Discerning Real Leadership vs. Fake Leadership

Do not judge a book by its cover, the saying goes, and never has this oft-quoted line been more apt than at this crucial moment in the history of the US. Today, the American people faces a political spectacle never before seen in this great land.

Today, America is also awashed with reality shows, and interestingly, the Republican presumptive nominee for presidential candidate is a former reality star himself. It’s never been more important to discern real leadership from fake leadership in this political era.

The Cultural Influence of Reality Shows

Reality shows became popular in the 1990s, and they look bound to stay. They have become so much integrated into pop culture that we now speak of reality television.

Reality TV, according to Wikipedia, is a genre of television programming that documents supposedly unscripted real-life situations, and often features an otherwise unknown cast of individuals who are typically not professional actors, although in some shows celebrities may participate. It differs from documentary television in that the focus tends to be on drama, personal conflict, and entertainment rather than educating viewers.

Talking Points:

On the trending of reality shows, what does this reveal about people in general, and specifically about the American people? Could the success of reality shows reflect a need in our psyche to escape life’s harsher realities?Can watching too much reality TV create negative impacts on people especially the young?

 When it comes to making important life decisions, such as who to vote for, how can a people so conditioned to believing what is fake is real, and what is real is bad, be able to make a wise choice?

An Examiner article in 2012 looked into this and noted how most reality shows, at that time, contained violence, and how violence on reality TV could desensitize people, the American people. Even today, one notes the biggest star in most reality shows is – violence.

But violence in reality shows is not the only cause for concern. Just last month, in April, a blog article came out wherein the blogger decried how many shows are straight out LYING.

Fake vs. Real: Is What You See What You Get?

Even before the advent of reality television, TV audiences were already used to seeing singers lip-syncing the songs they were supposed to be singing live. People watching were being conditioned that the entertainment they were watching was real, not fake.

TV/film audiences usually respond to their entertainment idols in this way. How we all are so suckered into feeling what we want versus hearing what they are really telling us.

On the lighter side, Christian reality TV shows have also begun to trend in recent years, and these shows aim to highlight positive values and the breaking of stereotypes, especially of women. But this is not what this article is about.

We talk of how the American people in this crucial election period can discern the real versus the fake in looking for a new president to govern this great nation to loftier heights amid a world beset with threats of global terrorism, refugee crisis, conflicts in different regions and climate change.

This moment is critical for us as a nation to be able to distinguish REAL LEADERSHIP from among the presidential contenders because our future and that of our children and of generations to come lies in whoever is elected to take over after President Obama. this is Our Reality we cannot escape from.

Authentic Leaders: Seeing Real Leadership Through the Fake

Among the presidential candidates, Donald Trump presents himself – and is perceived by his supporters/followers – to be the strong leader America needs today.

A recent article by The Washington Post descibes Trump: 

Donald Trump is many things. He’s a business mogul, a real estate magnate, a go-to punch line for jokes about bad hair. But before he got into politics (and even before his adventures in skepticism about President Obama’s birth certificate), many Americans knew him primarily as the host/judge/boss of NBC’s “The Apprentice.”[…] He was a quintessential reality star — 

And a senior Trump campaign adviser, Paul Manafort, said this past week that the mogul is still exactly that: “This is the ultimate reality show. It’s the presidency of the United States.”

Is Trump indeed the strong leader he projects himself to be – an authentic leader – or is it only his public persona, the image he has conjured to win his campaign?

Years back, no one ever imagined Trump would take the limelight in the national political stage. [“It’s] the kind of thing that The Simpsons predicted years ago as a joke and that no one imagined would actually happen, but now it is the reality.”

And the big challenge for America today is being able to discern: Is Trump for real? When people say he is a great reality star, or that he is a great leader, whose reality is it?

In a news article, it is reported that Trump’s daughter Ivanka praised her father for elevating American politics with his honesty and authenticity.

What Is Hyperreality?

There is a phenomenon called hyperreality: an inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technologically-advanced, postmodern societies.

The dangers of hyperreality in our present time? Confusing celebrity worship with hero worship, which Daniel J. Boorstin warned us against. The term is synonymous to ”reality by proxy” when an individual takes on someone else’s version of reality and claims it as his or her own. 

Thus, it can be assumed that Ivanka, having grown in the shadow of her father’s celebrity status and reality TV persona, could have created a larger than life image of Trump for herself to believe in, and projects this onto Trumps supporters.

Trump’s adoring fans could likewise be seeing in him a reality that is not real. Hyperreality.

So even with his brashness, lack of political correctness, and incendiary remarks that his critics hate him for, his supporters see in him the makings of a future American president. That’s why he’s winning the race, so far.

It is like his faithful followers see him as a great old book when he’s really not, or that they truly believe he’s singing, when the reality is he’s just lip-syncing one of the great rock band Whitesnake’s popular songs.

But many times too, diehard fans know that what they see is not what they’re really getting, yet they seem hooked, like most fanatics. They see a larger-than-life persona that they can relate to, feel comfortable with, and who are often reflective of what they are not, but would like or hope to be.

What are the implications of such behavior? What factors drive the mass following of a public figure almost devoid of critical thinking?

At least, there are three factors that can help explain why masses craving for a strong leader seem to override logic or the ability to see between “lip-syncing” and “real singing,” and this goes true as well for citizens who so much want to believe someone is genuine, even when they know he or she is just an illusion.

The Effect of Emotions, Hero Worship, and Charisma on Leadership Choices


Here is an excerpt from an article explaining how emotions, rather than reason or logic, play a great part in people’s chooosing someone to vote for: 

In recent years, an increasing amount of evidence has been produced that suggests that our political behavior is governed mainly by emotion, with fairly little of it governed by rationality.[…]American political scientists Peter Hatemi and Rose McDermott edited an anthology of articles in 2011 that reviewed numerous research studies conducted during the previous decade on the connection between genetics and political orientation. Although no one among us is a Likudnik or a leftist from birth, certain combinations of gene types can trigger behavioral tendencies, which in combination with social factors can help predict an individual’s political orientation.

Hero Worship

The special sentimentality of the public toward a popular hero includes a certain endearment, a tremendous loyalty, a reluctance to admit critical reflection, and a faith and veneration which verge uponsuperstition. Once a public figure acquires the status of a popular hereo, he is to be specially reckoned with as a social force. If an entertainer, he bcomes “box office.” If a political leader, he acquires generic appeal: he draws crowds, fills statdiums, makes money, gets votes, and gathers his following from all walks of life. His name and image act as an inspiration to organize large masses of people. (Hero Worship in America, Orrin E. Klapp, published in American Sociological Review) – See this:


A dictionary definition of the term charisma is a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others. Even with these limited excerpts, one can understand more or less why there are public figures like Donald Trump who hold sway over large groups of people, whether they deserve such adulation or not.

Blast from the Past

Some figures from history can serve as examples of this kind of fanatic adoration – fake leaders who made their way to national/international prominence and brought about untold sufferings to their people/country. One such example is Joseph Stalin, USSR’s dictator, from 1929 to 1953.

To be clear, this article’s definition of a fake leader is one who can gather a mass following through sheer charisma, and/or fear, as opposed to an authentic leader, one whose intention to lead derives from a desire to serve others, and create positive changes.

Joseph Stalin

Here’s an excerpt from, “How Stalin Fooled the World and Why It Matters Today,” by Daniel Greenfield: 

History concerns itself with dry facts, but has less to say about human minds, and so it is difficult to know whether FDR and Churchill were fooled or whether they chose to be fooled. When FDR and Churchill praised Stalin’s integrity and sincerity, had they been deceived by the world’s greatest actor or did they allow themselves to be deceived so that the terrible compromises they made seemed more palatable? This question, like so many of the others in Stalin’s Curse, remains applicable today. While Stalin is dead, there are many lesser Stalins like Morsi, small vicious men with an unlimited capacity for bloodshed and an even more unlimited ability to fool Western leaders into believing in their sincerity and goodness. – Read more here:

Another article, “Joseph Stalin: National hero or cold-blooded murderer?” depicts him to be a cold murderer more than a national hero: “Stalin promotes an image of himself as a great benevolent leader and hero of the Soviet Union. Yet he is increasingly paranoid and purges the Communist party and Army of anyone who might oppose him.”


Other past leaders in Stalin’s league include Hitler (1878-1945), Lenin (1870-1924), Pol Pot (1928-1998), a leader of Red Khmers in Cambodia; Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), fascist dictator of Italy; and Mao Zedong (1893-1976), the father of communist China.

These are extreme examples of fake leaders who ruled with a sheer force of their charisma, intimidation, and fear. These historical figures are examples of evil leaders. The world knows what happened to their respective nations under their helm.
Other kinds of fake leaders use manipulation, brainwashing, deception, and other negative, diminishing tactics. Read this article that differentiates the fake from real leaders.

Education and Awareness in Discerning Real Leadership

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

Indeed, voting wisely is paramount, for a country’s future lies in its elected leaders, especially in the one who will hold the reins. Thus, a nation cannot run the risk of consigning their future to a despotic or manipulative character in the making.

“When we don’t care about what our government is doing, we are also saying to the next generation that we are not interested in the possible burdens that we are passing on to them.” ― Rob Parker

“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. …” – Thomas Jefferson 

“The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way.” – Milton Friedman

“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and authority…” – Lord Acton (1887)

The present crop of presidential aspirants, including those who bowed out of the race, perhaps may have used and manipulated their respective groups of voters as their critics say: Hillary’s pandering to women and people of color; Trump’s playing up the anger of conservatives; Sanders’ backroom deals, deceptive ads, and political manipulation; Ted Cruz’s using his Hispanic roots to connect with Hispanic/LatinAmericans.

Voter manipulation is often, and will always be, part of many a political candidate’s campaign strategy. But this is democracy in action. There is diversity of political views and persuasions and a diversity of political personalities. 

It is up to its citizenry to separate the grain from the chaff, to discern the authentic leaders from the fake in choosing who to hand over their future and that of their country.