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Long Reads

Women in Charge

Many of today’s most vexing problems seem to rest on the shoulders of women leaders. Displaying varying degrees of success, but also some tragic failures, women in power are showing that leadership in the twenty-first century is not for the faint of heart.

Last week, in a series of tweets, US President Donald Trump accused Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, of “poor leadership,” after she dared to criticize the US federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria. Trump’s Twitter tantrum was, of course, ironic: never before has an American president’s election occasioned such a desperate search for alternative leaders at home and abroad.

But Trump’s attack also raised the question of what political leadership means in this age of populist bombast. Thomas Jefferson once warned of petty leaders who, like Trump, allow “their bad passions” to render them “incapable of doing the business of their country.” A corollary to Jefferson’s observation might be that, in a pluralist society, leadership requires a willingness to confront difficult circumstances, and sometimes impossible choices, on behalf of the public good.

Cruz is not the only female public official facing – and in her case, passing – a difficult test of leadership these days. In Japan, Yuriko Koike, the Governor of Tokyo and an aspirant to the premiership, has had to respond quickly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite facing Japan’s most severe foreign policy crises in decades, called a snap election to entrench his parliamentary majority. Abe, fearing Koike’s rising popularity in the wake of her overwhelming victory in the Tokyo assembly elections last summer, hoped to catch her off guard. But Koike has now announced the formation of a new political party, which she intends to lead into the election while remaining in her current office. If she wins, she will confront the most unenviable leadership dilemma of all: responding to the North Korean regime’s nuclear threat.

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