Leaders insulting each other at rallies expose their weaknesses

ODM leader Raila Odinga shakes hands with Deputy President William Ruto in a past event.

We have said it before, but we are forced to say it again – hurling insults is unbecoming of leaders. It is base, it is primitive, and portray the exact opposite of the image one might want to project in their quest for leadership.

Insults by adults tend to reveal the undeveloped and uncultured side of one’s being – a portion that may have escaped the necessary process of maturation. The mature tend to accumulate and assume a certain level of grace that confers on them special decorum and poise not easily ruffled.

As children we seemed to derive some joy in throwing insults at one another – especially to those who mistreated us but who we deemed stronger than us. From our arsenal, we picked the choicest words and threw them like stones with the singular intent to cause as much pain. Life was made easier if the opponent had some embarrassing traits or obvious disabilities. We had no qualms whatsoever using those negative traits or disabilities as weapons against them.

But that was when we were children. As adults, it would be uncouth for any of us to engage in such conduct, even under the worst provocation. The demand of adulthood constrains us from any such behaviour. Like Apostle Paul once declared, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

In other words, there is some manner of speech, nature of thought, or type of conduct that may be excused when one is a child, but which becomes absolutely intolerable when one attains the age of majority.

Interestingly though, in political circles, there are some who believe insults are a part of the game. In a 2008 opinion piece entitled, “In Praise of Political Insults”, Joseph Tartakovsky wrote in The Washington Post, “The well-turned insult is a necessary and salutary force in politics, a spicy seasoning in an old, force-fed dish. It’s a check on pomposity, proof of democratic vitality, a relief from endless electioneering, and a show of intelligence and moderation. The dull and the bigoted are rarely witty.”

Spicy seasoning – perhaps! But the emphasis must be placed on spicy. Some insults are often hotter than the hottest spice and have resulted in much economic destruction and social displacement.

As Douglas Satterfield has rightly observed, most mature individuals learn that insulting others, either directly or circuitously, is counterproductive. He argues that those who do not learn this lesson by the time they become an adult will soon learn it through more difficult and unpleasant experiences later in life. And how so true. Insults may sound courageous and witty, but it only acts to reduce one’s social capital. It builds an ever-expanding vault of hurting enemies. Such men and women often wait in the sidelines to celebrate your downfall – and many times the wait is not too long.

In the last US presidential campaigns, the candidates exchanged some pithy appellations on the campaign trail. And it was all okay as long as it was held as such. But during the presidential debate, President Trump reached out into his arsenal and brought out a sharp dagger which he thrust mercilessly into the heart of his opponent Joe Biden. He claimed Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, got thrown out of the military for cocaine use. A visibly shaken Joe Biden came to his son’s defence, but the damage had been done.

Strangely though, this remark by President Trump worked against him. Several of his key supporters denounced the act. His own niece, Mary Trump tweeted, “Interrupting Vice President Biden’s comments about his son Beau to pivot to lies about Hunter Biden should alone totally disqualify Donald. What a disgrace. What a traitor.” Thus, it would appear, the president had scored an own goal.

The same it could be for our own leaders who have taken to trading insults at one another. It adds no value whatsoever to one’s political or social capital. Instead, it is a definite sign of their lack of emotional maturity. Leaders must thus find more positive ways to sell their ideas to the electorate – not insults.