Are you worried about your future? About the future of your children? We live in a grey world, but when you have leaders that tend to see things only in black and white, you have to worry. I am talking about the reactions to what Prime Minister KP Oli and President Donald Trump, both sorts of cult personalities, do.
Cult personalities command blind loyalty from their supporters and aversion from others. Some sections of Nepal praise Mr. Oli to the sky and others view him as someone on the steroid, of course, to treat his illness. Likewise, Mr. Trump is a hero for arch-conservatives, while for others, he is a crazy moron.
Take Mr. Oli’s recent India visit, for example. Mr. Oli’s party colleagues and supporters have characterized the visit as a grand success. The Nepali Congress Party has said it was a lost opportunity and his detractors have faulted him for leaving out many important issues from the conversation. What is the truth?
Hegemons often extract advantage from their smaller counterparts during high-level visits or official negotiations. India and China, the regional hegemons, do the same. Who does it overtly and widely, who does it covertly and narrowly, depends on their political systems, level of transparency required by them, and on the scope of engagement with other nations.
If the leader of a small country comes home from a trip to bigger countries without unduly compromising his national interest, that is a success. If he comes with substantial assistance as well, that is a remarkable success, assuming that the assistance will materialize.
We do not know what transpired between Mr. Oli and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in the one-on-one talks. If Mr. Oli has not made any undue compromise in those talks, then the visit should be deemed as a success, because he did not give in anything publicly and secured promises of support for his pet projects, rail, and waterways. It is a different question how quickly India implements its commitment.
Those areas were not probably the most urgent needs for Nepal, but when the next election arrives in five years, we will ask Mr. Oli what promises he had made in the last election were fulfilled. Besides, it is a matter of approach to development.
For good reasons, some believe in balanced development; others in unbalanced growth, in which two or three key sectors lead the way to take off. The Soviet Union, which focused on power, roads, and railways, was the best example. So it becomes a question of an ideological bend of commentators.
It leads me to the second subject: Mr. Trump.
As we have witnessed, Mr. Trump is constantly in the news. Whatever he says or does polarizes the United States. For instance, his immigration pronouncements and policies. His arch-conservative base blindly supports his racist, anti-immigration comments and policies as if they are coming from God. His opponents see him and his words as racist.
Similarly, Americans are divided over the Special Counsel investigation into Mr. Trump’s collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign. Mr. Trump and his close supporters view the investigation as a witch hunt. To safeguard the integrity of American democracy, his opponents find the investigation legitimate and essential. Even most Republican leaders want the investigation to proceed to its logical conclusion.
Mr. Trump’s tariff on import of steel and aluminum and on Chinese goods has received a similarly divided reaction. His core supporters believe he is right, but his opponents worry about the potential trade war that will hurt America, China and the rest of the world. China has already announced its own tariff on American products.
Ditto about Mr. Trump’s treat to tear the six-country nuclear deal with Iran.
In any democratic political system, differences across the political divide are common. But cult leaders evoke a more visceral reaction from their supporters as well as opponents because of their provocative words and deeds. Unfortunately, they often end up harming themselves, like committing suicide or pushing others to do it to make their point or to escape a concocted apocalypse.
That is what worries me. Both Mr. Oli and Trump have become sort of cult leaders due to his unmeasured words in Mr. Oli’s case and his unmeasured words and whimsical deeds in Mr. Trump’s case. They are prone to interpreting national interest — protecting sovereignty and independence and promoting the prosperity and welfare of citizens — as they see fit and act accordingly.
Obviously, that could prove dangerous if there are no people around them to check their impulses by reminding them that the world is more grey than black and white.