Why Does Celebrity Trump Complexity in Leadership?

Friday, July 26, 2019
London, England

Why Does Celebrity Trump Complexity in Leadership?

As I taxied into downtown London for the biannual meeting of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA), Boris Johnson, the new Prime Minister (PM), was meeting with Queen Elizabeth.

Protesters made London traffic a mess.

They carried signs echoing those greeting Donald Trump when he became the US President in January 2017, namely:

Boris is not OUR MP!

The Queen granted Boris the authority to “establish” a new government—a well-established formality—really just a farce. The Queen symbolically grants the right to govern even though England has had a parliamentary government since 1707.

Following his traffic-jamming, protester-inviting meeting with QE, Boris gave a short speech just before he entered the UK equivalent of the White House, 10 Downing Street. According to New York Times, Boris is quite a character. Unlike Donald, he’s well educated. He served as Mayor of London where he was, generally, well-liked. However, he achieved almost nothing in terms of policy changes. Instead, he gained more celebrity. He realized that the Brexit controversy could be his ticket to greater power. Sticking with that angle, he announced, in today’s little Downing Street speech of his, his intention to break with the EU by Halloween “deal or no deal.”

In other words, Boris plans to cut ties with the European Union whether or not negotiations regarding numerous, complex issues are resolved. The complicated nature of these issues betray description. They include determining the status of EU citizens living in Britain, the nature of tariffs on goods crossing to and from England, and the highly sensitive issue of the border between Northern and Southern Ireland.

Boris’ plan?

Let the UK split off from the EU without any “deal,” ignoring the mess which will occur without resolving these multi-leveled, complicated issues

Despite his having read more books than Trump—hardly a meaningful achievement—Boris is barely more qualified to lead a modern democracy than Donald. He regularly appears for speeches unprepared. Boris regularly shows up late. Thinking a one-off, a journalist witnessed Boris at a speech. Boris joked that he didn’t remember which group he was addressing, or why. He charmed the audience with a few anecdotes. To the journalist’s surprise, Boris did exactly the same routine in a speech a month later. What looked like a spontaneous save turned out to be well-rehearsed ploy.

Like our dear Donald, Boris pays little attention to detail.

Boris lacks specific policy proposals most obviously evident, for example, in his impulsive promise to leave the EU. The Union, first organized in 1950, sought to create a confederation to better compete with huge countries like the US, China and Russia.

Meanwhile, more recently, and elected between the reigns of Donald and  Boris, the Ukrainian people elected Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian who played the role of President in a popular Ukrainian television show. He, like Donald, had absolutely no experience in government.

These developments—the election of Donald-the-reality-TV-star in the US, Volodymyr-the-comedian in the Ukraine, and Boris the-one-issue Brexit politician in the UK—are alarming.

Why?

Because these men now preside over incredibly complex countries riddled with serious problems. These nations need powerful, well-educated leaders ready to address their problems as well as ones plaguing the world, e.g. global warming. Instead, these are Twitter-writing, social-media-disseminating, simple-slogan-shouting, ill-informed men.

Donald’s many promises, like increasing American manufacturing, building walls to solve immigration problems, or “making a deal” with the most oppressive, brutal dictator on the planet earth, Kim Jung-Un, got him elected. Each promise is impossible to fulfill and based on nothing. He’s like a used car salesman saying,

Are you kidding? This is an excellent 1990 Yugo. Trust me. 

Volodymyr’s political party, Servant of the People, was created in March 2018 by the producers of his television show, a company called Kvartal 95. The television series, in which Volodymyr starred, bore the same name, Servant of the People. It featured sit-com-like farce of a fictional president of the Ukraine. The fiction has transitioned into a frightening reality.

Boris, who fathered an out-of-wedlock child while a married, Mayor of London, has apparently been cutting his own hair since elementary school, and cannot remember who he’s even addressing at pre- and post-election rallies. He garnered power by, again, promising to yank the UK out of a nearly 75 year-long, and highly successful, confederation of European countries.

Why are we experiencing this alarming trend towards simplification?

How might psychoanalysis help explain this frightening phenomenon?

These questions have innumerable answers.

I highlight only three key reasons for celebrity trumping competency:

First, the international news media, save perhaps the BBC, has utterly failed to provide citizens of countries throughout the world with accurate information about what’s really occurring.

Are you old enough to remember Walter Cronkite?

Those were the days when newscasters offered a much more comprehensive survey of events throughout the world. They presented facts. They separated presentation of facts from opinion.

Shame on them, but, these days, the major US news outlets—CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC—spout opinion, tell viewers what to think, and focus almost exclusively on Donald. News no longer exists; instead, these media conglomerates sell varieties of infotainment.

As I’ve noted in prior posts, you’ll be in for a shock if you tune into BBC. Just imagine what you’ll see:

Civil wars in Yemen and Syria continue to wreak havoc, creating the greatest number of refugees since WWII. Global warming is causing extremes of weather, including a record-setting heat wave in Europe. Just yesterday, London set an all-time record with temperatures reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Donald abruptly ended the Iranian nuclear deal, leading the Supreme Leader there to threaten re-starting manufacturing nuclear bombs. And on and on and on.

Second, and more psychoanalytically-oriented, humans tend to regress into black-and-white thinking when feeling threatened or overwhelmed. This is known as splitting. It simplifies the world by creating categories of good and bad. For example, if you are held up at gunpoint in the parking lot of a shopping mall, you’ll hardly think of whatever hardships the perpetrator endured. You’ll simply see him or her as bad, you as good, and look for the easiest possible way to resolve the situation.

Third, the declining emphasis on education, in favor of funding massively  expensive weapons programs, has created a poorly educated global population. The failure to understand history in depth, to have read the major works of fiction, and to comprehend contemporary sociocultural and political trends, leaves most people incapable of grasping the complexities of the modern world.

Lest I appear arrogant, I’ve read as much as I can about Brexit. I barely understand it. While here in London, I’ve asked at least ten people I’ve met at meetings, on the Tube, or in restaurants their understanding of the idea of leaving the EU. No one I’ve met comprehends it. The short-lived government of Teresa May couldn’t resolve it. And, if Boris succeeds in jumping the EU ship within a few months, God only knows what havoc it will wreak on Europe and the world.

Hopefully, Hegel’s idea of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis will allow us to hope that things will swing back towards greater sanity. He wouldn’t have been surprised by Donald succeeding Barack. It swung to the left, and therefore had to swing back to the right.

Apparently, CNN’s ratings have hit an all-time low. Most people understand the international media has all but completely failed, causing few to believe what they read on line or in newsprint.

And some politicians, particularly a few of the democratic candidates, are proposing policies for repairing our fractured educational systems.

Meanwhile, the best we can do is hope, cross our fingers, pray, read Tarot cards, or check on astrological signs. So far, the slogan-simple-leaders have avoided blundering, who knows why, into a crisis requiring deep thought.

Innumerable situations could bring a mind-boggling crisis to the fore— literally within seconds.

What if, as many expect, a no-deal Brexit destroys Britain’s economy?

What if the other stable-genius, Kim Jung-Un, lobs a nuclear missile towards the US mainland?

And what if, as has already partially occurred, Russia decides to further invade Ukraine?

These situations, and many others like them, would wreak havoc on a global scale never-before-seen in the 21st century. In such an event, the simplicities of Boris, Donald, Volodymyr, and Boris will prove utterly useless and, worse, lethally dangerous.

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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP

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