Despite knowing better, people’s conception of a government or even an entire country often rests on the image of its leader. People thinking of the Canadian government, for example, now fixate on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Americans fixate on leaders as well, often using terms like “Trump’s America” to tie the climate of social relations to their president. The head of state becomes the state itself.
But it goes even further with countries that the governments of the United States and Canada are unfriendly with. In these cases, mainstream media, pop culture and politicians speak of their leaders not only like they are the country, but as though they’re cartoon villains.
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, famously called the “mad dog of the Middle East” by then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, had a documentary released about him post-mortem by the same name. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a “butcher” gone wild who supposedly unleashed chemical weapons on an area his government had nearly retaken just because he’s full of bloodlust. Magazines are riddled with covers depicting leaders, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, as people that simply want to watch the world burn.
As a result, those involved in political discourse lose sight of basic international relations analysis. These leaders aren’t treated as rational actors that, in turn with other members of their government, act based on strategy. They are portrayed as being motivated merely by destruction.
Part of the reason for this is that some think “rational” has a positive value...