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Poetic Memories Of China I: The Waking Lion – Part 13

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada

Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

chandij@sympatico.ca

 

Why China?

Today and next Sunday, instead of chronologically narrating episodes from my career, I will write something different here in my weekly column, i.e. about CHINA. Whether one likes Chinese Communism or not, fascination with the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) in terms of the good, the bad and the ugly, is universal. My curiosity about China stems from my father’s personal connections with that country from 1958 and my own travels to China and Hong Kong, since 1981.

A country with a recorded history of 3,271 years, China has made rich contributions to human civilization. Myths, legends, history and the record of innovations of China never cease to amaze me. One of the greatest philosophers in the world, Confucius, a contemporary of Gautama Buddha and Socrates, lived in China between 551–479 BC. His ideas became central to the Chinese culture over time and endorsed by its government. Chinese philosophy and art had an influence on my paintings and poetry, for some time.

One hundred years ago, a historic meeting in Shanghai among a dozen young Chinese revolutionary intellectuals, laid the foundation for the revolution to grab absolute power in China within 28 years; then gradually over 100 years, to influence the whole world. This article coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.

Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have once likened China to a sleeping lion, saying “when China wakes, the world will shake.” President Xi Jinping alluded to this in 2014, commenting that “Today, the lion has woken. But it is peaceful, pleasant and civilized.” That statement sums up what modern day China wants the rest of the world to see her, as the most populous nation in our planet – ACTIVE, POWERFUL, PEACEFUL, PLEASANT, CIVILIZED AND RESPECTED.

 

1958 – A Call from Tokyo

My father had many opportunities for official overseas tavel. When I was four years old, I remember him being away on a trip to Japan. About September 1958, my mother told me that he will be back home soon and I was impatiently awaiting the gifts he would bring me. An unexpected (and at that time, uncommon) international call from my father to my mother disappointed me. His trip had been extended by a month. At the time of that telephone call, my mother was seven months pregnant with my younger sister, and therefore eager to have our father by her side as soon as possible.

As one of the few countries friendly with the Communist China at that time, Mr. S. W. R. D. Banadaranaike’s democratic socialist government in Ceylon, had received an invitation to attend the ninth anniversary of PRC celebration on October 1, 1958 in Beijing. SWRD had requested the then first and only woman cabinet minister of the country, Mrs. Vimala Wijewardene, Minister of Health to attend the event. Owing to a previously engagement, she was not available and she delegated that duty to her Secretary (my father), who was in Japan on government business. Following instructions, he shortened his stay in Japan and immediately flew to Hong Kong for further directions.

A Foreign Delegate turned Tourist in China in 1958

The authorities of PRC in Hong Kong wanted father to fly to Beijing. His touristic inclinations prompted him to request a long train journey instead. There was no international tourism in the PRC at that time, and trains serviced only local travellers. Chinese officials, not wanting to disappoint a foreign delegate invited to attend the national day celebrations, arranged for him to travel to Beijing and elsewhere in China by train, accompanied by Chinese interpreters. He thus became became one of the earliest tourists to the PRC.

My father was also a published author, an award-winning dramatist, a journalist and a visual artist. These interests prompted him to record his travels from the time he left Japan to travel to Hong Kong. His intention was to write a book about his unique personal experience in the post-revolution China. On his arrival in Beijing, father was hosted by William Gopallawa, Ambassador for Ceylon in PRC (who later became the Governor General of Ceylon as well as the first and only ‘non-executive’ President of Sri Lanka). Father was fascinated to experience the innovations, culture, arts and long-term developmental strategies of China. The icing on the cake was having tea and a long conversation with the Head of the Government and the Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and sitting on stage with the President of PRC, Mao Zedong, during the national day celebrations.

 

An autographed ‘Long March’

presented by Zhou Enlai

is among my treasured mementos.

 

It was at a luncheon in Beijing

hosted by Ambassador Gopallawa

that I had a long conversation

with China’s charismatic helmsman.

 

Recounting the famous battles

“You will get a fuller picture

when you read this book” he added

and I was surprised that he showed

no reproach or rancour even about

deaths, hunger, and defeats

they had suffered during

years of the Long March

while about their exploits

and victories he spoke

with no excitement or a trace of pride

in a most self-effacing manner

with admirable equanimity.

 

(R.D.K. Jayawardena, 2008, p. 43, Fingerprint, Sarasavi Bookshop (pvt) Ltd, Nugegoda)

 

My father’s poetic expression of his experience meeting Chairman Mao:

The Man Called Mao

 

Bugles and drums!

The Red Militia marched

through Beijing’s Tiananmen

and a million cheers rent the air

hailing Mao Zedong

whose invincible spirit

Vision and martial skill

made China a World Power.

 

Standing on the historic

“Gate of the Heavenly Peace”

Mao took the nation’s salute

and even we the foreign delegates

felt proud to be on the same rostrum

admiring the incomparable pageantry

of China’s Ninth National Day.

 

And when the dazzling feast of fireworks

set ablaze the night sky

there was Mao happily watching

the jubilant crowd

celebrating freedom.

 

(R. D. K. Jayawardena, 2008, p. 41, Fingerprint, Sarasavi Bookshop (pvt) Ltd, Nugegoda)

 

Rewarding Loyalty in the Chinese Way

After returning to Ceylon from PRC in 1958 father became extremely busy in his working life. Around that time, there had been a disagreement between the Prime Minister (PM) and Mrs. Wijewardene. As a result, they ceased to have direct communication with each other and father was told to interact with PM frequently on her behalf to get approvals on matters related to her portfolio. She had instructed, “RDK, deal with the old man directly, until further notice.”

Given the PM’s leadership qualities, eloquenc

e (in 1921, he had been the first non-white Secretary of the Oxford Union), intellectual capacity and quick wit, father enjoyed these opportunities to communicate directly with PM, and write parts of his speeches related to the work of Mrs. Wijewardene’s ministries. He used to occasionally visit Horagolla where Mr. Bandaranaike spent most weekends interacting with his voters.

It was a time the government was considering expanding Parliament by increasing its membership. Shrewdly, he wanted to split constituencies where his party had won large majorities and was looking for new blood for these seats. Impressed by my father, the PM shot the question, “Young man, do you like to get into politics and contest Divulapitiya?”

 

A year after my father’s trip to the PRC, we were on a family vacation at Mrs. Wijewardene’s holiday bungalow, Adisham Hall in Haputale. On September 26, 1959, during a relaxing walk to the town, we wondered why the whole town was decked in white and discovered the prime minister had been assassinated.

PRC was one of the first countries to express their sympathies to Ceylon and the Banadaranaike family. In addition, PRC made many generous gestures to commemorate the legacy of the late socialist leader and friend of China. The most significant of these was the BMICH, Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall. A joint Sri Lankan and Chinese workforce built this magnificent structure with much of the needed building materials imported from China. More than 50 years later BMICH is still Sri Lanka’s largest convention center. It is South Asia’s very first purpose-built convention center with ultra-modern facilities.

I was pleased to receive the opportunity to manage the entire catering operation at BMICH for three years as the General Manager of the Mount Lavinia Hotel Catering Services Limited. In that role I was involved with probably the largest wedding held in Sri Lanka, a dual wedding with a sit-down buriyani dinner for 2,400 guests. We even used the corridors of the banqueting areas of BMICH to accommodate that number. In 1992 and 1993 I handled the annual All Island Music Awards events at BMICH when with help of my team we filled all 1,506 seats in the main auditorium for this prestigious show, on both occasions.

BMICH has been crowned the Gold Award winner in the Leading Convention Center category of the prestigious 2020 South Asia Travel Awards (SATA) competition, bringing recognition to Sri Lanka as the premium convention destination in the South Asian region. Unlike the recent massive development projects handled by PRC in Sri Lanka with 99-year lease arrangements, BMICH was purely a gift to Sri Lanka. Thank you, China!

1963 – The first Sinhala Book on China

My father eventually published a ground-breaking book on China in 1963. Cheena Charika (Travels in China) was an instant best-seller. It was recognized by the Ministry of Education as a ‘Recommended Reading’ book for high schools. Decades later the Government of PRC, invited my father back to China on a fully-sponsored official trip, and honoured him for writing one of the earliest books on PRC, by a foreigner.

The next part of this article will appear next week on the theme ‘THE FLYING DRAGON’ capturing memories of two more trips to PRC by my father in the 1980s. It will also narrate some fun stories from my two trips to PRC in 1981 and 2010, as well as four trips I made to Hong Kong before its takeover over by the PRC.



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The battle against KNDU: Renewing our contract with the people

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By Sivamohan Sumathy

The KNDU Bill is designed to single-handedly change the face of education in Sri Lanka. Since the ‘90s, successive governments have tried to roll back the gains of the Free Education Poliicy of 1945. The history of free education is not linear, nor is it without contradictions. It is implicated in the hierarchies of class, ethnicity, gender and the multiple vectors of violence of state and civil society. Despite and because of these very contradictions Free Education has come to represent and symbolise the often contradictory but powerful assemblage of social aspirations and social desires of the general body of citizenry, particularly the vast majority situated on the margins or near margins of society. Free education does not serve everybody equally, but over the years and across decades, it has come to represent the hope of a vast majority for a better place in society. For a populace that is increasingly disempowered, it opens up opportunities toward social mobility, limited as they are; and as or more importantly, becomes the ideological and political weapon of the vast majority in the struggle for justice, social justice and bid for a democratic pact with the state.

Privatisation, Corporatisation, Militarisation

The State university system is an integral part of the state apparatus. Successive governments, have attempted and, to some degree, succeeded in undermining its integrity from within, creating parallel systems of higher education that would be on par with it. Privatisation of higher education follows a two pronged plan; the creation of fee levying centres and bodies of education and the degradation of state universities through under funding and sub-standardization. The fortnightly Kuppi Talk column in The Island has consistently foregrounded the pressures exerted upon the state university compelling it to carry out multiple reforms that compromise on standards and force it to privatise itself. From the ‘90s onwards (if not before), spending on university education has steadily deteriorated and in the post war years spending on education has stayed under 2% of the GDP (Niyanthini Kadirgamar, “Funding Fallacies,” https://island.lk/funding-fallacies-in-education/). The Humanities and Social Sciences are the most affected as highlighted in the various contributions of the Kuppi Talk column. It is no accident that the most recent move toward privatisation from within and without takes place by fiat and through militarisation. Much has been written about the principles of militarised authority that the KNDU bill enshrines. I do not have to reinvent the wheel here, but want to note that by rolling back the gains of free education and its potential to empower people, the KNDU bill points toward a future of repressive technocratic governance and repressive exclusions of those who most desire education as the path to mobility.

While the ‘80s and ‘90s saw a few stuttering steps toward privatisation of education, at the turn of the new millennium one is witness to the onset of an aggressive campaign toward the the dismantling of the long cherished free education apparatus as we know it. I trace this historical trajectory in “SAITM: Continuities and Discontinuities” looking at the different impetuses behind the establishment of NCMC and SAITM, the ideological similarities notwithstanding (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=161915

Certain forms of privatised tertiary education have existed for a long time and have expanded in recent years, but to this day, the establishment of a fully-fledged private university has run into problems. Popular will stood in its way. But it is also a fact that the country simply does not have the infrastructural, intellectual and investment-capacity for a viable private university to take off. Private sector in fact is weak in Sri Lanka. In the post war years, the then Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, with S. B. Dissanayake as Minister of Higher Education spear headed a move to formalise private universities through an umbrella organization that would act as an accreditation council, bringing private and state universities on par and under the same purview and placing this purview within the ambit of corporate interests. In their eyes, Sri Lanka is to become an education hub, attracting foreign investment (“Education and its discontents,” ). The Yahapalana government is no better and blindly follows through on the privatisation plans of the previous regime with its Private Public Partnership policies, SAITM, and the degrading of Arts Education to some vague notion of soft skills development. The KNDU Bill was gazetted in April 2018 and was opposed by the academic communities and members of civil society. As with most corruption ridden neo liberal moves that render all aspects of life commodified, in this instance too, the state becomes an investor in privatised education. We hear that Bank of Ceylon and NSB have been ordered to pledge 36.54 billion rupees to KDU. (https://www.sundaytimes.lk/210725/business-times/kotelawala-uni-gets-over-rs-36-bn-from-boc-nsb-449828.html) If the rationale for privatising education is to ease the burden on the state, why does the state continue to subsidize these institutions? The logic boggles the mind.

The Democracy Call

From 2011-2012 the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) launched the greatest challenge that the teachers had ever made to an incumbent government and in the post war era brought together diverse disgruntled forces under its slogan of Save State Education and the 6% GDP campaign. It brought together different groups and a wide range of actors together to formulate a response to the neo liberal forces that were riding rough shod over the needs of an anxious working and professional class. Its call for action was framed by the call to save democracy. However, in the Yahapalana years and after, the struggle for education lost its momentum. FUTA itself was riven from within, preoccupied by its members’ narrower preoccupations, diverse aspirations, and loyalties. Other disparate groups took up the mantle to fight against privatisation, some of which may not have developed in desirable directions.

Today, the bill threatens to become a dangerous reality. It is not just Universities that are threatened by the KNDU. School teachers led by their unions have jumped into the fray. Beaten by the crippling conditions of COVID 19, teachers and students are facing the dire consequences of years of underfunding in education. FUTA is joining the protest as a key player, a mighty powerful player, but not as the only player. As Shamala Kumar eloquently put it at a press conference called against the KNDU bill on 24 July, 2021, the struggle against the authoritarian bill is a struggle against the PTA, a struggle for working people’s rights, guaranteeing safety of working conditions in the informal sector, particularly women, and a struggle for democracy within the university, including raising one’s voice against ragging. University teachers, rallying forces under FUTA, are once again on the cusp of a decisive moment of the history of education in the country. Let’s defeat the KNDU bill together!

 

Sivamohan Sumathy is attached to the Department of English at the Univ. of Peradeniya

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Condolences, warnings and admonition never to forget

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Two great Sri Lankans have died and we as a country are much the poorer, and mourn their deaths. Manouri de Silva Muttetuwegama has vacated her long held position as a wise, consistent, fearless combatant for women and particularly those underprivileged, discriminated against, and helpless against forces of war and ethnicity that caused them suffering. Another noteworthy trait of the woman and characteristic of her work-ethic was quiet efficiency in going about her remedying, healing work with no fanfare and never seeking of publicity and praise. She was a lovely friendly person, always with a sincere smile lighting her face. Manouri served the country well and her daughter carries the torch.

Business magnate and media moghul R Rajamahendran, who used his money, influence and power to help the country is mourned, more so as he could have served his company Capital Maharaja Organisation and Sri Lankan media longer. The appreciation of him by Rex Clementine in The Island, Monday July 26, detailed the great good he did for Sri Lankan cricket. Teaming up with Gamini Dissanayake he literally fought for test status for our country, amply justified by teams of yore, one of which won the World Cup and another nearly did.

(Note: Cass uses the verb ‘died’ and the noun ‘death’ in preference to the softer, gentler ‘passing’, ‘passing away’ et al as she prefers the more real though stark word to euphemisms. Death is death.)

 

Never forget crimes committed

This is the thought that came to mind when coincidentally Cassandra, on 22 July watched the movie 22 July, almost a documentary on the 32 year old Anders Behring Breivik, who parked his bomb-laden van outside the PM’s office in Oslo; it killed eight people and caused utter damage, and then crossed to a summer camp on an island where he shot, point blank, the manager who welcomed him as a police officer but then wanted to see his ID, and a woman in authority. He embarked on a killing spree, which left 69 Youth League workers dead and many more injured. When the police arrived he tamely surrendered. At his trial he said he wanted to save Norway and Europe itself from multiculturalism, particularly naming Muslims, and that the killing of innocents was a wakeup call. His defence attorney attempted pleading schizophrenia but on hearing the awfully heartrending testimony of some of the young campers who escaped death but were injured grievously, he was found guilty on all counts and jailed in solitary confinement for more than two decades.

We, most fortunately have had no single mass murderer like Breivik and American school killers but murder most foul continues and may surface any time.

Cass’ thought was never forget terrible crimes committed on persons who were innocent or who were doing their duty. Yes, we as a nation must never forget these grievous crimes. The death of Richard de Zoysa stands out stark, but the police person who took him away from his home and his mother ‘for questioning’, tortured and killed him and dropped him far out at sea died gruesomely along with Prez Premadasa on May 1. Richard’s body washed ashore though weighted and dropped far out at sea. The person who probably ordered his demise too was killed by the same LTTE bomb. Thus, they paid for their heinous crime.

Others who murdered or ordered murders seem to live on powerfully and mightily. The gruesome murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge is kept alive by his daughter, but to no avail. Never to be forgotten or forgiven is the killing of the young, harmless ruggerite whose only ‘crime’ was cocking a snook at those who thought they were superior. What the telling vine conveyed was that the rugger captaincy almost going to him had him tortured and killed. Again a coincidence or overconfidence brought to light the crime: Thajudeen’s body was placed next to the driving seat and his car pushed against a wall to fake an accident. It was all covered up. But people remember this murder, though no one shouts for justice for Thajudeen’s grieving parents.

When you question how come murderers and torturers seem to thrive, the answer is karma, Cass supposes. Maybe, the perpetrators suffer in the midst of utter luxury and in power. Maybe, even slightly, they are overcome with shivers of fright, but never remorse, we surmise.

Unanimously, we are all triumphant that the 15 year old Tamil girl’s death by immolation after prolonged rape in an ex-Minister’s home is being investigated. We hope it will move to correct, just conclusion.

 

Notes on news items

Highly commended is the article ‘Whither the Sangha and Buddha Sasana?’ by S M Sumanadasa in The Island of July 26. If you have not read it, and are a Buddhist, please retrieve the article and read it. It is spot on though gently written, very timely with so many protests going on, most headed by yellow robes. He starts by saying “As a keen observer …, I feel confident and justified in what I say…” Perfectly justified and every point made is valid. The majority of our Sangha strictly follow the 200 odd vinaya rules and render invaluable service to Buddhist lay people, to Buddhism, and the country, but the yellow robed bad eggs are truly rotten. The Sangha may only advise leaders and from a back seat. Sumanadasa queries why the Buddha Sasana Ministry and the Nayaka Theros do not stem the growing tide of indiscipline and reprehensible behaviour of men in Sangha robes. We ask the same. He states a truth that the death of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is really caused by the Buddhists themselves and some members of the Sangha.

An agreeing opinion by Piyasena Athukorale is in The Island, Wednesday July 29.

Proposed Plantation University and its economic benefits by Dr L M K Tillekeratne appears in the same newspaper. Cassandra retorts: Oh goodness! Enough universities! What benefit when sane advice by university dons and experts in agriculture and related subjects have been completely ignored by the President, the PM, the Cabinet and others in power. They have still not rescinded or withdrawn the overnight ban on import and use of inorganic fertilisers. When famine stares us in the face after the demise of the farmer (the country’s so called backbone) through suicide or utter disgusted exasperation and loss of livelihood, we Ordinaries will have to suffer hunger pangs and malnourishment while those who ordered the very ill-advised and too sudden ban, will live on happily. Maybe, exotic food from around the world will be helicoptered to them!

Professor Channa Jayasumana, I was told, has said that the long awaited and longed for Astra Zeneca vaccine was delayed in transport to our land by the Olympic Games. Cass really did not know that these Games blocked air routes or interfered with air travel. Maybe, the Prof meant that the vaccine gifted (we seem never able to buy this absolute requisite) by Japan was stymied by the Games in Tokyo. He should know as he is a professor.

Why Cass mentioned this tale is because thanks to Professor Jayasumana, she increased her life span by ten years, rolling around choking with laughter (bitter though) at the explanation of why the A-Z Vaccine is so delayed.

 

Enough is absolutely enough

Please, whoever the authority is, stop that telephone message that comes in the three languages exhorting us to act with care during this period. I have forgotten the terms used in

Sinhala and English as I don’t listen when the message comes through, but they are synonyms of urgencies, calamities, crises; which last short spells of time, not months and months as the telephone message has been. This is parallel to the Sri Lankan habit of hanging bunting, posting posters but never bothering to remove them.

It is better the government just calls up protesters for meetings (even though it intends doing nothing) so that spreader of the C19 will cease or at least decrease. We stay home – telephoners – so why have we to suffer a double whammy – eternal message and risk contracting C19. We completely disapprove of teachers protesting en masse all over the country for salary hikes. Not done, not done at all during a country’s economic crisis.

Will we ever learn to put the country’s good and people’s wellbeing before our acts of self-seeking and selfishness?

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Organic fertiliser

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Doing the right thing the wrong way

By Jayasri Priyalal

Nurturing nature is the right thing to do when mother nature is struggling to adjust to the manufactured damages taking their toll and challenging the mutual cohabitation of all living beings on earth. Feeding seven billion people with depleted natural resources and a degraded environment is a mammoth task for humanity. During the past ten millennia, homo sapiens have evolved to adjust and move ahead with their advanced cognitive abilities. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is ample evidence and warning signs to suggest that human beings have crossed the line in harming nature. Maintaining balanced biodiversity is advised by experts to mitigate natural disasters triggered by climate change.

Research in 2020 by the World Economic Forum found that $44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – was moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services and is therefore exposed to ‘nature loss’, including tropical forests.

This article was prompted by the presentation delivered by Senior Professor Buddhi Marambe, Department of the Crop Science, University of Peradeniya, yesterday (24 July 2021). My special thanks go to the Peradeniya Engineering Faculty Alumni Association [PEFAA] for organising the timely event.

The learned Professor presented his arguments with facts and figures from authentic sources and clarified many myths about synthetic fertiliser and pesticides use in Sri Lanka. All Sri Lankans are truly indebted to all these professionals dedicated to improving our agricultural productivity in a scientifically sound manner, causing minimum impact on biodiversity. Sri Lanka’s ranking in the use of synthetic fertiliser and pesticides, and emergence above our competitors in the region on maintaining food security was an alarming highlight of the lecture.

The discussion heightened the public awareness of the proposed move by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to ban the import of synthetic fertiliser and agrochemicals and switch to organic fertiliser. Professor Marambe dealt with points and forewarned the dangers of these short sighted policy directives that appear to have been formulated without sufficient consultations with experts dealing with agriculture, instead relying on ill-advised opinion makers, based on assumptions instead of scientific facts.

Recent developments in the country, mainly various draft bills, attempting to militarise higher education, attempting to dispose of the country’s iconic properties to attract investment, indicate the quality of advisors to the President. Those who teamed up with him as Viyath Maga experts appear to have misled President Rajapaksa.

At the webinar, Prof. Marambe revealed that he and other agricultural experts had been appealing for an audience with the President to explain the dangers of this policy directive, which entails long-term adverse repercussions to an agricultural economy. President Rajapaksa has come out with strong convictions on the benefits of using organic fertiliser and sadly lacks scientific evidence to back the perceived benefits and advantages of the proposed policy directive.

I am making a humble appeal to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and his team of advisors to seek expertise from the experts and decide on the policy directives instead of counting on assumptions.

Fareed Zakaria devotes a chapter on why people should listen to experts and experts should listen to people, in his book ‘Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World’. He refers to President Donald Trump being questioned about experts he consults, during the 2016 Republican nomination campaign. Trump responded, “I am speaking with myself, number one because I have an excellent brain; my primary consultant is myself.” His idea to inject a cleaning solution to treat COVID-19 patients could have surfaced through this process of self-consultation. Trump ridiculed the experts in 2016 thus: “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” The rest is history; the mess he created during his tenure as the US President. These are useful lessons for many other political leaders.

 

 

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