A lesson for Sri Lanka’s President from the failed Trump administration

Saturday, 30 January 2021 00:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Former US President Donald Trump

Many in civil society are of opinion that the President, in keeping with the commitments of his successful election manifesto accepted by a majority of voting citizens and the pledges he reiterated upon the assumption of office and the inaugural address to the Parliament, must ensure that the Government led by him, including his Cabinet and the key decision making executives, desist from knowingly uttering falsehoods, presenting non-transparent information or engaging in deceptive acts; and further ensure that they collectively commit to uphold the truth and present the reality at all times, however unpalatable it may be.

It is verily believed that there are many instances in governance seen over the past year, where key members of the government have failed to meet the core value of upholding the truth. Some of the instances pointed out include:

  •  The effective application of the principle ‘One country, One law’ for all in society
  • The controversy surrounding the burial of dead bodies of COVID patients
  •  The denial of potential high risks attaching to external debt settlements
  •  Non-transparency of the Budget 2021 tagged by a professional as ‘playing ostrich or parading in the emperor’s new clothes?’
  •  Non-transparent deals connected with highway contracts, privatisation of the ECT and sale and lease of State lands
  •  Expecting high level FDI of $ 2.5 billion in 2021; whilst preventing forex forward contracting and commercial banks from declaring cash dividends
  • Promoting Modern Monetary Theory and promising infrastructure project investments of Rs. 5 trillion, within an already-stretched budget with high fiscal deficits 
  •  Non-transparent withdrawal of pending Court cases and pardoning previously convicted persons
  •  COVID patients declared as originating from defined limited number of clusters; with no community spread
  •  All Mahara prison rioters who died, none had died from shooting but by attacks of fellow prisoners
  •  The denial of purported scams involving oil and sugar imports, and non-transparent imports of antigen test kits and coal
  •  Sand mining and deforestation rackets continuing on a massive scale

Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, was America’s President during an eight year term from 1901 to 1909. The popular quote ‘In the long run the most unpleasant truth is a safer companion than a pleasant falsehood’ is attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt. This valuable lesson appears to have been ignored by the Republican one term President, Donald J Trump, who relinquished office last week. 

Al Jazeera’s Website trumps his falsehoods at the end term, with a headline ‘Donald Trump’s farewell falsehoods: Fact check’ – https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/20/donald-trumps-farewell-falsehoods. What a way to end a presidency and have recorded in history that headline as the end quote. 

The publication goes on to record that “The US President claims credit for things he did not do and twists his record on the coronavirus pandemic, veterans, taxes, economy, capitol insurrection, China, and ISIS.”

His successor in office, President Joe Biden in his inaugural address, inter alia stated the following: “This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope. Of renewal and resolve … The right of dissent peaceably, within the guard rails of our Republic, is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength … What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans? I think I know. Opportunity, Security, Liberty, Dignity, Respect, Honour and yes, the Truth. Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders – leaders who have pledged to honour our Constitution and protect our nation- to defend the truth and to defeat the lies … That democracy and hope, truth and justice, did not die on our watch but thrived.”

I am sure as a former American citizen, a disciplined and trained soldier ingrained with core values developed at the alma mater, the quotes of Teddy Roosevelt and Joe Biden above and the lessons from how Donald Trump was headlined by the Al Jazeera post his one term in office will resonate in the mind of our President and embed in his mind the path he must tread, recollecting the famous Robert Frost poem ‘The Road Not Taken’:


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveller, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.


May our Buddhist leaders, who bless the leaders in governance regularly with “Raja Bhavatu Dhammiko” – “May the ruler be just” also stress the lesson from Buddhist philosophy – “Before you speak let your words pass through three gates; Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”

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