In today’s globalized world, is a new global citizenry seeking global leaders? Recently, the young and charismatic figures of Macron and Trudeau have emerged as a possible new breed of political leader, harnessing their media-savviness to set a new vision of world affairs. Their success, however, echoes that of earlier leaders whose global rise to fame largely depended on their interaction with the media – such as Castro and Kennedy – and in spite of international appeal to new globalized audiences, their political destiny remains attached to domestic challenges.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the nominal end of the Cold War, a new term has entered the political and journalistic lexicons: globalization, a new norm of international relations, heralding a modern, post-national era in which the Nation-State, by then barely a century old political paradigm, would be supplanted by a new political arrangement. But with its air of democratizing international relations, its recognition of economic interdependence, and a common consensus for a shared humanity, is globalization the new model of international and, eventually, supra-national relations? Or will it remain the apanage of an imperialistic political, economic and cultural organization of the world, dominated by old and new powers or groupings?
“In today’s globalized world, is the global citizenry seeking global leaders?”
More recently, globalization has seen the emergence of new political forces: popular movements of global citizenry seeking to countervail this new trend, identified as another imperialistic endeavor. So much so that G8 summit meetings often grab headlines not by what is discussed among ‘world leaders’, but by the activism of anti-G8 demonstrators.
The normative implications of globalization are unmistakable — from commerce agreements, free-trade zones and interlinked financial markets to new geopolitical alliances and potent social media networks, globalization is also shaking up liberal political systems and some underpinnings of liberal democracy. Is the advent of a globalized world also producing global(ized) political leaders, which the media often refer to as ‘world leaders’?
Evidently, one could argue that as the world is not properly unified, there are therefore no world leaders, an idiom typically used in relation to leaders of large or powerful nations that leaves a neo-imperial aftertaste; for world leaders are, in the mainstream western dominated media landscape, western leaders, with the exceptions of Chinese, Russian and, maybe, Brazilian or South African Heads of State. Notwithstanding his influence on international affairs and worldwide name recognition, it is not clear that Fidel Castro was ever called a world leader. And yet, during his era, as today, there was a palpable thirst for true global political leaders, whose aura transcends national frontiers and political spaces; even more so nowadays, not solely because of the telecommunication revolution(s), but also in view of a new consciousness that the planet faces global perils that call for global stewardship.
With climate change, with the foray of artificial intelligence and robotization threatening our very notion of work, and with terrorism, a serious epiphenomenon alas fueled by sensationalist media coverage and fanned by politicians, world leaders simply cannot eschew global challenges.
In today’s globalized world, is the global citizenry seeking global leaders? Probably yes, but with the caveat that because of the latest media revolution, today’s global leaders can spring out of virtually nowhere almost overnight. And evidently, the media, new and traditional, much more than political parties, are the vector (or even engineer) of a new breed of political leaders with, possibly, global destinies.
If one could extrapolate from the emergence on their national political scene, and thereafter on the global stage, of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and France’s President Emanuel Macron, one could argue that a new breed of young, dynamic and communications savvy political leaders is on the rise. They are tapping into the power of the media, in all of its innovative and powerful forms, to counter the re-emergence of an old form of insular breed of political leaders. Setting a new vision of world affairs, they have set their sights on a wider and more responsive audience; they appeal to a large swath of the world’s disillusioned citizens, using their media savviness to project a brighter and more optimistic future on the global stage. Their audience has been largely receptive: they are the Facebook and Twitter generations, forces of global engagement, who share a common sense of belonging to some sort of supra-national community. Macron and Trudeau share common features: youthful, bold, telegenic, nonconformist; but so were John F. Kennedy or Fidel Castro half a century ago. Then as today, the media’s fascination with and coruscating effect on those political figures is such that, one could argue, they ‘make’ those figures. Of course, the contrarian argument is that the same media produced a septuagenerian President Trump in the United States, elected on an autarkic, protectionist platform.
Notwithstanding their opposed worldview, Macron and Trump, more than Trudeau, have one striking feature in common – both have, singlehandedly and overnight, shattered the heretofore incontrovertible role of traditional political parties: Trump took hostage the Grand Old Party (Republican) which may not survive his presidency; Macron literally pulverized France’s Fifth Republic political parties from the left and right. Whereas Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star enjoyed household name recognition prior to launching his presidential bid, Macron was an unknown, minor political figure two years before his election. In a mere 10 months, circumventing traditional political parties, he revolutionized French politics.
Because of their extraordinary political feat, both Macron and Trump must be internalizing their victories in messianic terms; the win of David versus Goliath. And because of their nations’ place in the world, both see themselves as global leaders. But whether or not they will appeal to citizenries beyond their national borders – globalists or isolationists – both must know that if they do not produce results for their own citizens, their fall will be as rapid as their meteoric rise to power. No matter how far their media reach may be, their approval ratings at home have already reached historical lows. Promoting an image of global leadership may flatter their national pride, and even appeal to some of the world’s global citizens, but it is unlikely to help them deal with their domestic challenges. Even as new leaders reach a global audience and exert worldwide influence, all politics may still be local – even in the era of globalization, Facebook and Twitter.