Strong men are not necessary




Nam Jeong-ho
The author is a columnist for JoongAng Ilbo.

As we bid farewell to 2021 and welcome 2022, media around the world are reporting important elections in major countries. The upcoming presidential election in Korea, the world’s 10th largest economy, is no exception. How do other countries view the March 9 presidential election? The Washington Post and the Council on Foreign Relations have addressed the issue, but Foreign Policy magazine published the most eye-catching report.

Regarding the presidential election, the magazine cited a diplomatic cable from the US Embassy in Korea sent last October. The magazine said the popularity of Korean drama “Squid Game” on Netflix was based on the grim reality of Korean society. According to his analysis, US diplomats viewed the drama as a reflection of the frustration felt by the average Korean – the younger generation in particular – and the grim reality of class inequality. The cable concluded that the harsh reality would have an impact on the next election.

The U.S. Embassy believes young voters in their twenties are key to the election. In fact, President Moon Jae-in’s approval ratings among this age group have already reached 90%, but have fallen to 31% due to worsening unemployment and inflation, Gallup polls show. Korea.

The Embassy took particular note of the revulsion of male voters in their twenties for feminism. For most of them, feminism means gender inequality against men. Although the situation has changed, the opposition People’s Power Party (PPP) has already gained full support after the ruling Democratic Party (DP) showed signs of accommodating feminism.

Ruling Democratic Party (DP) presidential candidate Lee Je-myung, left, shakes hands with rival Yoon Suk-yeol of the People’s Power Party (PPP) on the opening day of the securities markets securities and futures on the Korea Stock Exchange on Jan. 3. [JOONGANG PHOTO]

It remains to be seen whether the feelings of young men towards feminism will determine the outcome of the next election. The world continues to pay attention to the Korean elections as political masculinity has become a global issue.

In recent years, “machismo” and “strongman leadership” – both rooted in political masculinity – were dominant. Since the mid-2010s, powerful leaders have been privileged over democratic principles of respect for minority opinions and compromise.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and former US President Donald Trump were all strong men who ruled the three greatest military powers in the world. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan are similar strongmen.

In contrast, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who cherish the principles of democracy, have struggled.

What happened? Populist ideas of flexing national muscles are attractive in a context of the worsening of the polarization of societies. Trump’s “America First” policy is the best example of this. To build a strong country and reinvent the social order, the leadership of a strong man is undoubtedly the best choice. But there is a great risk. Political scientist Ian Bremmer pointed out that most strong men make the mistake of trying to build a just society by dividing people into “friends” and “enemies”.

Given their backgrounds, ruling Democratic Party (DP) presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung and his opposition People Power Party (PPP) rival Yoon Suk-yeol are strong men. After the liberation of Korea in 1945, U.S. military government officials who ruled South Korea for three years were shocked at what they discovered in Korean politics. They only found Communists because politicians on the left and on the right are committed to reforming all segments of society on the basis of a strong central government.

Perhaps the desire for a strong state is in the DNA of the Korean people, who have lived under dynastic rule for thousands of years. But no matter who wins the election, the country will likely be divided between “us” and “them”.

When he pardoned former President Park Geun-hye, Moon stressed the importance of reconciliation and unity. But he had the gift of dividing the people. Lee and Yoon must not trust such populism.



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