Two events last Friday morning, oceans and several time zones apart, remind us that politicians embrace the full spectrum of the ethical universe.

First up, literally since it was predawn, were the intemperate, vituperative and ranting tweets – starting at 3am – of US presidential candidate Donald J Trump.
These were on heavyweight matters: on the size and alleged sex romps of a former Miss Universe. They are a reminder, if any are needed, that the Republican candidate is, simply, a narcissistic bully; a bad man. He is incapable of the minimum requirements of steady judgment, self-control and basic temperament needed for any high office, never mind to be “commander-in-chief of the free world”, as US presidents are often dubbed.
Matters worsened for him two days later, when the New York Times in an impressive piece of sleuthing, assisted by a three- page package delivered to it from inside the narcissist’s branded building Trump Tower, no less, revealed that in 1995 he piled up a whopping $900-million-plus losses in his multiple casinos, real estate and hotel enterprises.
This allowed him, under arcane US tax exemptions, to effectively carry the loss forward for the next two decades and pay zilch federal taxes. If his vulgarities, vindictiveness, racism, xenophobia, ignorance and self-obsession do not do him in at the polls, the tax issue will be the kibosh.
Given Trump’s ability to use his campaign to do what he had done for decades in the hotel and casino business, push his personal brand, there’s a salutary lesson from one of his New York peers, who did the same with even worse results.
Leona Helmsley – who stiffed her workers and married a real estate mogul, Harry Helmsley – also entered the hall of infamy as New York’s so-called “Queen of Mean”. Visitors to New York in the 1980s might recall various posh hotels which bore the Helmsley legend.
But one of her fired workers got the last word and landed Helmsley in jail. During her trial for tax evasion, her former housekeeper testified that the Mean Queen said: “We don’t pay taxes. Only little people pay taxes.”
Of course, there is a world of difference, and in law, between tax evasion, which landed her in jail, and tax avoidance, which is why Trump called himself “smart” when Hillary Clinton alluded to his nonpayment in last Monday’s debate. But since the election is determined by “little people” not tax lawyers or billionaires, who live in dread of their fearsome Internal Revenue Service, rely on them not making the distinction when they pull their levers in the polling booth.
A few hours after Trump’s Twitter tantrum, an assembly of world leaders perhaps only matched in its impressive depth by the attendees at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, gathered in Jerusalem to pay final respects to Israel’s former president Shimon Peres.
Peres indeed possessed, in the immaculate words of Barack Obama at the funeral, what Trump and even far worthier political leaders often lack so conspicuously: “a moral imagination”.
A few weeks before Peres’s death last week at the grand age of 93, an entrepreneurial young Englishman, Adam Treger, who has a most impressive blog interviewing people around the world, called me up for my 15 minutes of fame on
His last question was “who is the most interesting person you’ve met and why?”.
I couched my answer in various disclaimers: I pointed out that if you showed up in the various positions I held and places I went to, you meet a lot of leaders, “people from both ends of the moral spectrum from Vladimir Putin to the Dalai Lama”. Next, I omitted the obvious choice, Mandela, on the basis that I had written a book- length account on our encounters.
But pressed to choose one standout political individual I plumbed for Peres. This is not because he was not flawed, indeed his fierce rival Yitzhak Rabin – who was a party colleague – described him as an “inveterate schemer”.
Nor because he was consistently on the same side of principle: his trajectory from defence hawk to peace dove was erratic and uneven and mirrored the complexity of his own country and its place in the world.
But, I could recall almost to the word what Peres said the first time we met way back in 1991. He spoke in perfect, memorable metaphors, remarkable since English was only his third language, after Polish and Hebrew.
He described the world in terms of a theatre: the winning nations sat in the front two rows, where admission is expensive.
“You’ve got to do certain things and sacrifice a lot to get in. Or you can join the overcrowded gallery, where the seats are cheap and the view is bad from the Third World. It’s easy to get in, but it’s not so easy to get out, unless you start doing the things that are required to get into the inner circle.”
Many years later, in 2003, I was invited to his 80th birthday celebrations in Israel. He told a packed audience, “People ask me how do I go on? I’ve had a lot of defeats and I’ve had some successes. It’s very simple: you must believe in a cause greater than yourself.” Within five years, he was finally elected, after a previous defeat, as president of Israel.
Rely on Trump never uttering such a phrase, and hope the Americans can be relied on not to elect him in five weeks’ time.
• Leon is a former leader of the opposition. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA