Buhari, Donald Trump and the liability of infantile leadership

Donald Trump

By Ace Omozuwa

If there is any modicum of truth in the statement attributed to President Donald Trump of America that his Nigerian counterpart President Muhammad Buhari is lifeless, then, all lovers of the lofty values America embody and seeks to entrench around the global have genuine reason to worry. For the untoward statement is more of an attack against the American dream and core values, African sensibilities, the ethos of diplomacy and bilateralism, and the principles of temperate leadership than an attack against the person and leadership capacity of President Buhari.

If the statement was not planted in the media by forces opposed to President Buhari like his spokesperson has alleged, then it appears President Trump is attempting to extend the limit of executive intemperance.

His alleged statement brings to mind an article written by Nic Robertson CNN’s international diplomatic editor, captioned ‘‘World leaders conclude: Trump is a liability, not a leader.” In it he argued that Trump’s unpredictability and volubility were a huge source of worry to global leaders. According to him, “Where months ago, world leaders may have been wary of Trump’s unpredictability and cautious in their response, they are rapidly realizing one of his biggest weaknesses: He appears incapable of focusing on any issue for long enough and is therefore unable to deliver policy in his nation’s best interest.

‘‘We could well be entering a free-for-all era of foreign policy. The assumption seems to be that if no one at home will tell the emperor he has no clothes, then why should those looking on from the outside?

“Trump’s apparent refusal to base his thinking in reality only becomes more stark to his adversaries the more he speaks.”

The silence of the American Embassy in Nigeria over this allegation is pregnant with meaning. In fact, it is seemingly golden. Borrowing Nic’ metaphor (not originally his though) may be they don’t want to tell “the emperor he has no clothes.” Beyond that, their silence wisely says that when fact checking is problematic, rebuttals are unnecessary. It also shows that they understand that it is harmful to the strategic long-term relationship between both nations to lend credence to hearsay. It also demonstrates a principled refusal to be enmeshed in the twaddle of gutter rhetoric.

The response of the presidential spokesman, Femi Adeshina, was masterful. In order not to exacerbate the situation or possibly create diplomatic rift, he chose to err by imbuing speculation with magisterial definiteness. By so doing, he carefully sidestepped the danger of inadvertently ruining the political capital of his principal.

If the statement attributed to President Trump is true, thenit is safe to leap and make the provisional conclusion that he is infantilizing one of the highest, if not the highest office in the global structure of power. And this is a source of grave concernbecauseAmerica is a model nation. People love to copy the ethos of American democracy, the principles of her market economy, and her leadership culture. America is respected around the world because almost everyone loves the American dream, her democratic ingenuity, technological advancement, and diplomatic sagacity. But President Trump appears to be trivializing the defining essence of America.

In a piece published by the BBC titled “What has President Trump said about your country?” it was noted that “Donald Trump is a man who prefers plain speaking to the language of diplomacy.” That is a subtle way of stating a sad fact. One mark of infantile leaders is that they speak and act before they think. They elevate their sentiments to the status of fact. They express subjective facts without diplomatic flavors. Whenever their unsavory remarks stir public outrage, they make efforts to downplay them, sugarcoat them, backtrack, re-contextualize them or flatly deny them. They almost always lack the moral courage to apologise, seek forgiveness, and make amends.

Generally, infantile leaders unleash the destructive power of words more than their transformative power. As a result, they expend a significant amount of their leadership capital mitigating damage. Those who do not grow up before they grow old or start leading are likely to become living portraitures of the tragedy of infantile leadership.

Again, if the statement is true, I suspect that occasionally President Trump seems to be under the illusion that mudslinging is a vital function of effective leadership. Hence, he demeans leaders that eschew authoritarian proclivities. The other day, he made unpleasant statement about the leadership style of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, who has presented herself as a temperate, forward-looking, bridge-building leader in times of uncertainties. He even had the audacity to claim that “Brussels was a ‘hellhole’ or the geographically dubious ‘Belgium is a beautiful city’”

Sadly, the speech mannerism of President Trump does not show that he is a paragon of the American dream, values, virtues and visions. Not long ago, the “s…hole” statement attributed to him ignited vehement diatribe against America’s ostensive air of smugness.

It is incumbent on foreign expert advisers in Washington to help President Trump to understand the fact that nobody becomes an international statesman by demeaning the estimation of leaders of ally nations. A leader cannot remain at the top rung of the ladder when he starts dragging others down. There is a hint of perfidy in the statement attributed to him, and it cannot endear him to African leaders and people who are willing to join forces with America to make this world a better place for humanity.

One way President Trump can make “America great again” is to translate it from slogan to a principle of action. This requires that he should always reflectively ask himself “what will it profit America if by my words or deeds in private or in public I wreck the image of esteemed democratic leaders around the world?”

If the statement is true, one might say that, it appears President Trump has forgotten that the spirit of bilateral and multilateral cooperation cannot thrive without liberal demonstration of mutual respect. Mutual respect makes teamwork to work. As big, rich, and powerful as America is, there are many tasks she cannot accomplish around the globe without the cooperation of her geo-strategic allies. She cannot effectively team up with change agents who share her values to uplift human wellbeing and suppress the forces of dystopia, if her leaders talk down on other leaders.

There is no virtue in mudslinging. It is impossible for leaders and indeed anybody to sling mud without getting dirty. Hence, it is profitable for leaders to keep mute and gracefully endure certain eccentricities, if they do not have anything inspiring to say about another leader.

History shows that when the moral compass of a leader is broken, he or she would delight in making unwholesome statements that are remotely related to facts. As the world is rapidly cascading to the cesspit of disillusion, it is evident that we do not need leaders with broken moral compass, for they do not have what it takes to reengineer the global structure of politics, trade and commerce and make this world better and safer for all to thrive.

There is hope for America and indeed the global community, if President Triump would take time to listen to the famed social scientist and ethicist, great-great-grand son of the founder of Guinness Brewery, Os Guinness. Os Guinness argues brilliantly that America’s regress is inevitable without a threefold ethical renewal – personal ethics, social ethics and essential ethics.

Os Guinness calls America a “cut-flower civilization”, which means America has uprooted herself from her historical, cultural, ethical and democratic source of life force. As a cut flower her glory will wilt, if she does not retrace her moral roots and uphold her quintessential ideals.

There is a saying that the character of a kingdom is a reflection of that of her king. In other words, leaders shape the moral temperament of their followers. For the sake of Americans and global citizens, President Trump should aspire to become a moral beacon and an international statesman; not a willful mudslinger. 

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