The im­moral­ity of Boris John­son and Don­ald Trump

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - International Business - CHRIS PAT­TEN Photo: EPA Chris Pat­ten, the last Bri­tish gov­er­nor of Hong Kong and a for­mer EU com­mis­sioner for ex­ter­nal af­fairs, is Chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of Ox­ford.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and for­mer UK For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son have in com­mon not just their crude na­tion­al­ism, but also their ap­par­ent in­abil­ity to con­trol their sex­ual ap­petites. But is it ap­pro­pri­ate to judge po­lit­i­cal lead­ers based on their sex lives, as many have been wont to do?

IN a 2013 press con­fer­ence, then­re­cently in­au­gu­rated Pope Fran­cis fa­mously said that, when it comes to sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, in­clud­ing past ho­mo­sex­ual acts, “who am I to judge?” Should we take a sim­i­larly non-judg­men­tal ap­proach to the past per­sonal be­hav­iour of our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers?

The ques­tion is acutely rel­e­vant to­day in both the United States and the United King­dom. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has al­ready reached the height of po­lit­i­cal power in his coun­try, and for­mer UK For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son, who as­pires to keep ris­ing in the ranks, have in com­mon not just their crude na­tion­al­ism, but also their ap­par­ent in­abil­ity to con­trol their sex­ual ap­petites.

Trump’s ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs are com­mon knowl­edge, de­spite hefty pay-offs in­tended to si­lence his sex­ual part­ners, such as the adult film per­former and strip­per known as Stormy Daniels. Though Trump is far from the first US pres­i­dent with a long record of adul­tery, he stands out for the crude­ness of his re­marks about women, in­clud­ing the in­fa­mous “grab ’em by the pussy” com­ment, ex­posed dur­ing the cam­paign.

As for John­son, re­ports are cir­cu­lat­ing that his wife has kicked him out over an af­fair. While this is hardly his first – nor even the first time he has been given the boot – there are ques­tions now about whether this will hurt his po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions, which many be­lieve were the main mo­ti­va­tion be­hind his de­ci­sion to act as a leader of the cam­paign to with­draw the UK from the Euro­pean Union.

But is it ap­pro­pri­ate to judge po­lit­i­cal lead­ers based on their sex lives, as many have been wont to do? The an­swer, in my opin­ion, is no.

Of course, ac­tions like sex­ual ha­rass­ment or as­sault should in­form our as­sess­ment of a leader. But while Trump has faced such ac­cu­sa­tions, John­son has not. And, ul­ti­mately, we do not elect peo­ple to po­lit­i­cal of­fice be­cause we want them to act as stan­dard bear­ers for our sub­jec­tive, var­ied, and evolv­ing def­i­ni­tions of moral­ity. Some­one who has been un­faith­ful to his or her spouse can be a skilled leader, just as a faith­ful wife or hus­band can be a poor one.

None­the­less, there are plenty of other prob­lems with the lead­er­ship of both Trump and John­son, who re­signed from his post as for­eign sec­re­tary in July over his op­po­si­tion to the com­pro­mises that Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s gov­ern­ment de­cided it would be will­ing to make in the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions with the EU. While John­son has some rhetor­i­cal skill – which he has been us­ing with in­creas­ing vigour to whip up sup­port for a “hard Brexit” – the gen­eral view is that he was a hope­less diplo­mat, al­ways pre­fer­ring a cheap joke to a se­ri­ous brief. Dur­ing his stint as for­eign sec­re­tary, John­son was a near-con­stant cause of em­bar­rass­ment for the UK, with gaffe af­ter gaffe leav­ing Bri­tain’s friends abroad with their heads in their hands.

Since leav­ing that po­si­tion, John­son has not cleaned up his act. Just last month, he made the Is­lam­o­pho­bic dec­la­ra­tion that Mus­lim women wear­ing niqabs re­sem­ble “bank rob­bers” and “let­ter boxes.”

Soon af­ter, John­son de­scribed May’s EU ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion as be­ing tan­ta­mount to wrap­ping “a sui­cide vest around the Bri­tish con­sti­tu­tion” and hand­ing the det­o­na­tor to the EU. The com­ment was taste­less, to put it mildly, not least be­cause 22 peo­ple (in­clud­ing chil­dren) were killed by a sui­cide bomber at a con­cert in Manch­ester last year.

Such state­ments are clearly not be­fit­ting of a Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal leader, much like many of the racially charged and oth­er­wise in­cen­di­ary com­ments (not to men­tion ac­tions) that Trump has made. But these lead­ers’ fail­ures run even deeper. To un­der­stand them, it is worth look­ing at three rep­utable lead­ers who died this sum­mer: for­mer United Na­tions Sec­re­tary-gen­eral Kofi An­nan, for­mer Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary and NATO Sec­re­tary-gen­eral Peter Car­ring­ton, and US Sen­a­tor John Mccain.

Hav­ing worked with An­nan and for Car­ring­ton, I can vouch for their grace, hon­our, and com­mit­ment to truth. Mccain plainly had the same qual­i­ties, not to men­tion a level of per­sonal brav­ery far be­yond what is ex­pected of most of us (though it should be noted that Car­ring­ton was also a war hero). These lead­ers’ com­bi­na­tion of hon­our and com­mit­ment to truth – two at­tributes that are in­trin­si­cally con­nected – is nowhere to be seen in Trump or John­son.

No one would sug­gest that po­lit­i­cal lead­ers must re­spond to ev­ery ques­tion they are asked with en­tirely frank an­swers. That would be to ex­pect be­hav­iour far above and be­yond what is nor­mal. Deal­ing with life’s predica­ments some­times de­mands, to bor­row the lan­guage of for­mer UK Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Robert Arm­strong, that we are somewhat eco­nom­i­cal with the truth.

But there is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween some economis­ing, as even hon­ourable lead­ers like Mccain and Car­ring­ton have surely done, and be­ing a se­rial liar, as is the case with Trump and John­son. Trump typ­i­cally says what­ever is in his short-term in­ter­est, though some­times it seems that he does not even know what the truth is. Even his own lawyer is re­puted to have de­scribed him as a liar.

Yet Trump’s dis­hon­esty runs even deeper: his en­tire na­tion­al­ist po­lit­i­cal plat­form is based on the men­da­cious no­tion that Amer­ica needs to be made great again. Yet Amer­ica was great be­fore Trump, and his be­hav­iour – rid­ing roughshod over in­ter­na­tional agree­ments, trash­ing al­lies and pur­su­ing pro­tec­tion­ist trade mea­sures – will only un­der­mine that great­ness by, among other things, de­plet­ing the coun­try’s for­mi­da­ble stock of soft power. Sim­i­larly, John­son’s Brexit cam­paign was based en­tirely on de­cep­tion, crack­pot eco­nom­ics and vain­glo­ri­ous wish­ful think­ing.

A healthy democ­racy de­pends on an hon­est ex­change of ideas and opin­ions, against a back­ground of shared re­spect for facts and truth. The moral case against Trump and John­son is not that they have been un­faith­ful to their wives, but rather that they sub­vert these con­di­tions by ly­ing re­lent­lessly to the peo­ple they are sup­posed to rep­re­sent. – Project Syn­di­cate

Photo: EPA

For­mer Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son vis­its the Sh­wedagon Pagoda in Yan­gon in Jan­uary 2017.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­liv­ers re­marks on his Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Ka­vanaugh and his dis­ap­point­ment in US At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions.

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