I was talking to a friend about Putin. That’s what sparked this post. Yet, this post isn’t about how downright evil he is and how America (or Biden) are tons better.
This post is about applying what we know about abusive people to political leaders. It’s also about how what I call ‘governing’ (rather than, say, ‘dictating’) requires or develops virtue.
Governing is hard work. It requires that one be responsive to a whole population. It also requires accountability and a great sense of responsibility. Every day, a leader who governs must use practical reason. Governing also takes time. That means less time to fool around and get into global conflicts, perhaps.
Dictating, like being abusive, is the easy way out. We tend to think of dictators as holding great amounts of power, and maybe some do to some extent, but they are also weak in the sense that they are probably afraid of the freedom of their populace, just like an abuser in a romantic relationship limits the freedom of their partner because it threatens them. A dictator, because they do not respond to the freedom of the individuals, is not virtuous, just like an abuser isn’t. And, just like an abuser, a dictator will use forms of manipulation to control and suppress.
In my honest opinion, there are likely few leaders today on the global scene who actually govern. That is, very few who do not employ abusive tactics to a certain extent. That’s not just true of Putin, but also true of America. There is a gradation. It’s not all or nothing.
In the end, though, governing probably leads to far less global drama. It probably also means healthier, happier citizens–and a healthier, happier leader. Just like how healthy romantic relationships require work on both ends, so it is true of actually governing and being a citizen. Yet, it will lead to more fulfilling and healthier relations overall.
Nothing good comes easy. That’s true of relationships as well as countries. The abuser, like the dictator, is, for whatever reason, unwilling to do the work, unwilling to confront themselves and humble themselves, so they control, manipulate, suppress, and even kill.
Understanding things this way makes us realize that the bad actors on a global scene are human, not monsters. They are, just like us, flawed. So, too, the virtuous among us are probably the minority.
For those of us in freer countries, we can take steps to work on ourselves and our governments, to elect leaders who will actually do the work of governing, and step away from abusive tactics once we recognize them. We can also not give abusive leaders more credit than they deserve. These are not strategic geniuses. These truly are cowards, because if they had courage, they would be responsive to their citizens.