Trump and Johnson struggle as protests grow

Fragile: Johnson has been called “rambling and incoherent”. Trump struggled, yesterday, to drink a glass of water.

Are Trump and Johnson failing? As Covid “cabin fever” and division tears peaceful societies apart, Johnson has published an article about statues, calling for a “more cheerful approach”.

As dawn broke over London on Friday morning, a group of workers slowly entombed Winston Churchill’s statue in a grey plywood coffin in preparation for another day of unrest.

Three weeks on from the death of George Floyd, peaceful protests have descended into conflict and finally chaos.

On Saturday, more than 100 people were arrested in London after far-right groups took to the city. And in the US, fury erupted after police in Atlanta killed yet another black man.

Two populist leaders that once seemed invincible are suddenly looking vulnerable. Just six months on from his landslide victory, Boris Johnson’s ratings have plummeted. And Trump’s sense of public opinion seems to have deserted him: six in 10 Americans say he got his response to the protests wrong.

Meanwhile, rumours are swirling that both are physically ill. Footage has emerged of Donald Trump struggling to drink a glass of water, while Johnson, never normally publicity-shy, seems to be avoiding the public as he recovers from his brush with death.

Yet now more than ever, there is a huge demand for leadership.

As protestors threw smoke bombs at police, journalist Matthew Syed called for a mature debate about national history. He spoke about his immigrant father’s belief in the paradox that “Britain is a great country that also committed great crimes”.

“The country is suffering from a cabin fever, the outcome of long confinement and inactivity,” said the Mail this weekend. “The prime minister must see that it urgently needs the hope of release.”

Despite this, both Trump and Johnson seem to be adding fuel to the fire. Instead of healing, Trump turned to authoritarian language, tweeting: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

In the UK, Boris Johnson resorted to his trademark humour, calling this morning for more statues to fill empty niches in government buildings. “Isn’t that a more cheerful approach?” he asks.

In his first four years, Trump weathered crisis after crisis. Now, he is faced with a pandemic, a recession, and protests all at the same time. As the anger ignited by the actions of one American policeman snowball into a worldwide uprising, the leaders of the so-called “free world” appear to be floundering.

So, are Trump and Johnson failing?

Losing their touch?

No, say some. This is more than just a leadership problem. The protests are the result of centuries of injustice. Trump and Johnson cannot be blamed for the history of racism in the UK and the US; as individuals, they are powerless to prevent themselves from being caught in its tides. Their voices alone would not have been enough to stop the protests from spiralling dangerously out of control.

Yes, say others. Reality TV star Trump and witty newspaper columnist Johnson have a lot in common. Both are egomaniacs and both desperately need the attention of adoring fans. But their self-love cannot hide the moral vacuum: in the face of a crisis, they are crumbling – mentally and physically. In the void, chaos is forming.

You Decide

  1. Do you need to have strong moral convictions to be a good leader?
  2. Does a leader hold ultimate responsibility for what happens in their country?

Activities

  1. Are Donald Trump and Boris Johnson similar leaders? Write a list of five things they have in common. Use the expert links to help you.
  2. Imagine you are the president of the USA. Write a speech to protestors calling for calm. How would you convince them that you are the right person to represent all voices?

Some People Say...

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a moulder of consensus.”

Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968), American civil rights movement leader

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know from polls that whether or not Americans believe Donald Trump to be a moral person depends on their party affiliation. A 2020 Pew Research Centre survey found that just 6% of Democrats think Trump is “morally upstanding” compared to 62% of Republicans. The same poll found that 59% of Americans believe Trump is prejudiced. In the UK, a June 2019 YouGov poll found that only 14% of British adults think that Boris Johnson has a “good moral character”.
What do we not know?
We do not know if different leaders could have prevented the protests in both the UK and the US. Black Lives Matter protests are not new – in 2014, during Obama’s presidency, protests in Missouri following the police killing of black teenager Michael Brown quickly turned violent. The impact of the coronavirus on public life today has been unprecedented: it is impossible to say if a different prime minister or president could have ensured these protests remained peaceful.

Word Watch

Entombed
Buried or trapped inside something.
Statue
The statue of British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill was boarded up after it was defaced by protestors who say he held racist views. Churchill’s granddaughter says the statue may need to be moved to a museum to protect it.
Invincible
Too powerful to be defeated or overcome.
Landslide
In December 2019, Johnson’s Conservative party won 44% of the vote at the UK General Election, compared to opposition party Labour’s 32%, giving him a large 80-seat majority in the House of Commons.
Brush with death
Johnson spent a week in intensive care in April after falling ill with the coronavirus. After he recovered, he revealed that arrangements were made in case he died.
Paradox
A situation which seems impossible to understand because it contains two opposite or contradictory facts.
Authoritarian
Demanding that people obey completely, and refusing to allow them the freedom to act as they wish.
Niches
Small spaces in walls especially for statues.
Recession
When the economy shrinks, often causing mass unemployment. Figures show that 40 million Americans have lost their jobs as a result of the lockdown.
Floundering
Struggling, often mentally, showing or feeling confusion.

Subjects

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