Bad leadership is toxic. Toxic not only within but without. Like a virus that’s highly contagious, bad leadership can spread, quickly and efficiently, from one place to another.
We saw this in Europe, in the years before the Second World War, when not only fascism but associated toxins such as anti-Semitism started first in one country and then spread to another, and then to still others. In fact, we have seen this in Europe even in recent years, especially in East Europe, where, to the astonishment of its West European counterparts, autocracies have replaced democracies.
The poisonousness contagiousness of bad leadership comes to mind again now, watching China’s behavior, Xi Jinping’s behavior, just in the last six months. I have written elsewhere about Xi’s lust for power.* Here I will point out only that in the recent past this lust has not only not been stilled, quelled, it has been revived, reinvigorated.
Why has this been so? Why after years in power did Xi decide recently to clamp down on Hong Kong? Why after years in power did Xi decide recently totally to squelch his political opposition? Why after years in power did Xi decide recently aggressively to take on China’s most powerful and prominent industrialist, Alibaba founder, Jack Ma? Why now? Why has Xi been far more aggressive and oppressive in the recent past than he was in the more distant past?
Paramount among the several reasons is one. Because the United States – the only country in the world that rivals China in power and influence – has been hobbled if not crippled by bad leadership. Bad leadership that has led to the U.S. now facing four crises simultaneously: 1) a public health crisis; 2) an economic crisis; 3) a social justice crisis: and 4) a governance crisis.
Bad leadership is why Americans have been consumed, completely, by themselves. This has allowed it, bad leadership, to spread. In fact, if this keeps up, look to Putin to copy Xi, to harden his fist not only at home but abroad.
*Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy (Co-authored with Todd Pittinsky, Cambridge University Press, 2020).