Strong Personalities Dominate the World

Written by on December 19, 2016

Every year, Forbes magazine comes out with its list of the “World’s Most Powerful People” where one slot is allocated for every 100 million people in this planet. With the world’s current population estimated at 7.4 billion, 74 individuals are in this year’s list – men and women who wield the most influence and whose powers expand on multiple spheres. In short, they are the individuals who will likely matter in the coming year because they will “make the world turn.”

While the list includes business moguls and executives, many are leaders whose actions can (if not already) influence global events – dominant personalities who are different in the way they think, and display a strongman type of character.

For four years now, Russian president Vladimir Putin has topped the list for exerting influence “in nearly every corner of the globe” – from Syria to the US presidential elections, continuing to “get what he wants” and “unconstrained by conventional global norms.” In recent years, “his reach has magnified,” noted the magazine’s editors, positing that his power “may go largely unchecked in the years to come” especially with a likely ally entering the White House.

The said likely ally, of course, is US president-elect Donald Trump who is ranked number 2. The billionaire-turned-politician has made waves for his fiery rhetoric against illegal immigration, and his promise to “make America great again.” In contrast, outgoing president Barack Obama is at number 48 whose legacy is in jeopardy due to Trump’s threats to undo several initiatives including healthcare reform. It is interesting to note that in all his eight years as the leader of the world’s largest economy and a country deemed as a superpower, Obama has never made it to the top of the heap.

At number 4 (one slot below the world’s most powerful woman Angela Merkel of Germany who is “the backbone of the European Union” and noted for using her power against the terrorist group ISIS) is Chinese president Xi Jinping whose proclamation as the Chinese Communist Party “core leader” gave him a status similar to Mao Zedong’s and Deng Xiaoping’s. He shows signs of “fresh thinking” and has fought hard against corruption within his party. He continues to exert influence over Hong Kong and Taiwan and “has shown a willingness to engage in strategic moments of confrontation” – like flying a nuclear bomber over the South China Sea in response to Trump’s protocol-breaking phone call to the Taiwanese president.

Die-hard followers of President Rodrigo Duterte say they are not surprised that their idol made it to the Forbes list – one of the 11 new names that include UK Prime Minister Theresa May and US vice president-elect Mike Pence. At number 70, president Duterte was noted for his strong stance against illegal drugs and criminality, described as someone who has a tendency to “say what he thinks, no matter how raw” – which keeps him in the headlines.

As Forbes explained, the list this year “comes at a time of rapid and profound change” – as seen in a shocker like Brexit and the rise of strongmen-type leaders like Putin, Trump, Xi Jinping and Duterte.

In Gideon Rachman’s article at the Financial Times titled “Trump, Putin, Xi and the cult of the strongman leader” where he also mentions president Duterte and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan (number 56 in Forbes’ list), the author notes a rising international trend of “strongman” leaders – individuals who “bring a distinct style to international diplomacy. They tend to want to sort things out man-to-man, rather than relying on institutions or international law.”

These leaders carry similar political narratives that contain elements of nationalism and promises of national rejuvenation. In another FT feature by Lionel Barber, the author posits that 2016 – the year of the unthinkable – has seen “a thundering repudiation of the status quo” as seen in the rise of Trump, and Duterte.

All over the world, people are looking at leaders who are anti-establishment, perhaps in the mold of Thomas Carlyle’s “great man” as suggested by a Daily Times article that gives Trump “full marks for ambition and for challenging the status quo,” riding the crest of success on his promise to bring jobs back to Americans and make their nation great again.

President Duterte, on the other hand, is described as “another firebrand in the Trump mould with an innate distaste for political propriety,” going on to say that “What makes Duterte special is not his vigilante zeal to cure Filipino society of all criminals. It is his utter disdain for the status quo.”

Analysts say a close look at Brexit shows the same issues that have elevated strongman-types like Trump and Duterte: jobs, and the promise to make their country great again. Which goes to show that people across the globe are becoming more concerned about their individual situations.

As explained by talk radio host John Fredericks – whose verbal clash with London School of Economics professor of Global Governance Mary Kaldor over the issue of Brexit is the talk of the town, so to speak:

Economic prosperity and jobs is the great equalizer, it is the great unifier. A pay check has no ideology, putting food on the table has no political philosophy.”

Despite the controversies and attacks from critics, the latest survey from SWS shows that President Duterte has maintained a very good net satisfaction rating of +63 – a solid indication that majority of Filipinos still believe in him. And this is precisely the reason why Rodrigo Duterte was overwhelmingly voted into office: Many people see in him the strong leader they have always wanted.

Read the full report in The Phillippine Star.

Read Forbes Magazine’s “The World’s Most Powerful People 2016.”

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