As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday asked Congress for more American aid, investor Peter Schiff’s reaction focused on the embattled leader’s decision to wear a T-shirt for his big speech.
Schiff, a longtime market pundit and global strategist for Euro Pacific Capital, suggested that appearing in a tee was disrespectful. He tweeted: “I understand times are hard, but doesn’t the President of the #Ukraine own a suit?”
That reaction drew extensive criticism, with responses along the lines of, “This is one of your worst all time takes. The guy is in the middle of a war zone ducking mortars.”
Gina Scott Ligon, an expert on innovation and leadership, says Zelensky’s approach as he responds to Russia’s invasion of his country — including his tendency to dress casually while giving speeches via video — should be copied by other world leaders.
“There’s this sentiment across people right now of rejecting authority figures, whether it be media like NPR or authority figures in government or corporate structures,” said Ligon, as she spoke on the National Public Radio show “On Point” for an episode that aired Tuesday. “There’s a lack of a trust, and there’s a hunger for authenticity.”
Zelensky is “picking up” on this sentiment, and you see it “in how he dresses, and how he’s wearing a crewneck T-shirt,” she said.
That casual shirt juxtaposed with “an ornate government building” behind him helps make Zelensky “the anti-hero and the anti-government hero,” added Ligon, who is the director of the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology and Education Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
“He is picking out what matters to a wide variety of people, which is why you’re seeing him getting audiences. And, honestly, other world leaders right now would do well to co-brand with him — sorry to sound corporate,” said Ligon, whose center in Omaha is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“A lot of people are feeling this hunger for authenticity and for not having these leaders in these suits, that have $400 haircuts, but to have someone that’s not clean-shaven and looks like them, but honestly portrays the very best features of them,” she told NPR.
Zelensky, previously an actor and comedian, drew standing ovations from U.S. lawmakers before and after his speech. His ability to communicate effectively and rally his people has led analysts to compare him to Winston Churchill, the U.K.’s prime minister during World War II.
Read more: Zelensky is becoming a respected war hero and a cultural icon — but says ‘I’m not iconic. Ukraine is iconic.’