Trump’s latest eternal quote, destined for thirty ‘how not to’ textbooks, and a brilliant Brian Bilston poem by lunchtime, lays bare his Achilles heel.
Before the political dark ages, a pre-Christmas episode of Question Time had Roy Hattersley and Anne Widdecombe on the panel. The final question from the audience was: ‘what gift would the panel give to another panel member?’
Hattersley’s answer was: “To Anne Widdecombe I would give the gift of humility.”
The absence of humility in Trump and the scale of his bluster are the roots of his inevitable downfall. Arrogance in leadership only has purchase in countries where there is no opposition and no dissenting voice. America is now in the midst of a slow, careful and methodical war with a small, despotic regime on its own soil. It will win and the despot’s utterances will, counter-intuitively, serve as the disinfectant.
Proclaim your own wisdom and you invite closer analysis. Speak of wisdom and you cause others to reflect on what wisdom is. Is it, for instance, the skirting of rules, or sailing across the Atlantic to inspire others to save the planet? Is it sacrificing stability for dogma or listening to, and reflecting the changing mood of a nation?
Arrogance and deafness have no place in leadership, especially these days, when every step is dissected and triangulated. If you don’t take your people with you, if you persist with the implacable belief that you are always right, if you fail to recognise plurality of opinion and perspective, you are lost.
Paul Keating, former Australian Prime Minister, laid waste to the career of his foe Andrew Peacock at the despatch box. Peacock was always susceptible to accusations of self-aggrandisement and vanity through his actions – and he wasn’t helped by the unhelpful nominative determinism served to him by his forebears. When Peacock returned to leadership of the opposition in Australia after a pause for breath on the edge of the snakepit of Australian politics, he took Peacock down with one line: “Can a soufflé rise twice?”
Leadership is substance and multitude and listening. The best leaders take account of their constituents, absorb and embrace their diversity, and move forward. Those that blandly and blindly assume, without listening, that their actions are “the will of the people”, will not. Those that cast aside the best work of their predecessors without care or consideration will not. The sun is their undoing. Classical scholars, especially, take note.