What makes nations, whether from countries with ancient democracies, such as Britain and America or a newly established democracy such as Iraq, choose leaders, especially in the last decade, who are distinguished by their incompetence either politically, morally, mentally—or all of three? Is there a need to read distant history to know the reasons for their victory, in a process that is now presented as the only option for the people to avoid dictatorship? Is it true that the voters identify, to one degree or another, with the personalities of the winners they choose?
Let us put the "winners" in our countries aside. The concept of democracy, as it has become known to our people, takes many forms and specifications that differ from one country to another, when applied, even if we say otherwise. Also we have enough ruling models in the countries that sponsor democracy. Perhaps the most prominent example is former US President, Donald Trump, who has provided others around the world with a model for lowering the level of leadership required.
Millions of articles have been written about Trump's personality, his victory, and his style of governance, or lack thereof, as the president of the most powerful country in the world. They could be summed up, if we wanted to recall his personality for comparison with others, by saying that he was not qualified, politically or economically. He harassed women, mocked the disabled, despised blacks, minorities, and refugees. He was a populist who appealed to the desires of the masses, promoted racism as spiritual fuel for white supremacists, and, in order to attract religious extremists, when needed, he boasted that no one read the Bible more than himself.
He has been described as a danger to the world, due to his quick responses, based on his arrogance and his impulsive decision-making without serious thought. He was also seen as a danger to America because of his quickness to scold people, insult them and take revenge on his critics, including his advisers. Some of these characteristics were known before his election and others could be found when examining his personal and public life, especially since he was known for his bad reputation in the financial and media circles. So, why did people choose him?
The same question should be asked to understand the "victory" of a political current under the leadership of a person like "His Eminence, may God honour him, Muqtada al-Sadr" in the Iraqi elections, despite his turbulent personal and political history, ranging between improvised decisions and quick leaps, from one position to the next, and fluctuating between preaching, mobilising and populist rhetoric under the pretext of martyrdom and resistance. He alternates between anger at one of his followers and punishing them, demobilising the militia he leads in the name of his father, or re-forming it under a new name. His retreat sometimes extends for many months, in the Iranian city of Qom, under the pretext of trying to complete a jurisprudential study that qualifies him, as he mentioned in his last statement, to issue religious fatwas, or write poetry, in addition to posting tweets that match Trump's tweets in their irritability and the low intellectual level of their sender.
There are, of course, numerous and intertwined reasons for the phenomenon of electing unqualified "leaders". Some of them take us to the motives for participating in the elections mainly to achieve the victory of a particular candidate, including party, religious, or family affiliation. It may be the belief that voting is the safest way for change, the financial and job support a party provides to its followers, or the result of yielding to intense media pressure aimed at "creating" a position. Sociologists and psychologists also see that the act of voting is an expression of belonging to a group or the expression of who one is, as well as the idealistic feelings that one who votes is a good citizen. On the other hand, a number of psychologists have concluded that rational people who care about themselves do not attach any importance to elections and see them as a waste of time.
In answer to the question of incompetence and the rise of people who do not deserve a leadership position, those who did not vote for them remind us that the incompetent individual was not elected by all the people and that an influential minority that owns money, media and weapons have seized the votes. They also remind us that voters, in general, prefer policies with immediate, quick solutions that help them solve their livelihood problems and enhance their well-being at the over strategic solutions. While others remind us that democracy has its diseases and disadvantages, even in the countries seen as the "mothers of democracy". Moreover, the unqualified person may be the least harmful in the event of a moral vacuum and, as one commentator pointed out during Trump's 2016 presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton, "saying there is no morally good presidential candidate in this election and that Trump is a good candidate, albeit with flaws. In that case, the elections were decided, in their view, by choosing the bad over the worse, or the lesser of two evils. The democratic selection process is not without public retaliation, where a citizen resorts to voting against the candidate of his party, which it had long supported when they are disappointed in the party's policy on an issue, they consider to be a principled issue. The masses may also resort to voting for someone who does not belong to any party and is relatively unknown, to get back at the parties preoccupied with corruption and personal interests, which is what happened in Tunisia, when Kais Saied was elected as president with the highest number of votes.
While democracy may have put an end to the perpetuation of the rule of the president, regardless of his qualifications, it has also, at the same time, brought down the illusion of the president—the leader having historical and heroic qualities that have fuelled the imagination of the masses for decades. A new generation of leaders appeared, with characteristics different from what was familiar. The fickle British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who utters what comes to his mind without thinking, whatever the consequences, finds no shame in backing down from statements he has made, laughing and joking, solidifying his image and, thus, roles as a person who lives in the moment, with a cheerful youthful spirit, and a fluttering hairstyle. This is far from the heavy nightmares of history that have long shrouded his party, and certainly far from the personality of his opponent in the elections, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party leader, who is serious and principled. Johnson's victory was a huge success for the first Trump clone.
The reproduction and cloning process will not stop at these models, as the election results indicate in many countries, Iraq for example, the emergence of more of these models, with their shortcomings and delusion, and their immediate and long-term damage. This will continue until nations get rid of the era of lies wrapped in false propaganda, to live their hopes for freedom, justice, and dignity for which they have always fought.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 25 October 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.