World leaders who refuse to leave the stage


George Washington knew when to cede power. But many of today’s world leaders have a hard time leaving the stage, and could do with a dose of the humility of America’s first president.

Some don’t feel like giving up. Others are desperate to regain the power they once had. The result is an era of stasis in already repressive nations like Russia and China, and déjà vu in democracies where former leaders seem to put narcissistic considerations above national interests.

“I’ll probably have to do it again,” former President Donald Trump, he of two impeachments and the U.S. Capitol uprising, told supporters rallying for a second term this weekend. Boris Johnson (previously called “Britain Trump” by the ex-POTUS) just made his own comeback bid and it failed, although anyone who thinks he’s given up should emulate his hero Winston Churchill, who came back as to prime minister six years after losing the 1945 election, surely they are wrong.

Democracy hangs in the balance in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has hinted that he may not accept defeat in his quest for a second term in a runoff this weekend. His rival is another reincarnated one: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the two-time former president known as “Lula,” whose return to the limelight was derailed by a partial prison sentence (his conviction was later overturned lada).

A woman puts her ballot in the ballot box as Italians vote to elect a new parliament on September 25, 2022 in Bologna, Italy.

Some of the current comeback kids have been on the world stage since the 1990s. In Italy, three-time former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has returned to parliament after a tax fraud scandal, although his attempt to play kingmaker in coalition talks dissolved after he boasted of his ties to old friend Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another scandal-prone leader trying to recapture past glories is Benjamin Netanyahu, who served so long as prime minister that he was dubbed “King Bibi.” He leads the polls ahead of another Israeli general election.

Of course, an alternative to making a comeback never goes away. Putin himself has been in power since December 31, 1999, although he had to pull off a scam in which he was “demoted” to prime minister for several years as the power behind the throne before returning as president And in China, Xi Jinping has just secured a rule-breaking third term.

Exhausted after two terms, and disillusioned with bitter and partisan politics, Washington approved a third term in 1796. He told Americans that he was “persuaded, whatever partiality may be maintained for my services, that in the present circumstances of our country. you will not disapprove of my determination to withdraw.”

Not words you hear very often these days.

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