The problem with macho men

Now that the USA has elected a president who takes the threat of Covid-19 seriously, the new bad boy of Covid-Mismanagement is India. India, which until recently was bragging about being the world’s largest manufacturer of Covid-19 vaccines, has now been hit by daily surges of cases. Officially, only the USA has more cases and unofficially, it’s likely that India as the world leader in the number of Covid-19 cases.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that India has a high number of infections. The good number of India’s population lives in what can only be described as cramped squalor and public hygiene is for the most part bad.

However, as with the case of the USA and Brazil, being large and poor is no excuse for the current tragedy. While the majority of Indians are poor, India has resources to deal with this. Not only does India have more than its fair share of material wealth, one only has to watch the Bollywood flick “3 Idiots” to see that India has a wealth of development innovation. Let us not forget that “The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest producer of vaccines by volume, is producing the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford at its facility in the city of Pune in western India.” So, while the majority of Indians might live in conditions ripe for the virus, other countries with less than India have done better.

So, how is it such that the world’s largest power and two of the most prominent emerging ones (both India and Brazil are part of BRICS) have done so badly in terms of managing the pandemic? The one thing that all three had in common was the fact that they were led by “Macho” men. Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Narendra Modi have come to power all came to power by playing to nationalist (the chest thumping variety) sentiment and more dangerously religious sentiments.

All three of them campaigned on the premise of being outsiders coming into save the nation from a corrupt system selling out the country to evil foreign powers. Trump’s phrase was “Make America Great Again,” implying that America had become a shithole and he would rescue it. In Brazil it is Jair Bolsonaro campaigned on the slogan “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.” In India, Mr. Modi made the most of his “Chai-Wallah” roots

All three were helped by weak opponents. For Mr. Trump it was Hillary Clinton, who despite a brand name, had a few too many skeletons she could not shake. In India, Rahul Gandhi made it such that Mr. Modi’s 2014 landslide became as much about Rahul Gandhi running an uninterested and incompetent campaign as much as it was about Mr. Modi running an effective one. In Brazil, Mr. Bolsonaro had to contend with Fernando Haddad who had at the time of the election had 30 accusations of corruption against him while Mr. Bolsonaro had none.

In fairness, they did in the Pre-Covid era deliver an amount of economic reform and growth. Mr. Trump’s tax cut was a steroid boost to the expansion he inherited. The stock market was soaring and unemployment hit a low. In Brazil, Mr. Bolsonaro did get pension reform through, which everyone agrees was a time bomb for Brazil. As chaotic as the roll out was, everyone agrees that having a nation-wide GST system for India was necessary, or as Girija Pande, former Asia-Pacific Chairman of Tata Consultancy Services said in an interview “India is signing an FTA with itself.”

Unfortunately for all three, Covid-19 hit during their watch. Fortunately for discerning citizens, Covid-19 showed that “Macho” was more bluster than real in serval areas.

The most crucial aspect was the inability to sell the idea that voters would need to face harsh choices. Countries like New Zealand, Vietnam and Taiwan quickly imposed things like mask mandates, social distancing and lock downs. All of them suffered economic pain but the same time got the virus under control. When given the chance to unite the nation at the time of crisis, the Trump and Bolsonaro did the opposite and they proceeded to undermine state governors who trying to impose life saving measures in their states. Life saving mask mandates became a political issue of “freedom.”

You cannot argue that the macho men were merely trying to save their nations from economic collapse for the simple fact that every other nation on the planet also faced economic hardship but took the necessary life saving medicine. Yes, being broke is no fun but getting a nasty disease that brings about a lonely and painful death is worse. Contrary to what the likes of Jim Jordan would tell you, Dr. Anthony Fauci was not failing America but merely recommending America do what everyone else was doing and getting under control. Let’s remember, Macao, which entirely dependent on casinos, shut down the casinos. Saudi Arabia which draws its very political legitimacy from the Haj, shut down the haj. If these guys could take the economic pain, why couldn’t the macho men?

The second area in which “Macho” proved damaging was in the inability to listen to advice or even more damaging, actively undermining the advice of medical professionals. Donald Trump famously did his best to undermine everything that Dr. Anthony Fauci was trying to recommend. Mr. Bolsonaro went one better, he actually sacked Luiz Henrique Mandetta, the health minister trying to manage the crisis by supporting things like social distancing. As the second wave hits India, scientist out of India are saying that they were trying to warn the Indian government that there was a potential for an outbreak.

The third most damaging aspect of the Macho Men’s handling of Covid-19 was in the refusal to take ownership of the crisis. Mr. Trump’s supporters defended his labeling it “Kung-Flu,” or “The Chinese Virus.” Whilst technically correct in as much as the virus started in Wuhan, China has done more to harm Asian Americans (or the ones that go to work, send their kids to school and pay taxes) than it has China. Mr. Trump delegated responsibility of handing a national crisis to State Governors and famously told the world “I am not responsible.” His Brazilian and Indian counterparts have also been significantly absent in leading the charge to do anything useful.

On 15 April 2020, I wrote THE MEN DON’T GET IT, which was about how the countries that had managed Covid-19 best were run by women. How was it such that the women proved so much more competent than the “macho-men” at getting their people through the pandemic. The answer is simple, instead of blaming others, they actually took ownership of the issue, communicated clearly and got their people to make the hard but necessary trade off and got things under control. They did everything the Macho Men did not.

If there is a moral to the story, it should be that one should stay away from chest thumping nationalist telling you that they will restore your pride and glory by kicking everyone else when their down. These are the last people who will actually do anything to solve your problems.


Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.




10 Responses to “The problem with macho men”

  • Tracey Ching:

    The Ah Gong’s Wife said, “Are you jealous?” At the least, those men you mentioned had been able to reach the pinnacle of their political careers. What have you got? Merely an ugly propagandist who married a foreign second Wife. A real loser. Take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror before you open your big fat mouth criticising others.

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  • RunSilentRunDeep:

    Machoism =/= Arrogance.

    Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi are plain, arrogant idiots, not macho men.

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  • As good as SRFR:

    This writing is similar to those by SRFRiders.

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  • Leave it to Ah Li the Cocky:

    We take umbrage at your incessant too-clever-by-half and bombastic verbosity …..

    Why no mention of Pinky’s early “no worries no mask if you’re not sick” fiasco…. and govmen’s failure to procure sufficient supply of face masks for months even though Singapore Technologies had a mask production line for some years?
    Is Pinky not macho enough of you?

    And who gave us 95% effective Pfizer vaccine in Guinness record time period of 9 months from conception of not for Trump and the good guys?

    Hey AhLi have you gotten your Sinovac shots?

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  • their more riskier direction:

    //On 15 April 2020, I wrote THE MEN DON’T GET IT, which was about how the countries that had managed Covid-19 best were run by women. How was it such that the women proved so much more competent than the “macho-men” at getting their people through the pandemic//

    well women give birth (they tend to “love” lives more in the way they behave and act – innate attributes of women ??). men are more of a risk taker generally ?? better still if they do not have to face risks directly but others have to bear it under their more riskier direction ???

    that is why you send young men to fight a war (as their testosterone is at right level to take “advantage” of ???); and mellow generals (generally ??) sit in war rooms (under protection from the risks ??) directing the fight ??? and just look at some contact sports (so-called sports) where they whack one another clean and awarded trophies for being “winners” ???

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  • John Richards:

    Once again Mr Know-It-All Tang thinks it’s all Trump’s fault. All the while forgetting where the virus originated from. Why don’t you focus on the problems in Singapore? Lord knows there’s enough material here to make you feel like a kid in a candy store. What’s the matter, afraid of the knock on your door at midnight?

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  • xoxo:

    Trump macho?
    Come on,OYK lagi macho; he makes AIR BUBBLES in the midst of pandemic n growing spread of new variants like from India?

    I tell who are macho.
    Mdm Merkel is one,the other Ms Arden.

    Here got dafts who think they are machos.
    OYK is one such fool among many others.

    Oh,the CNA programme showing ang mohs and others calling Sg ,home away from home,saying that they feel so * safe and secure*,bla,bla,bla.
    Do sgs feel the same when we go to their countries,even just as tourists who spend our money instead of STEALING JOBS ?


    Safe n secure?
    When Covid strikes,they receive furlough for staying at home with their BIG FAT SALARIES PAID WITH THE $100 BILLION LOOTED FROM OUR RESERVES!
    EVEN NEEDY N JOBLESS SGS were granted only $600 ???

    Their feeling of SAFE N SECURE is paid by gracious sgs and sgs’ hardearned RESERVES?!

    Ya,daft maybe.

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  • xoxo:

    Just be frank.
    MANY sgs especially jobless and needy older sgs FEEL UNSAFE N INSECURE in the country they build and sacrifice so much for?

    Guess it has become $TEP-motherLAND?



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  • xoxo:

    If things turn bad or more sour here,these ALIEN$ would be the first to pack n go,leaving sgs to clean up and bear the brunt of bad outcomes from govt policies or otherwise.

    You daft gahmen n scholars think they will stay on n rebuild Sg?
    They have their MOTHER-land to run to .
    You think they care about their $TEP-mother?

    The gahmen and scholars(if they are trublu sgs) cant be more IDIOTIC!
    I tell you,not just PRs,even NEW CITIZEN$ WILL PACK N GO!



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  • What'll the Reds thinkof next?:

    Chinese document discussing weaponising coronaviruses provides ‘chilling’ information about the CCP mentality.

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