Allow us a study in differing profiles of democratic leadership. Let us focus on three non-traditional populist leaders and their governance in this time of crisis.
Two are considered “leaders of the free world.” The third enjoys the highest trust ratings that a leader can possibly constantly earn from an electorate.
Ironically the opposition against the three is perhaps characterized as the most vicious unthinking and deeply rabid and relentless. For Donald Trump, it is because he is seen to win a second term as no competent challenger has stepped up to the plate. For Boris Johnson, because he continues to juggle between a critical exit that has far-reaching economic costs and now, a deadly virus that threatens an already threatened economy.
Rodrigo Duterte, our last example, is constantly facing an opposition so rabidly if not violently focused on regaining lost power and entitlement.
Trump, who the Washington DC “swamp things” disparagingly accuse as being dictatorial, is desperately trying to paint the COVID-19 crisis as temporary despite its increasingly ravaging effects due to severely disconnected measures taken by each of the 51 states in the union.
Johnson has been called the UK’s Trump. That says a lot. His initial position on the COVID-19 outbreak had come at a critical time when Britain was particularly weakened by divisive debates on its exit from the European Union. That not only complicated matters in an already complex pandemic but it likewise politicized everything.
The elder of the three and perhaps the most popular and publicly approved is Duterte. Among them he has taken the most aggressive actions. Unfortunately he has not been spared the viral criticisms and direct assaults on his presidency by a venomous opposition, relentless in their myopic self-indulgence.
Among the three, because Duterte has been the most aggressive if not politically incorrect and straightforward in calling a spade a dirty shovel, it is typical for the vitriol-spewing opposition to label him as perhaps the more authoritarian. Never mind that Duterte’s approval ratings effectively give him the mandate to act aggressively, and, when we discern the deeper foundations of his powers, as a populist, he might actually be the more democratic and representative despite their labeling.
Against the foregoing, analyze the different approaches and the resultant effects or failures of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Remember that for all three the political opposition to anything they do, whether as a response to COVID-19 or not, remains as an unfortunate constant.
In the case of Trump and Duterte, these are insidiously underhanded, rebellious and sinister verging on sedition. Let’s look at some details.
For Trump, note the irrelevant provisions that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi inserted into an emergency legislation to provide economic support during the pandemic. As the government sought to fund the fight against COVID-19, Pelosi inserted provisions to increase funding for theater and the arts.
For Duterte, note the demolition campaigns against Sen. Cristopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, the yellow media’s fake news obsession with the National Bureau of Investigation, the Left’s politically instigated rallies and the recent armed communist attacks. For them it’s business as usual.
Conscious of criticism and eventual lockdown fatigue, Johnson’s initial approach to COVID-19 failed fatally. He said, “The UK is different. We’re at the beginning of a long process, and we’re working out the best way to get there with the least public health impact.”
Severe socio-economic impacts were prioritized so he hesitated, relying instead on “community immunity” protocols, hoping victims would quickly develop an immunity to COVID-19. Now the UK is just a few weeks behind Italy’s catastrophe.
The opposition was likewise a factor where the US has now overtaken China in number of fatalities. While Trump was among the first to ban travel, civil liberties took precedence and each state had its own protocols. Every move Trump took was shot down in mainstream media. Now most quarantine protocols remain optional and abbreviated.
Both Trump and Johnson had pussyfooted because of their populism. In contrast, Duterte had optimized his. He avoided its weaknesses by imposing a lockdown early and indeed forcefully. For him populism is not mere political ideology. See how Duterte had tactfully wielded it against COVID-19.