Bad Leaders, Worse Opposition

the-four-seasons-winter-william-holbrook-beard
William Holbrook Beard: The Four Season, Winter (19th c) // Public domain

History has been fraught with bad leaders. The terribly bad ones are not those whose leadership skills are lacking, far from it. In fact, the worst leaders excel at leadership skills, at least for those minimum number of people who can keep them in a leadership position. For those they are role models with reverence skirting on or even going full cult of personality. They are however bad for the rest, and for the future. Make them even worse, in a lasting effect, is that they are detrimental to future leaders, as bad leaders beget bad predecessors.

History is awash with examples. Caesar, albeit an excellent and successful leader, caused the downfall of the republic which never returned thereafter. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, one bloodthirsty and populist toppled the other. Napoleon, also a successful leader crowned himself emperor, restarting the monarchy. Those bad leaders who were toppled by revolution or a great disruption are not necessarily succeeded by even worse ones, just see the case of the axis powers in the aftermath of World War II.

That is why the likes of Trump are more dangerous than the short-term damage they cause. For four years, Donald Trump ruled the media through scandalising  statements and actions. They were carefully designed to agitate and to make the headlines all the time. It is difficult to overshoot the noise in this situation. Biden did not succeed by winning the  shouting match. He won the elections because he is a boring old man, that is, he is not Trump. His lacklustre normalcy came handy during elections, but now that he is president his track record is not making him popular at all.

This can lead to a second Trump presidency despite all the legal quagmire the former president finds himself in. No matter what he did, the damage had been done, and a good portion of the American people now turn against the democratic institution, the democratically elected officials to put Trump on a pedestal and to the White House. In this situation only a boring person could show normalcy, but that would not do it, so someone will eventually have to out-Trump Trump, which is horrible even to contemplate. It is difficult to return to true normalcy where leaders are apt.

The situation is similar in Hungary. After 12 years of Fidesz government, what an awful track-record in democratic values, the opposition essentially gave up. They are used to their comfortable positions in opposition, they get paid without shouldering responsible and detrimental tasks. They virtually gave up from the get-go. The latest election is yet another proof, and what came after is even worse.

Inflation is running amok. The Hungarian government goes against a united EU on the question of democracy, Russia, and a myriad of other things. People’s livelihoods are endangered by populist economic policies. Yet the opposition is basically dormant. The problem is that as things stand now and even more populistic and authoritarian figure has a glimmer of hope to topple the current regime. And no such person is in sight. But what we have is also not good.

Bad leaders beget even worse successors. That is why it is important to safeguard democratic values from bad leaders in the first place.


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Mate Hajba
Free Market Foundation