Between confidence and crisis

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

Between confidence and crisis

Lee Hyun-sang

The author is a columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.

As uncertainties sweep financial markets, a movie attracts our attention again. It is “The Big Short,” a story of wily hedge fund managers who make a fortune by betting all on credit default swaps (CDSs) after sniffing out real estate bubbles shortly before the 2007-08 global financial crisis. The film starts with a quote by Mark Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Wall Street insiders never questioned the stability of housing market and the safety of a financial derivative based on that market. But main characters of the movie successfully deceive them all to make huge profits.

President Yoon Suk-yeol faces a crisis after his approval rating fell to the 30 percent range last week, just two months after taking office on May 10. Political pundits attribute it to his appointment fiascos, risks from his wife, his repeated slips of the tongue, and a heated power struggle in the People Power Party (PPP). But the real problem is a dearth of humility and prudence of the president. Overconfidence from Yoon and his aides, coupled with their amateurish passion for governance, helped his approval rating plummet to the 30 percent range from over 50 percent just two months ago.

One of the characteristics of the president is vigor. He became a head of state just eight months after declaring his presidential bid on June 29, 2021. After he climbed to the peak of powers swiftly, his inauguration speech was filled with rhetoric — such as “my heart filled with an overflowing emotion” and “limitless responsibility” — but lacked cautious and humble words such as “fear.” The casual interviews he started to have with reporters at the doorstep of his office also reflects such confidence, not to mention the earlier-than-expected debut of the first lady, who pledged to keep a low profile if her husband were elected president.

There was an experiment on student expectations for their test scores before the tests. It turned out that the lower their scores, the higher their expectations while the higher their scores, the lower their expectations. In other words, ability and confidence do not match often, according to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

I am not raising issue with the ability of President Yoon as an individual. If he had had problems in his capability as a prosecutor — and a prosecutor general later — he couldn’t have come this far. And yet, his capacity as president is still being tested. Requirements for a head of state and the chief of an organization are totally different. For a new president, humility could be more useful a virtue than self-confidence.

The last presidential election dominated by the unprecedented standards — “Who of the two candidates is less disliked by the voters? — is not over yet. Aversion to the president is running deep in the psychology of his opponents. That mentality reflects their reluctance to accept his razor-thin victory by 0.73 percentage points in the last presidential election. A senior lawmaker of the Democratic Party (DP) even attacked Yoon for “being engrossed in serving his role as husband of first lady Kim Keon-hee” on Facebook. The legislator’s remarks came after the rumor spread that the first lady dropped at a luxury shop in Gangnam last week. The rumor proved untrue, but such malicious fake news will continue to go viral on social media.

President Yoon must tackle a plethora of challenges, including thorny questions from reporters waiting for him at the doorstep of his office. But Yoon — a political rookie — answers them with unrefined language often starting with “Let me see …” In an impromptu Q&A, even U.S. President Joe Biden, a veteran politician, makes a slip of the tongue. For Yoon, it now seems strange if he does not make a mistake in the doorstep interview.

It remains to be seen if the president enjoys a lonely battle of such a kind by instinct or if the fumbles constitute a dereliction of duty by his aides. But it clearly represents a breakdown of the system to the extent that the strategy for presidential identity (PI) does not even match a private company’s. When corporate leaders appear on social media, it looks spontaneous at first glance. But it is the results of meticulous calculations on the image and goals of a company. The president’s aides must brood over why media exposures of Yoon and his wife always backfire instead of helping win favor with the public. If such outcomes are repeated over and over, a chief marketing officer (CMO) at a private company will be fired immediately.

President Yoon lamented the prevalence of anti-intellectualism in our society. Intellect is about stopping to think before taking action. I hope the president stops for a minute, looks back on the tumultuous path over the past two months, and clears all the confusion about the future direction of his conservative administration. Confidence could be a good start for anyone. But it should be backed by competence first. Luckily, Yoon still has much time left.
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)