No More Trustworthy Leaders?

A new poll finds widespread mistrust of world leaders. Are trustworthy national leaders a thing of the past? If not, who's an exception?

Posted by Lauren Keane on June 19, 2008 11:16 AM

Readers’ Responses to Our Question (9)

Anju Chandel, India :

"Political Leadership" and "Trustworthiness" are two opposing positions in today's times! Most of the times. Nevertheless, even though "real" leaders are hard to find, yet America is fortunate to have - at last - somebody as trustworthy as Barack Obama and not electing him to the White House would be disastrous for the country.

In India, our current prime minister Manmohan Singh is one such rare exception to be a 100% trustworthy leader (actually less of a leader and more of the CEO of the country).

Similarly, Aung San Suu Kyi, the illegally imprisoned leader of Burma is another politician whose name evokes trust in people.

Shiveh :

In America, the system puts an honest politician in disadvantage. To be elected one needs to spend a large sum of money and belong to one of the 2 major parties. Hence, party bosses and big corporations regularly make or break our elected officials. In such an environment almost everybody that holds any office has to have a talent for deal making and double talking. To make it short, everybody to some extend needs to be a crook to survive the political game! It is more than a joke to say what differentiates our politicians is that if they are rich man’s crook or the common man’s crook.

A good example and my favorite among recent American politicians is Bill Clinton. Many people called him a crook. I do not disagree, but he is my hero because he was my crook! He made America a better place for the common man and had the smartness to outplay and beat the rich man’s crooks in their own game!

In order to give an honest politician a real chance in the political arena the 2 monopolies I mentioned above should be broken. Internet is proving to be an effective tool for collecting small amounts of money from large number of people, hence breaking the money monopoly. The monopoly of political parties can also be broken. The way the system is set now, if you are not voting for a Democratic or Republican nominee, you are throwing your vote away or worse, you are helping the person you want in the office the least to win. So, most people limit their choice to these 2 parties. In the presidential election of year 2000, people who voted for Ralph Nader (about 20000 in Florida?) would probably have Al Gore as their second choice but by voting for Nader they put Gorge Bush in the office. To solve this problem, to break the monopoly of two major parties, to bring the numerous smaller parties into play and give them a fair chance to be recognized and to grow, we can add a second line to the voting cards we use in order to mark a second choice. Simply, if the person we vote for is not elected, our vote goes for our second choice. This gives the chance to the person that agrees with the positions of say the Green party to actually vote for Green party’s nominee and have for example the Democratic Party’s nominee as the second choice so his vote does not help someone he doesn’t care for to get a better chance to win. I believe that this simple act can revolutionize American politics and give a winning chance to the honest politicians we all look for.

daniel :

Are trustworthy national leaders a thing of the past? If not, who's an exception?

My belief is that trustworthy national leaders are not necessarily a thing of the past, but where the trustworthy leaders are likely to appear, strangely enough, is not in the more advanced nations but in the nations which have not yet moved to an economy and politics which really does the masses justice.

The problem of trustworthy leaders exists in the more advanced nations although of course at first sight it might seem the less advanced nations are subject to the worst leaders of all. But the less advanced nations at least have the possibility of moving forward, of improving on leaders. Not so apparently with the more advanced nations.

The problem to be exact with the more advanced nations is that they have systems in place which have done almost all the justice that can be done to the masses, therefore leaders stepping forward for the masses is something of the process of stepping on a treadmill going backwards. We have the puzzling phenomenon of the masses relatively satisfied but not satisfied enough (humans are never satisfied). But leaders in the advanced nations cannot really take things forward much more. What we have instead in such nations is increasingly a process of sifting the masses for the exceptional human beings and sending them to sports teams, places of the arts, places of higher education (the elite schools).

Leadership in advanced nations does not so much help the masses anymore as keep the nation from backsliding--and gradually build up an increasing number of elites from out of the masses to increasingly solidify gains. This leads to leaders being both mistrusted and trusted: trusted by elites but mistrusted by the masses that cannot become elite and cannot advance any further by any means. In a nation such as the U.S. it almost seems we have arrived at a process first proposed by Plato: We have the masses at pretty much the level they can advance to and now we are sifting the masses for individuals to make it to a new and higher level--the elite level. The only difference from Plato is that we do not cast down the mediocre sons which are often born to the elite in a process of placing them among the masses as we sift the masses for the elite.

Plato it seems is still more advanced than us, sees better than we do what to do about the problem of leadership as a nation becomes more and more advanced. Plato knew that the only way the masses would tolerate an elite being separated from the masses is if the mediocre sons often born to the elite were forced to step down and not be considered elite. This way a fluent two way process was born whereby everyone had a chance to be elite and none of the elite could keep their mediocre progeny from being kept from ruling. In America what we have instead is the masses gradually being sifted for the elite but unfortunately mediocre sons of the elite not being cast down (George W. Bush really deserving to be President?).

We have in the U.S. rather fluent movement upward but then we have inheritance laws favoring sons of the elite whether these sons are mediocre or not. The mediocre must be cast down or people will become increasingly tired of an elite in the first place! And if that occurs advanced democracy will be at a standstill because no other forward movement can be imagined!

So the real problem of leadership is in the advanced world. Third world countries can overthrow tyrants and move to democracy. Democracies are faced with the difficult task of creating and replenishing an elite without offending the masses. I still think Plato is the authority on leadership in an advanced democracy for all the flaws of Plato's Republic.

Mohammad Allam :

The credibility and honesty of a true leader depends uopn how perfectly the leader persue the national interest with dignity and justice.In present time the national interest has been replaced by the personal interest for the want of accumulation of wealth for generation and pride and name and fame.The example of MR Bush is unique example.he led the America into Iraq for the safety of Israel and personal fortune in oil tycoon.But what he did he projected it as national interest.but his adventure led the humialiation of American glorious past.Over a night America turned into nation of friend humanity to a naked aggressor.The present confession and documentaion exposed him before the world community and American people.
The image that American presidents had before Mr Bush and after Bush has been changed.The coming leader will face the dilema of how to win the trust of the world and nation.Every effort of him will make suspious in the eyes of people.
Inspite of all these the leadership qualities and trustship of western leader is praise worthy and an emulate way to eastern democartic leaders .Many events forced the people to trust to national leaders and in the arena of popular democartic voting,the honesty lost the credit.Morality needs moral people to make leaders moral.But where the people are immoral themselves and expect favour and nepotism and money to cast the ballot and support then how they can expect morality from the leaders.In the last we can say that if the trust national leader is a matter of past then the moral sunjects are also matter of yesterday.

D. Hodara :

The poll is right. There are not trustworthy national leaders anymore.
Politicians all over the world are eager to be elected and try to remain in power. Consequently, their goal is to avoid making the voters too mad or critical, and take short term decisions to keep them as happy as possible.
National voters all over the world who think they decide democratically who will lead them, should realize that they are presented with candidates they have not chosen, but they will have to choose from.
Right now, two possible candidates could be trustworthy. One is Nicolas Sarkozy who was elected because he promised the voters to make the necessary reforms which France needed. Unfortunately, he was faced with a financial crisis, an enormous increase in the price of oil and various commodities, plus the acute criticism from his opposition and the medias who found an excellent element to write stories about which are a good sell.
The second is Barack Obama, who could be the right candidate to try to erase the disastrous years of the Bush administration and bring some new hope for the Americans to see the image of their country improve from its present state.

Citizen of the post-American world :

The true world leaders are little known, if at all. They are the "éminences grises" of the current world order. They hide behind those who mean to play the part of "national leaders", while involved in that power game some call "democracy", which is nothing but the highest form of contemporary entertainment.

True world leaders subsist and move in the background, where the seat of real power is to be found. All they care for is their own interests, even at the expense of their own nation's and of their own people's, if and whenever necessary. Those mostly unknown, unaccountable creatures act with total impunity. Their being considered "trustworthy" by the people does not even arise.

As for our political entertainers, they are neither national nor world leaders. In fact, they are not required to be leaders at all. Their mission is exclusively to provide us with the entertainment that we expect of them: for, as the expression goes, "the show must go on!"

Now, tell me, has anyone ever wondered whether an actor, on stage, was trustworthy or not? Of course not: that person is an actor! Nowadays, spectators have come only to expect, would never dare demand, that they be entertained, and hopefully, once in a while, by a not too mediocre performer.

BobL-VA :

When you have two presumptive nominees running for president and questioning each others competence and patriotism it's fair to assume civility has taken a back seat to winning. It's the system in our shining example of democracy. With improved communications and computers it's so much easier today to take pot shots at everyone. It doesn't have to be true and in most cases it isn't.

John McCain is already telling us Barrack doesn't have the character to be president. He's questioning his patriotism, his wife's patriotism and his moral character in general. What kind of a tone does this set? Not a very good one. Assuming Barrack is elected from day one the republicans will run around sniping at him like rabid dogs. Barrack will spend as much time defending himself against character assassination then doing the work of president. On the other hand he could do what Bush has done and lock himself in the White House and only venture out to well staged politically friendly events and use the media like a bunch of puppets.

How can anyone expect leaders to emerge in this type of a system? The media has made decisions in the past as to what constitutes news that should be reported and exceptions for stories that really shouldn't be reported. I know this is a very slippery slope to go down, but come on. Reporting that Barrack isn't patriotic enough is tabloid trash. Pure and simple. It might sell papers and garner higher TV ratings, but is it really necessary to dignify garbage in the media? The media is under no obligation to run ads they deem offensive. How about the Swift ads in the last campaign. Pure crap from start to finish and only produced for the purposes of fear mongering, but they had no problem getting those ads aired. That simply is the media putting dollars over common sense. We don't publish rape victims names due to the damage it causes the victims. We should be smart enough not to give credence to false attacks against politicans for the exact same reason. I can only wish for the day when a paper or news channel states that campaign X asked them to run an ad they found offensive in nature and refused on the grounds there was no truth to it. I can only wish for the day when a reporter says I have nothing to report today since the candidate only took pot shots at the other candidate and it's really not newsworthy and I refuse to dignify the remarks by repeating them.

Until some sense of civility can be returned to the political process quality leaders are a thing of the past. If civility cannot be returned then we'll just have to learn to live with people trying to politically survive the opposition.

Yousuf Hashmi :

WP editors are very true in saying that the credible and honest leader ship is a matter of past.

Last century was the century of leader ship after almost 1000 years of darkness. We see such leaders as Abraham Lincoln, Churchill. Mao-Se Tung, Gandhi and so on. The last of them was Nelson Mandela.

They were the people of character, charisma and icon of honesty having some unique vision and commitment to the people and masses.

Today the leader ship is not natural but a fabricated product and the recipe is glamour, double face, changing the costumes for each event like movie stars, should be lush rich and ready to gamble and spend millions for marketing strategy to win and stay in power.

Then no need to guess what will be the finished product available for this or coming generations.

Still if some honest leader ship is available then I think it is only in Scandinavian countries

Daniel Ndiki :

Last night I and some colleagues trouped to our Alma Matter to listen to our Prime Minister, Raila Odinga at the Jack Morton Auditorium at GWU. The room was packed to overflow capacity. Despite the audience being coaxed to go to the reserved overflow room- where the PM would still be visible via video, many opted out, preferring the discomfort of having to stand for 4 hours while maintaining the advantage of visual contact to their hero.

I must confess that I had never attended any of the numerous events graced by Raila here in DC; my knowledge of the man has been mainly through the media and snippets of his speeches in U-tube. I must also from the outset, declare that like millions of other Kenyans, I am neither a PNU supporter-a rudderless irresolute grouping responsible for the election fiasco nor ODM, a party willing to sacrifice a country ostensibly for the sake of democracy.

Thus I came with an open mind, ready to be convinced that Kenya has at last chosen the right track, and once again on the road to recovery. My scepticism was based on the fact that we had been promised the same thing once before in 2002 by the same actors. Then they were in the same NARC party. This time- as Raila put it, they are in it together not because they wanted to, but rather ‘having been to the edge of the precipice and seen the horror bellow’ had opted to share power ‘genuinely 50/50’.

The ceremony started 45 minutes late- we Kenyans are famous for that, and we did not disappoint. The room, as mentioned was filled to capacity, which in itself is good, for democracy presupposes participation. However, and this was disappointing, other than a handful of international partners, the rest of the people present, almost to a man were ODM supporters. This is in no way reflecting on Raila, but rather on the other Kenyans, PNU supporters and the likes who decided not to attend. For whether they accept it or not, Raila is the Prime Minister for Kenya now and in the foreseeable future. In any case he happened to have been invited for an official visit, to expound, as is expcted- Kenyan position on issues of the day.

I think this would have been the perfect forum for such people to ensure that their hopes and fears- and they are legend, are addressed. Raila, though, little subdued, did not disappoint. He kept his audience at their feet with a mastery speech that was at times brutally honest and entertaining. I particularly liked the first part of his speech- where I think he expounded issues and problems of a forced coalition government like the PM of Kenya rather than ‘a people’s president for ODM’. In the end, however, I think he realised that his ODM supporters may have been disappointed, for well into his highlight he switched to Kiswahili, and through metaphors explained the reason he may have opted to form a collation.

But I must admit that I was disappointed during the question and answer session when he was asked to address the question of election violence. He grossed over, expounding casually such platitude such as ‘the boys were demonstrating’ or ‘people had a right to demonstrate’. We need to remind him that people died, some were raped and maimed for life on both side of the political divide. Whether it’s the PNU or ODM who were responsible, it really does not matter, and it’s not enough to say PNU or the government forces started it. A wrong does not right a wrong, and murder is murder by any other name. Notwithstanding the achievement of renaissance Germany, which the PM seemed to have a fond affinity for and in-depth knowledge, and for which he drew similarities, we must also remember the atrocities of pre-world war II Germany happened because a whole nation refused to face the truth, while the rest compromised.

For some of us, it would have been so much better had he remembered an earlier time on similar forums, on the nations capital not far from where he was standing, and where the PM would walk for the next two days. Martin Luther who when faced with a similar predicament with his followers impatient for change wanted to reciprocate with violence, he did not shy away to name what violence was, or what it would beget; rather he choose to talk the truth, and in doing so possibly saved thousands from death, possibly enabling the likes of us and Odinga, and even Obama to share the dreams of this country.

I have always wondered why we take for granted the poor in Kenya, and how easy the political class in Kenya uses them for their convenience only to dump them at will. Look at the poor helpless in Kibera, the hapless in Mukuru kwa Njenga, all chocked out of their dignity between immaculate mansions for the rich. More than 1,500 of these poor in such similar places died at the hands of either ODM or PNU hooligans and in some cases from our esteemed security forces. Some were chased as the PM put it ‘from the only place they, their fathers and grand-fathers had ever and will ever -call home’. Surely even if these people died for an abstract notion called democracy, if we truly cared, is it not our responsibility to at least find out why they died and who their killers and rapist were!

In a sense then, at the end of the meeting, I felt like I had come to well orchestrated meeting meant to show-case the ODM/PNU working coalition. I do wish however, that the two side would realise that most of us Kenyan we are hoping to have Prime Minister and a President we can call our own. But I am hopeful; in light of the fact the PM is one of the only African leaders to call attention to the election fiasco and the killings in Zimbabwe, that this might have been more to appease his supporters than his stand. It would be a tragedy if like Kibaki, the PM also squandered the opportunity to bring the other half of the country to his fold.

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