My Pal Vlad: Leadership on a Slippery Slope
This is a story about two leaders. And as we’ll see shortly, leadership is not always as clear cut as we’d like to believe. It can, indeed, reside on a slippery slope.
He was born to Maria Shelomova in Leningrad on October, 7, 1952. His birth came a mere eight years after the siege of Leningrad. The boy and his parents lived in the squalid, cramped quarters of public housing (two brothers died early on in the mid-1930s). His father, who was in his early forties at the time, worked in a train factory, while his mother worked a variety of physical menial jobs.
As a young boy, he shared space outside with thugs and misfits, learning to use his fists at an early age. Because he was picked on, and as a human response to survival of the fittest, he learned how to fight. The smallest insult, perceived as humiliation by him, prompted an instant beating. He later became active in judo, an activity he became proficient at as an adult.
Vladimir Putin learned long ago never to take any prisoners in a figurative sense, and in a literal one he has, according to several informed security experts, been linked to the assassinations of those who have opposed him. His ascent through the ranks of the much feared KGB was largely unnoticed by the CIA and other foreign intelligence groups. Putin’s rise was largely aided by President Boris Yeltsin in the nineties, such as when he was appointed deputy chief of presidential staff in 1997.
In a telling recounting of an event that occurred when he was a young man, Putin came face-to-face with a rat that he had corned in an alley. The rat sprang at him, teaching Putin a lesson that he has carried for life: when cornered fight back, to the death if need be.
Putin has been called a narcissistic autocrat. That shoe fits fairly well. However, Putin’s behavior, past and present, is more akin to that of a sociopath who found his way to power by employing Machiavellian principles, as laid out in The Prince. One definition of a sociopath is: an individual possessing a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.
There’s a congruence with Niccolò Machiavelli’s description of The Prince, wherein he states: “It is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”
For those who follow international politics and who are aware of the high polling numbers that Putin has been receiving in Russia, don’t be misled. Much of this is based on fear and respect for a man who will do whatever it takes to maintain power and to remain top alpha dog. Remember the rat story.
The other man was born on June 14, 1946, in Queens, New York City. And it so happened that with that birth came the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. The second youngest of five children, the family lived in a two story tudor revival home. His father sent him at age 13 to a military academy in an effort to straighten out his mischievous ways. Later as a university student at Fordham University in the Bronx he transferred to the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce where he specialized in real estate.
Avoiding having to serve in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War by means of several deferments, he began working full-time in the real estate industry. And from that point on Donald J. Trump began his meteorite rise, with a number of flame-outs along the way, to real estate tycoon. However, his greater success, given his propensity for bankruptcy, has been his rapid ascent to mega reality star host.
Trump’s silver spoon was not a figurative one. In 1978 his father, Fred (once one of the richest men in America), loaned Donald almost $1 million as part of the building of the Grand Hyatt Hotel near Grand Central Station. Later on, Donald borrowed $9 million from his future inheritance when he encountered financial difficulties (as stated in a 2007 deposition).
Today, as one of the world’s most polarizing public figures, Donald Trump’s net worth is estimated by financial experts at around $4 billion, though he insists it’s closer to $10 billion. But his greatest success has been winning the Republican leadership ticket to take on the much despised Hillary Clinton for the position of the President of the United States.
That Donald J. Trump is the greatest reality star in the history of television is not an overstatement. How a bumbling business man has been able to pull the wool over the eyes of millions of Americans, not to mention a segment of the media, can only be explained by: a) the deep disgust that Americans rightly hold towards Congress, b) a profoundly ignorant portion of the U.S. adult population, and c) Trumps insatiable ability to lie without reservation and to be believed by many Americans.
So that brings us to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. There almost couldn’t be two more dissimilar men, with the exception of one particular common trait: they’re both narcissists, with Trump likely being the bigger one of the two. From a sociopath perspective Putin has Trump over the barrel. However, it needs to be pointed out that Trump exhibits his own sociopathic tendencies. His faux empathy for working Americans rings hollow when one considers how Trump’s supporters idolize him yet he doesn’t love them back. For example, we don’t see Trump meeting face-to-face with working people in their kitchens. Indeed, it took a while for germaphobe Trump to start shaking hands with his supporters. Someone pass the Purell, please.
When Trump gushes over his new pal, Vlad, it becomes a nauseating affair of pandering to one of the world’s most powerful politicians and, by coincidence, a purportedly head-of-state murderer. Trump’s near homoerotic behavior towards Putin causes one to pause to question The Donald’s judgement. And yes, both men are proficient at lying through their teeth and for making outrageous, crude remarks. On that point, Trump and Putin are running neck and neck.
But does Donald J. Trump not get it? Is he so of touch with reality and so poorly informed on geo-political issues that he’s essentially clueless about Vladimir Putin? Has he not read any biographies on Putin, or familiarized himself with the Russian president’s geo-political aims and adventures? Right, Donald doesn’t read books.
This a very sad time for America, the world’s oldest contemporary democracy. The Land of the Free deserves more than this. Check out this interview on CBC Radio with conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes, whose frankness about the Republican Party having lost its way is a wake-up call.
In the face of this dark chapter in America’s political history, the world can only hope that from this, regardless of the election result on November 8th, that the country will make a self-correction during the period leading to 2020. It will be painful, but from that will emerge a re-born Republican Party that will provide the much-needed two party system that has driven the economic success of the United States.
This is America’s urgent leadership challenge.
Nobody should have any illusion about the possibility of gaining military superiority over Russia. We will never allow this to happen.