Let’s face facts this Christmas: There is no ‘leader of the free world’ anymore

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 27, 2017

Who is the leader of the free world, asks Leonid Bershidsky on Bloomberg View.

It’s a good question and one that deserves to be put to bed.

For, truth be told, there is no leader of the free world.

There are national leaders and then there is Donald Trump. The US president is a national leader only in the way a television reality show star would be – dramatic, outrageous, unwatchable and unmissable.

But Mr Trump is definitely not the leader of the free world. He’d like to be, of course, and his 55-page National Security Strategy grandly indicates as much. “The whole world,” it declares, “is lifted by America’s renewal and the reemergence of American leadership”.

This is, emphatically, not true. America is not renewed. There has been no re-emergence of American leadership of the world. And if Mr Trump could be said to be leading anything, it is America’s accelerated decline.

As a naturalised American, I say this with sadness.

Anyway, Leonid Bershidsky asks an enormously important question. Why do we have the term “leader of the free world” at all?

He suggests it goes all the way back, at least to 1948, with Dominic Tierney of The Atlantic tracking it to a New York Times article. Apparently that article had British economist Barbara Ward calling upon the US to lead the West in fighting the Communist threat.

But, as Mr Bershidsky adds, “leader of the free world” also appears to have been used during World War I.

Whenever it began to be used, what’s clear is that “leader of the free world” had more resonance during the Cold War era. In the battle between two ideologies – one, that allowed for vibrant freedom; the other shutting it off – a leader who led the free world made sense. At the time, the US fit the bill and so did its elected leaders.

Not so much anymore.

It’s time to retire the term – put it on the shelf of terminologies that no longer quite fit our turbulent times.