Gary Johnson’s inability to name a foreign leader he admires has led to widespread mockery of his Libertarian candidacy. Stipulated: Gary Johnson is a clown and a buffoon who has no business holding the office of the presidency. And yet, the international scene is littered with a pathetic group of presidents and prime ministers. My knowledge of all 200-plus heads of state is lacking, but even a cursory look at the G-20 confirms that it is a bleak time for world leadership.
After Johnson’s flub, many liberals piped up to say there were indeed leaders worthy of admiration out there. What about, they argued, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Italy’s Matteo Renzi? And it’s true, those leaders are handsome. But the verdict on both men is somewhat premature, and I’m not ready to feed their names to Johnson’s campaign. As for the leaders of the other countries in the G-20: It is not an inspiring list. Argentina and Australia have recently elected leaders who have accomplished very little. Brazil’s president was installed in what was either a coup or a legitimate impeachment (depending on your interpretation), but he is broadly seen (correctly) as corrupt and ineffective. France’s President Hollande is either (again depending on your interpretation) a joke or a gigantic joke. China’s general secretary is the country’s most aggressively authoritarian ruler in decades. It’s good not to admire him. Angela Merkel is at least a strong leader who has taken stances worthy of admiration, although the fact that she has helped immiserate Greece and kept Europe in a state of slow growth must count against her, despite what my colleague might say. Indonesia’s president was once seen as an inspiring Obama-type figure, but that seems quite a long time ago now. (This was the symbolic turning point.)
It doesn’t get much better from there: The prime minister of India is a demagogue and thug; Japan’s leader has striven to reform his country’s economy, but his fluctuating feelings on Japan’s role in World War II are hard to admire; the South Korean president … well, she may be the best head of state on the Korean Peninsula, but I can’t think of anything else remotely positive about her. As for the Mexican president, the less said the better. Then there’s Vladimir Putin, the new king of Saudi Arabia, the vile president of South Africa, the recently installed Theresa May in the U.K., and the extremely unadmirable Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. Yikes.
What about other large countries? Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif is once again prime minister, but he isn’t even the most powerful man in the country, let alone a leader of real significance. The president of the Philippines rivals Erdogan in terms of insanity, and may surpass him in demagoguery. Thailand and Egypt recently underwent military coups; Ethiopia and Eritrea could use much better leadership, as could Bangladesh, Iran, and Nigeria. In terms of countries that have a large role in the American psyche (and are thus probably the only places Gary Johnson has bothered to give a minute’s thought to), neither Cuba nor Israel is blessed with inspiring leadership.
As difficult as it is to find first-rate leadership if you are a good liberal, it’s even harder to find someone to admire if you hold the eclectic (read: bizarre) collection of opinions that Gary Johnson has gleaned from sources as varied as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that the one presidential candidate who seems to constantly mention world leaders he admires, from Putin to Benjamin Netanyahu to Kim Jong-un, is Donald Trump. It says a lot about our possible next president, and plenty about the state of leadership around the world, too.