Trump should copy Bush’s art of leadership
President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda inherently puts him at odds with other world leaders, who would either like unfettered access to the powerhouse American economy or need U.S. support and funding to achieve their various internationalist projects.
While President Trump’s policies may rankle foreign leaders, his famous — or some would say infamous — charisma can rein them in. To be a successful president on the international stage, President Trump will likely have to rely on his personality over politics.
He would be well-served to take a cue from former President George. W Bush, who also often had to rely on his diplomacy over his policies to generate support for his international priorities, such as the War on Terror.
Despite media portrayals to the contrary, President Bush was a master statesman, developing friendships and trusted relationships with allies and adversaries alike. His deep friendship with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, for instance, helped lay the groundwork for the Iraq War.
His willingness to take the Prime Minister of Japan — a huge Elvis Presley fan — to Graceland, or to invite world leaders into his home at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, provided an added touch of hospitality that was always appreciated. “Tell me about your family,” was one of his most frequently used icebreakers.
President Bush has documented his diplomacy in the critically acclaimed art gallery, “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy.” These paintings explore the relationships President Bush developed with world leaders through his diplomatic efforts while president. Paintings of leaders such as Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and the Dalai Lama illustrate — literally and figuratively — how the president saw his contemporaries and his relationships with them.
The paintings aren’t just skin deep; President Bush argues his comfort in painting these leaders came from knowing their personalities, likes and dislikes. Each of the paintings exhibits unique characteristics about the subject. For example, his father is painted in a “loving way” in order to convey compassion, while Tony Blair is portrayed as a “good pal.” Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has a smile on his face to show that he’s “just a fun guy,” and Russia’s Putin is depicted with “cold, blue eyes” to show that he’s a “zero-sum thinker.”
The exhibit is a useful reminder of the importance and history of successful American diplomacy at a time when the media seems content to fan the flames of discord between the U.S. and its adversaries.
Unfortunately, the exhibit has largely been contained to the Bush Center in Dallas and has never been seen in Colorado. Until now. The gallery is being featured at the Steamboat Institute’s ninth annual Freedom Conference & Festival in Steamboat Springs on Aug. 25, giving attendees a first-hand look at what the president saw in his mind’s eye.
And, at Thursday’s Red, White, and Blue Bash at the Coal View Ghost Ranch, participants can bid on a personalized copy of President Bush’s book of paintings from his other gallery, “Portraits of Courage,” featuring U.S. military veterans. Like his world leader gallery — and like all great works of art — these paintings elicit sensory experiences beyond the visual cortex.
Both events are open to the public, who can register at our website steamboatinstitute.org.
President Trump, who may face an unprecedented adversarial reception on the international stage, may want to take a page from President Bush’s playbook — or rather, a brush from his easel.
Jennifer Schubert-Akin is chairman and CEO of The Steamboat Institute.
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