Commentary: What Indonesian Leaders Can Learn From Donald Trump


AUGUST 27, 2015

It is very hard these days not to stumble upon reports about the upcoming US presidential election. Republicans and Democrats are now debating against one another, trying to become the front-runner in their respective party before taking on the winning candidate from the rival group.

As with every US presidential election campaign, both parties have strong and weak contenders. However, there is one member in the Republican Party that has been particularly controversial and who has garnered a lot of attention on social media while dominating the polls: Donald Trump.

Brash, bold, straightforward, honest and cunning -- I have been following Trump for years. I have watched him in “The Apprentice” series and read his books. All of his teachings in business and life are inspiring and useful as he is a person who leads by example.

Trump is a man who has differentiated himself from other former and current presidential candidates by bringing attention to topics that none of the other candidates are willing to talk about, such as immigration. Furthermore, he never backs down from criticizing former and potential future presidents. He has a bombastic style and does not take insults from other people.

Although there are quite a few people who question his tactics and characteristics as a political figure, his assertiveness, patriotism and financial self-sufficiency, along with a strong desire to create jobs and run the country in a transparent way are all traits that Indonesian leaders should take to heart.

President Joko Widodo has already demonstrated a similar assertiveness at times, for instance when he insisted that drug convicts be executed despite the outcry from foreign governments and local rights groups. In trying to eradicate the drug scourge, the president stood firm regardless of the negative consequences some said his stance would have on our ties with other countries. His predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, had been very cautious and sensitive about such possible negative effects.

Trump is above all a patriot and will stand up for US interests in the face of a variety of threats, such as China’s currency manipulation, or Mexico sending undesirable individuals across the border. Similarly, Indonesia needs leaders who will stand up for the country, who will not let others take advantage of our natural resources. It is imperative that our leaders keep out drug dealers and thieves. By the end of the day, Indonesia is the 4th-most populous country in the world and our economy is still growing much more rapidly than those of many other countries. We cannot let our development be obstructed.

Traditionally most Indonesian presidential hopefuls receive funding from special interest groups, donors and lobbyists as their primary source for campaign funding. The problem with this practice is that it means that the president will have to take into account the wishes of those who funded his campaign -- which may not necessarily be in the best interest of the people. A financially self-sufficient candidate like Trump, on the other hand, is much less likely to be bought.

Trump has stressed the importance of jobs, and that is a lead that should be followed by Indonesian leaders. We should focus on making full use of our demographic dividend. Indonesia’s young population needs managers and leaders who take career development seriously. Thus it is vital for Indonesian leaders to engage with the nation's youths and to retain key talent. And when necessary, Indonesian leaders may need to show some tough love.

Corruption is another key issue, and it is no secret that Indonesia needs much more transparency. This is another example where people like Trump, who have no problem speaking out and telling the truth, can set the bar high for Indonesian leaders.

So despite the criticism leveled against him -- Trump has been labeled a joke, arrogant, a naive politician and a capitalist pur sang -- there is no denying that his accomplishments hold plenty of valuable lessons for Indonesian leaders.

Satya Hangga Yudha Widya Putra is a graduate student in global affairs at New York University.