Trump's graceless defeat brings an end to 2020, leaving in its wake a beleaguered and exhausted global community laid low by multiple interconnected crises — the surging of COVID-19, colossal weather events, heightened levels of xenophobia, populism and racial tensions, as well as declining democratic institutions, social and political trust and global cooperation.
Predatory leadership enables these crises. It is leadership borne of self-interest that seeks to exploit, oppress, victimize, and to take what belongs to others. Historically, this form of leadership was embodied by European colonialism and the slave trade, and it is seen today in the deregulation of markets, the capture of national tax codes by elites and the role of “dark money”. Political leaders such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Theresa May, and Stephen Harper preyed on the biases and vulnerabilities of disenfranchised populations and encouraged ethnic and racial tension for their own political advantage. Predatory leadership likewise undergirds the actions of Russia's President Putin in Eastern Europe and China's President Xi in Hong Kong and Africa. It is pervasive within multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, whose prioritization of its neoliberal agenda over public health during the HIV/AIDS pandemic created a template for Trump's response to COVID-19.
Based on decades of field research in remote villages and capital cities of Latin America, Africa and Asia, the author describes today's struggle between science and ideology, public health and economic values, and between greed and selflessness. He warns that privileging the present over the future is leading to the ultimate tragedy — the irrevocable loss of planetary health. With governments' ongoing failure to prepare and plan ahead, to monitor, mitigate and adjust, the author concludes we may be getting the leadership we deserve. Although the election of Joe Biden and the upcoming distribution of COVID vaccines provide some grounds for hope, world governments must immediately undertake serious large-scale social, political, economic, and health reform if we are to halt our collective march towards disaster.
This reader consists of 55 articles drawn from publications that the author produced over the last 20 years. About half of these articles have appeared in the Lancet or the BMJ in various forms but mainly as opinion pieces. Others are drawn from publications supported by NGOs such as Christian Aid, Action Aid, and Save the Children while others have been published in the Guardian newspaper, Institute of Development Studies (UK), and journals such as the International Journal of Clinical Practice, the CMAJ, Canadian Journal of Public Health, New England Journal of Medicine, and the American Psychologist.