While western countries struggle with incentives to convince, bribe, nudge, cajole, shame, or even threaten those opposed to both wearing a mask and even more intensely to getting a vaccine to combat COVID-19, there are different variations of the same theme playing out in international politics.
Autocracies, even those with a veneer of free enterprise, are in the ascendency, and liberal democracies are receding, both in numbers and in influence. Power, as voraciously and gluttonously seized by the ‘right’, threatens to obviate, if not actually obliterate, moderation, common sense, respect and value for the common good. An obvious and even glaring example of this stranglehold on thwarting the popular will is and has been staring us in the face in Washington.
Determined to render Obama a one-term president, (McConnell), and now equally obstinate in his, and his party’s blocking any and all even moderate proposals from the Biden administration, (while the press drowns in the minutiae of whether or not Manchin and/or Sinema, Senators from West Virginia and Arizona respectively, will bend and permit a carved out abandonment of the filibuster rule in order to protect voting rights, we are watching the demise of compromise, collaboration, and bipartisanship in the U.S. Congress. Not only is there a chasm dividing moderates from the left wing of the Democratic party, and another dividing the Republicans from the Democrats of all stripes, there is also another divide inside the Republican party. One large segment continues to believe, and to campaign to extend its penetration of the political culture, that the 2020 election was “stolen” from trump. While Republicans continue to leave the party, like rats abandoning their sinking ship, there is still a dangerous political tornado swirling around the American republic whose winds are strong enough to provoke continual references to Franklin’s epithet in answer to the question “What kind of government have you given us?”…
Franklin is reported to have replied, “A republic, if you can keep it!”
There is such a wave of proposed, and in some cases passed legislation, in state legislatures, to repress the vote of minority voters; legislation designed to preclude the Republicans from losing elections for the foreseeable future, given the dramatically changing demographics-the rise in immigrant numbers of minority voters. White, antediluvian males, the dominant segment of the Republican Party, who have held power for too long already, are in imminent danger of losing their grip, and for a potentially protracted length of time. The likelihood of the Senate passing legislation that would thwart these state laws, seems to rise and fall, like the sun peeking in and out of dark grey storm clouds.
Naturally, in the U.S., if the Republicans are able to repress the vote, (based on the lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent), they are also determined to thwart legislation that would/could/must address the glaring threat of global warming and climate change. Republicans, in general, (there are a few exceptions!), care far less about clean air, water and environmental protections than they do the gluttonous tax cut they gave to their wealthy friends and funding sources, under trump. Regulation, too, of those polluting industries, and their executives who comprise much of the membership lists of the Republican Party, and write cheques in inordinate amounts, (without public disclosure) is another aspect of Republican orthodoxy, including all attempts to “grow” government, as they consider it the ‘enemy of the people.’
That phrase was also used by trump to describe the media industry in the U.S. in his unbridled and largely successful coup of its impact, through the elevation of networks like Fox, as his personal PR firm, the saturation of twitter and facebook, from which he is still, too late, banned, and his uncontrolled, and potentially uncontrollable lying propaganda machine that literally and proudly, even unabashedly, trumpets lies, designed, formed and delivered to feather his personal political legacy, and that of his cronies.
Fomenting racism, (the China-flu), Mexican rapists, banning Muslims, incarcerating children after separating them from their parents on the border with Mexico, flirting with autocrats/dictators, calling global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese…these are just some of the specific misrepresentations still haunting the American political scene, and even the Congress, as it attempts to root out the back story to the insurrection on January 6th.
So significant is the damage done by the former president, especially in the negligent and incompetent and deliberately misleading manner in which he addressed the pandemic that Carl Bernstein, he of Woodward and Bernstein fame from Watergate, dubbed trump a “war criminal” against the people of the United States.
While I totally concur with Bernstein’s assessment, it is more than a little ironic that the United States is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, fearing that their own military personnel might be subjected to its processes. There is, it seems from afar, almost no likelihood that “war criminal” is a label that can or will be assigned to the former president, no matter how long he lives.
However, it is because of his mercurial (as in slippery) nature, sliding, evading, slipping past, paying off, and denying, while hiring sycophantic (some now disbarred) legal teams, that the former president still moves about freely any where in the world. And, in his persona, the human vacuum that sucks the air from any and every room it enters, he has emboldened other autocrats, dictators, and aspiring imitators, thereby effectively polluting the political conversation with both lies and negligence around the globe.
And then there is the pervasive problem, also enacted inside the U.S. Congress, that liberals (both those wearing a small “l” and those with a large “L”) perceive, consider, evaluate and perform their political roles very differently than those on the ‘right’. As many ex-Republicans like Nicolle Wallace, have reminded us, for Republicans their political fights are “war,” while Democrats bring a machete to a gun fight. There is little to no likelihood of the latter winning such an engagement.
Some of the more radical Democrats, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, appear to have learned the lesson of the need to enter the political debate with a full-throated, and gun-loaded preparation, Democrats for the most part continue to take a position that can be depicted as moderate, seeking compromise, willing to bend to reasonable suggestions and even to learn from their opponents. Almost in a reverential attempt to restore both decorum and decency, respect and reason to the debate, Democrats risk losing the political fight, including especially the votes needed for passage, not because their ideas are wrong-headed, not because they are opposed by the vast majority of the American electorate, and not because the nation cannot afford, or does not need most of their proposals. They risk losing, both their votes and thereby their principles, and potentially risking losing the already flagging trust of the American people, just as they did over reigning in gun rights after the slaughter at Sandy Hook elementary school, and after other mass shootings.
This model, of right-wing demagoguery, right-wing subversion of the will of the people, personal political attacks verging on destroying the reputation of their political enemies, deafness to the protests against the abuses of power and acute attention to punishing their political enemies, controlling and manipulating the flow of “information” for their own purposes, whether paid for by the state, or operated by the sycophantic private sector (Fox, OAN, etc.) is another of the illusive, almost imperceptible smoke screens, like the smoke in the doorways of the night streets of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, that is slithering over the planet, in and out of the corridors of power, throughout the military minds and generals whose need for absolute control eclipses even the recognition of a public good, or any legitimate public need.
Meanwhile, those conflicts that seem to know no end, and that continue to enable weak and dangerous men to hold power, supported by their opportunistic and autocratic allies, and that continue to bleed refugees, immigrants, across borders, seas, rivers, mountains and desserts, with no end in sight, continue to provide a kind of “cover” to the nefarious deeds, policies, abuses of human rights, perpetration of lies and deceptions, as well as outright distortions of the motives and actions of their “perceived” competitors, (read perceived enemies).
And the ordinary people in all countries, now consuming in-time details of acts of violence, political corruption, human rights abuses, and the absolute denial of those abuses of power by those committed those “criminal” acts, are left powerless to combat the tidal wave of injustices.
Nudging those resistant to vaccines against COVID, as recommended by some, as opposed to incentives, may have some impact. And yet, as Fareed Zakaria noted earlier today, that might have strategy appropriate to curtail the cigarette industry, today, the world does not have a similar time frame to confront the ravages of COVID. Nor do we have the same protracted, and private/personal time, to confront and to neutralize the deadly virus of political criminality.
In another life, in another small town, in America, where the drug trade was rampant, the police were busy attending to the petty stuff, dubbed by one town resident, “The ‘mickey-mouse’ stuff, “because they are incapable and powerless to deal with the big and dangerous stuff.”
There is a potential risk that the world is so busy drowning in the minutiae of the political process, the personal conflicts, the personal ambitions and neuroses of the weakest of male leaders, the fixation of the mega-media barons on both ratings and revenues, that the only winners that can count on coming out of this period of history are those so dedicated and committed, obsessively no doubt, to the pursuit of the almighty dollar, that “idol” to which all autocrats bow so subserviently and reverentially. If the world comes to believe, whether through seduction by propaganda, or through their/our own gullibility to the bobbles and the shiny objects spread around by the dictators, or through the inescapable desperation of seeking a morsel of food, a tiny piece of sheep metal for a roof, a piece of wood for a fire to stay warm and possible to boil water for a cup of tea, that the lies and the deceptions of the oligarchs, the dictators, the autocrats and the Republican Party in the U.S. following the trump debacle, then the institutions of the world that were designed to counter such dangers will prove both emasculated and totally inept to the challenge.
And the pandemic (COVID) will look, in retrospect, like a case of the common cold, from the perspective of the dominance of the autocrats, the dictators, the terrorists, and the thugs, more and more of whom are seeking and winning power in too many capitals. And clean air and water will be not only the envy but the privilege of a very few, not to mention the access to healthy nutritious food, excellent educational opportunities, and of course, access to the instruments of power, when the vote has been declared “a pollutant”…by those in charge.]
A dystopia far more disconcerting than the Handmaid’s Tale!
The father of William, in the movie “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”, when faced with the hard-heartedness of the “state” in the drought in Malawi, commented, “Democracy is like imported casava*; it rots quickly!”
Without all of us paying close attention to the sounds and the rhythms, the words and the graffiti, as well as the bullets and the bombs, the viruses and the intemperate ambitions of weak and dangerous men, our democratic “casava” will also “rot”.
*cassava: a root vegetable, similar in shape to sweet potatoes, native to South America, one of the most drought-tolerant crops, made into cake in some parts of the world.