‘can do anything’ with women because he is a star. Over a dozen women have now come out publicly with their accounts about how the reality TV boss had ogled, kissed and groped them in the past. Undaunted, the Republican presidential candidate has poured scorn over his accusers, even suggesting that they were never attractive enough to merit his attentions in the first place. He even sees a deep conspiracy between his political opponents, the American press and their ‘foreign finciers’, threatening to make life difficult for jourlists with tougher libel laws. It took the US First Lady Michelle Obama to deliver a stunning knockdown to Trump, ticking him off for words and conduct utterly demeaning to women that is simply unbecoming of a presidential candidate. So does this mean that people desirous of a career in public service should be mindful of what they say and do even in their early days of sowing wild oats? The answer is that it is once again all about the instinct and quality of leadership. Those who wish to lead, must prove to themselves before they seek to do before others - that they are fit to do so in the fullest sense of the term, in their thoughts, words and deeds spread over a lifetime.