Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary, Travel

Lockdown Love – Part Three

“But for somebody whose fate was unmistakably written in tragedy, how could one expect normal joyful life? Her husband back to his country found a niche in the writers’ corner and gradually started to prosper. That made Sudha happy endlessly and she even started sending money to him so that he could devote his whole time uninterrupted in writing. Sudha’s dream of a cultural hub, a centre of attraction of poets and writers in her house is gradually coming into reality. But, as it is said, “Man proposes, God disposes”, life started to get sour for Sudha again”, said Adit.

“What happened then?”, asked the Police Officer.

“For the first few years, things were going more or less as planned – Sudha was rearing her children in Princeton and her husband was pursuing his career back home without contributing anything to the family finance in New Jersey. Then news started percolating to Sudha that her husband was seen many times in the company of a young female news reporter. Initially Sudha refused to believe that, but the news became more and more persistent and even Sudha’s mother told her on the phone that it was not a rumour anymore and they were living together. Sudha was devastated by this betrayal of her husband. She stopped sending him money. That prompted her husband to take a retaliatory step and a few months later they got married.”

“The plot is thickening. Now the divorce would follow”, commented the Police Officer.

“Precisely. Following a flurry of letters between Sudha and her husband, it was agreed that a divorce proceeding would be initiated by Sudha and her husband would not contest, as he was the guilty party, who married someone while being married to someone else.”

 “Even then it took a couple of years to settle the dispute of custody of children and financial matters, however little asset they had. By late 1980s the divorce was finally granted”, said Adit.

“So, Sudha was then free to get married.”, said the Police Officer.

“Yep, in theory. But she neither liked to get married nor did she get someone she fancied. Her husband’s utter betrayal made a huge big dent and a deep scar in her heart from which she did not recover for quite a while,” said Adit.

“So, where do you come in?” asked the Police Officer.

“I will be in the scene soon. But we will have to skip through a long period of 30 years of her life”, said Adit.

“Wasn’t she looking for a man she liked all those years?”, asked the Police Officer facetiously.

“Not really. Sudha had numerous approaches from her colleagues and even from her bosses. Incidentally, she changed her nursery job to a newspaper editorial job. The money was good and that gave her some financial stability. But she resisted approaches from males, primarily because she could not trust male folk after the betrayal of her ex-husband for whom she sacrificed so much. How could one leave his own children and his wife and go after another woman, particularly when his wife was not only looking after his children but also supporting him to fulfil his ambition?” Adit said in exasperation.

“You seem to be very much in sympathy with Sudha. But where do you exactly fit in?”, asked the Police Officer.   

 By that time dinner trolley came close to their seats. They unfolded their tables and got ready for the dinner. Dinner was served. The flight was nearly half way through when they finished dinner.

After the dinner, Adit continued, “My married life also came to a sudden halt. After more than 40 years of married life, my wife suddenly decided to leave me and the matrimonial home. I did not know where she went. As far as I could say, there was no third party involved. I only saw her few times at the Magistrate’s Court on divorce hearings. I had no intention of getting involved in any romantic affair whatsoever after my divorce. But I must admit that living alone in a house without any companion was not very pleasant. Apart from tackling day-to-day matters, loneliness could occasionally be over-powering. So, when Selina joined up two sides across the Atlantic together, there were no impediments for a morally acceptable friendship between me and Sudha.”

“As I said I am an investigative officer, I looked into your affairs on a request from New Jersey State Police to see if you had any role in Sudha’s present predicament”, replied the Police Officer.

“What do you mean by Sudha present predicament? Is she not alright? Are you suspecting me of some wrong doing? Is that why you are sitting next to me?” a flurry of questions blurted out of Adit.

“No, you are not a suspect nor of any wrong doing. However, you got the ticket from the NJ Police Department, who is investigating Sudha’s situation. That’s why you got the MoD allocated seat in the plane. I don’t know Sudha’s present condition, but they wanted you to be in their office to clear up few things. I will transfer you to NJ State Police official when the flight reaches JFK airport.”

“Am I under arrest?” asked Adit.

“Of course, not. It is not a criminal investigation. We are just trying to find out if there is any foul play by anybody. As far as I can see, you are on the right, so far. By the way, coming back to the question of third-party involvement in your matrimonial affair, I have to tell you that your wife left you to live with another man, who was married and his wife was away to live with her grown-up children. When his wife and their children came to know about this affair, they descended on the house immediately and he had no option but to evict your ex from the house. She then rented a house, in fact, a single bed apartment. She had to file a divorce case quickly to settle financial matters with you before the scandal broke out. She kept her address hidden from you under the pretext that you may harm her”, said the Police Officer.

Adit was totally stunned and shaken. How could that woman whom he trusted so long become so dishonest and vulgar? He even agreed to give more than the share of asset the Court wanted him to give. He wanted to let her lead a life as comfortable as it could be. Now the scandal was coming out behind her abrupt departure. Adit was shaking his head in agony.

“It seems that it was a good thing that your ex kept her address hidden from you for her safety. Otherwise, things could possibly turn nasty”, said the Police Officer.

“I am devastated”, confessed Adit.  

(to be continued)

Cultural, Economic, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political

Flawed Democratic Practices in America

America never shied away from shouting about its democratic virtues throughout the whole world ever since the 2nd World War. Since then it attained the status of a ‘superpower’ in the world arena. The combination of these two is a vicious cocktail of authoritarianism which no country can dare to ignore and, in fact, had to grudgingly follow.  

Let us look at the democratic status of America. American democratic practices are sharply on focus now throughout the whole world. In just about two weeks’ time, America is going to exercise its so-called ‘democratic rights’ in the local and federal elections. The most important of which is the election of the US president through the electoral college.

The election of the president through electoral college is a very convoluted and dysfunctional process in the so-called democratic system. In this process, the voters only choose their candidates (president and vice president) on the ballot paper, but their votes only go to support the candidates they choose. The voters’ choices on the ballot papers help to form the electoral college – a body of 538 electors from all 50 states and Washington DC – and this electoral college will, in turn, select the president and vice president of the country for the next four years. When a presidential candidate with the associated vice president gets 270 votes in the electoral college, he is declared as the winner.

The number of electors from a state in the electoral college is allocated as one elector for each member in the US House of Representatives (which has a total of 435 seats) from that state and on the number of Senators (2 from each state). The additional 3 electors come from the Washington DC. The number of House of Representative seats in a state is not allocated strictly on the basis of one-man (or woman)-one-vote system. It is on one-man-one-vote basis if only white population is considered. Back in the days (late 18th century) when American constitution was drafted, black slaves were not eligible to vote and hence they were not counted.

But then complications crept in. In the southern states, there were few white men owning large number of slaves. If only whites were counted for federal representation, then they would be very weak at federal levels, and at the same time they did not want slaves to be at par with the white masters. So, a compromise was reached that a slave would be regarded as equal to 60% of the white person! On that basis, population was estimated and House of Representative seats were allocated.

Subsequently when Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1865, the system and the status of blacks (no longer slaves) remained unchanged. In the south a large population (with low number of whites) has a smaller representation in federal level than in other white states. This status quo helps both the major parties in the US. The Republicans and white supremacists feel satisfied that they have authority higher than the blacks; whereas Democrats feel that any untoward issue on race would divide the nation and may cause termination of funds from white fund holders to the Democratic party.

It may be noted that American elections are nothing but painful display of mud-slinging, deceitful advertisements, billboards, party meetings, election propaganda etc all requiring millions and billions of dollars. Saturated advertisements, brain-washing, direct and indirect handouts to interest groups etc are rampant, which badly corrupt and may even destroy the very semblance of democracy. Multi-millionaires and billionaires find elections as their playground to extract their self-interests and covert promises from candidates. National Rifles Associations (NRA), pharmaceutical companies, petrochemical industry, tobacco industry, building industry, media and banking industry all have their strong lobbies dragging candidates to their swamps. If that is regarded as democracy, then mafia groups can be called human rights groups!

Apart from such blatant abuse of democratic rights using money, there are structural inadequacies in the system. The constitution says that all men are created equal. It should also hasten to add that the exception is that blacks are only 60% equal to whites. The constitution also says, in God we trust. What happens to those who do not believe in God, or believe in other or rival form of God? Are they going to be excluded from the state? Also, by brazen submission to so-called God, America is encouraging religiosity and creationism. America is the only advanced country where over 60% of the population believe that God created the universe and evolution is just a myth or a lie!

Setting aside American intellectual deficiency among the general public, America has serious democratic deficiency. The electoral college had produced over the 244 years of its history five presidents who lost the majority popular votes nationwide but won the presidency – John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, George W Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by as many as three million, but still won the presidential election by collecting 304 electoral votes.

One may ask, what is the problem with the electoral college? The answer is systemic. A candidate may win some states by a large majority and lose large number of states by a whisker. Even when a candidate loses the popular vote in a state by a small number of votes, the whole of the electoral college votes go to the winning candidate. Thus, there is a mechanism whereby a candidate can bag electoral college votes winning each state by a whisker by this system of ‘winner takes it all’.

If the Proportional Representation (PR) system would have applied in the election of each state, then the electors would represent the popular votes in that state. When all the electors from all the states are collected for the presidential candidates, then there would be no disparity between the electoral votes and popular votes. The system would work perfectly well. The electoral college had been changed three times in the past via Constitutional amendment – but it would require broad majorities in Congress. It may be noted that since World War II, the electoral college, as it stands, had almost always opposed by the majority of the American people.

–           Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Cultural, Economic, Environmental, Human Rights, International, Political, Technical

America at the cliff edge

Why the fate of the American Republic – and the world – could depend on what happens on November 3, 2020.

The survival of the American Republic is at cliff edge now, given the perspective of 244 years of American history. There was the close election of 1800 between Aaron Burr—an unprincipled fellow with dictatorial impulses who was in many ways the Donald Trump of his day—and Thomas Jefferson. The 1860 contest in which Abraham Lincoln faced off against Stephen Douglas, with the Civil War looming. Or the 1932 election during the Great Depression, the stakes of which were so consequential that when Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was warned he might be known as the worst president in U.S. history, if his recovery program failed, FDR reportedly replied, “If it fails, I’ll be the last one.”

An extraordinary consensus exists among historians, political scientists, diplomats, national security officials, and other experts that the stakes of the U.S. presidential election between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden this November rise to these portentous historical standards. Indeed, the stakes may go well beyond that, considering the central place the United States holds today in the global system—in a way it did not as a much younger nation in 1800, 1860, or even 1932.

Some suggest that Trump and the malign forces he has summoned up have already done so much damage to the institutions of U.S. democracy—especially his failure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and his open encouragement of racial violence and national division—that his re-election in November could damage forever the 244-year-old American experiment of a republic of laws. After a first term in which Trump has openly defied Congress and the courts, twisted foreign policy to serve his political interests, dismissed electoral norms, and turned a terrified Republican Party into his poodle, his return to power would, in effect, legitimize the gutting of the institutions of law and what remains of the founders’ checks and balances. Re-election would vindicate his view that as president he can, as Trump himself said, “do whatever I want.” It would all but destroy the American conceit that the United States is a different kind of democracy, leaving the country as just another abject discard on the ash heap of failed republics going back to ancient Rome and Greece.

The concern is shared by many Republicans—former senior officials who worked for previous Republican administrations stretching back to Ronald Reagan, including several who worked for Trump himself. Some have openly warned that a second Trump term represents an existential threat to American democracy.

“This is a kind of fulcrum moment,” said Edward J. Watts, a University of California, San Diego historian and the author of Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny. “If Trump is re-elected, then I think the norms and restraints of American democracy disappear completely,” in ways that echo what went awry in past republics. Even if Biden wins, Watts added, U.S. recovery will be a long time coming.

“There’s no question in my mind that it’s the most important election in American history. The stakes are just enormous,” said Charles Kupchan, a Georgetown University political scientist, former diplomat, and the author of Isolationism: A History of America’s Efforts to Shield Itself From the World. “One term is bad enough, but if Trump is re-elected, Americans and people around the world would no longer be able to say the American electorate made a mistake. Instead it would be an affirmation this is the direction Americans want to go.”

Kupchan said the reason this contest is more consequential than those critical elections in 1800 and 1860 is that “the United States was not the most powerful country in the world during those times.

“Basically, we stayed out of other people’s hair then. That’s not the case today, when you have a country this big that has so profoundly lost its way. We are entering an unforgiving period in history. The balance of power is changing. During the era of post-Cold War unipolarity, the system was more forgiving. Even during the Cold War, when the U.S. made a mistake here and there, like Vietnam, it didn’t knock the world off kilter. But at a moment when the West has lost its material preponderance [to China and Asia] at the same time as it’s begun to stumble politically, that’s a double whammy of historic proportions.”

Indeed, because the United States occupies such a central place in stabilizing the global system, the election of 2020 could be compared to other important global realignments that transformed the fates of previous great powers, empires, and diplomatic constructs of international stability.

“Internationally, it is a world-historical moment—America’s role in the world, and the organization of the global system, is also on the ballot,” said John Ikenberry of Princeton University, the author of A World Safe for Democracy, a book chronicling two centuries of liberal internationalism. “If Trump wins, the whole post war liberal order continues to unravel, and democratic and other allies of the U.S., who are hedging and hoping that the U.S. will return to playing a ‘system role,’ will start making other plans.”

Harvard University’s Joseph Nye, also one of the leading political scientists and diplomats of his day, agrees. In an interview, Nye quoted a leading diplomat from an allied European nation as telling him recently: “We can hold our breath for four years. Eight years is too much.”

According to former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, if Trump is re-elected or manages to seize power by contesting the election—he is already accusing Democrats of fraud and in late September refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power—it would be tantamount to a formal divorce from Europe and the West. It would mean that “the way Americans view themselves has become completely alien to what used to be the European view of America.” For four years, Trump has derided long-standing European allies and recently, in a fit of pique, announced he was withdrawing thousands of U.S. troops from Germany. The U.S. government’s inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic has only solidified this sense of alienation and frank disgust, Daalder said.

(In August, a special report from FP Analytics ranked the United States 31st out of 36 countries for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, coming in below Brazil, Ethiopia, India, and Russia. The report found that the United States ranked so poorly because of the Federal Government’s inability to mount an appropriate scientific response; inadequate emergency health care spending; insufficient testing and hospital beds; and limited debt relief.)

So abysmal has been the country’s performance under Trump that the Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole wrote in April that for the first time the United States is provoking pity from the rest of the world, which sent disaster relief to Washington rather than the other way around.

“What happened during COVID-19 represents the pinnacle to this disgust,” Daalder said. “The COVID response shows so clearly the deep problems with the American system—with our health care infrastructure, the income inequality and racial problems that persist. America has become something to be looked down at.”

The best hope, many pundits and scholars say, is that Trump is soundly defeated in November and accepts that outcome, even though he has suggested he won’t. Eventually he comes to be seen by the world—and by history—as a strange aberration, a one-of-a-kind oddity whose jingoism, narcissism, and incompetence are unlikely to come along again, whether in a Republican or Democratic president. The United States then re-joins the global system—with its usual blend of nativist reluctance and exceptional arrogance, yes, but on a more moderate (or, to be precise, adult) level than during the Trump era.

Under this scenario, a newly inaugurated President Biden, who is a deeply experienced internationalist committed to U.S. alliances, and his multicultural vice president, Kamala Harris, act swiftly to restore U.S. prestige by reversing Trump’s worst failures on COVID-19, political polarization, the economy, global stability, and climate change, as Biden has promised to do. Pointing out that Trump has failed to replace the many international agreements he has torn up, Biden would immediately rejoin and work to shore up the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris agreement on climate change, which he helped champion as Barack Obama’s vice president (and which the United States is scheduled to complete its withdrawal from on Nov. 4, one day after the election). Going by his campaign promises, he will try to revive the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that Trump has discarded and begin talks to extend the Obama-era New START nuclear reduction pact (which would expire only a few weeks into his term, though even now Trump is seeking to blow it up).

Biden would also likely seek to restore something like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the most comprehensive trade deal in history (which has been kept breathing in reduced form by Japan, the United States’ closest ally in Asia, since Trump pulled out of that accord as well). Because the TPP was designed to exclude and pressure Beijing into accepting fair-and-open trade norms, Biden could thereby do far more than Trump has done to confront a rising China and continue to co-opt it into the global system. Meanwhile a paralyzed and polarized Congress—so traumatized by Trumpian divisions, investigations, and impeachment for the past four years—starts working more effectively again (especially if Democrats win the Senate as well as the House, ending the legislative stalemate).

But even in this scenario it’s hard to imagine that things go back to the way they were pre-Trump. Biden, for example, will find it difficult to simply resurrect the INF Treaty and TPP, in part because he must accommodate the powerful progressive wing in his own party, which rejects untrammelled free trade pacts and over commitment to a U.S. military presence overseas. Biden has already said he would not simply re-join the TPP as it existed, for example, but would seek to renegotiate it to include “strong rules of origin” requiring more manufacturing in the United States and has also said, before entering any new international trade deal, he would focus on a Trump-like $400 billion “Buy America” initiative to boost domestic product. Support for the World Trade Organization, which was initiated by Democrats under President Bill Clinton, is fast waning inside the party as well, amid Trump’s accusations that China has unfairly abused its rules to rob middle-class Americans of their jobs. And Biden, like Trump, has been seeking to pare down the United States’ role overseas for years; even as Obama’s vice president, he argued vociferously against a U.S. buildup in Afghanistan and negotiated an accelerated withdrawal from Iraq.

Indeed, perhaps the greater threat is that the stakes of this election are not quite as momentous as optimists hope—and that Trump, even if he loses power, proves to be less an aberration and more a symptom of a country that is no longer functioning well, whether as a republic or a global stabilizer, and can’t be fully trusted again.

After all, Trump’s neo-isolationism didn’t spring from nowhere; it had a lot of popular support and still does. In his new book, Kupchan argues that America’s embrace of internationalism is more an aberration than the norm in U.S. history—and he says that even for the prospective president Biden and subsequent U.S. leaders, “it’s not going to be back to the old foreign policy. We’re not going back to the institutionalized, treaty-based system that emerged after World War II. The votes in the Senate won’t be there.” To that point, a survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released in September shows an unprecedented breakdown in the old consensus in support of Washington’s role, demonstrating the “Trumpification” of the Republican Party, in Daalder’s words.

Perhaps the greatest fear among U.S. allies is that the American republic may simply be caught up in an inevitable cycle of history by which great powers grow complacent and decadent and eventually collapse or wither away. Prominent realist thinkers such as John Mearsheimer have long argued that American-style liberal internationalism contains the seeds of its own destruction – excessive ambition and overreach. “Liberalism has an activist mentality woven into its core,” Mearsheimer has written. “The belief that all humans have a set of inalienable rights, that protecting these rights should override other [domestic] concerns, creates a powerful incentive for liberal states to intervene” abroad.

In recent decades, both Republican and Democratic presidents gave in to this impulse to differing degrees—from Vietnam to Bosnia to Iraq. And in 2016, Trump realized, as his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton did not, that many Americans had grown weary of being global caretakers when so much was going awry at home, especially the decimation of the middle class under the aegis of rapid globalization. Biden is unlikely to make the same mistake.

Thus, in the perverse way Trump has been channelling the deepest of U.S. traditions and the fears of America’s founders, who were always worried about overreach in foreign conflict and constantly warned against its self-destructive effects, including the rise of demagogues like Trump. Most famously, John Quincy Adams said in 1821 that America must not go “in search of monsters to destroy” abroad; to do so, Adams said, would corrupt the very character of the nation: “The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.” In the spring of 2016, a senior Trump campaign advisor said that Trump’s first major foreign-policy speech—in which he declared that “the world must know we do not go abroad in search of enemies”—was intended as a conscious echo of Adams and a rebuke to his predecessors and their reckless interventions in Iraq and Libya.

(A modified version of the FP article by Michael Hirsh on September 25, 2020)

–           Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Cultural, Economic, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary, Political

Human nature and Democracy

Human nature and democracy may, on the face of it, seem insular disjointed narrative of isolated views and ideas, but digging deep one can find intrinsic umbilical cord between the two. Human nature profoundly affects the thoughts and actions and the democratic process offers the outward expression of those thoughts and actions. Thus, these two strands are inherently, if not intricately, linked.

Human beings are fundamentally and intrinsically dangerous and coercive animals always looking out for attaining advantageous positions. They intuitively take selfish and hideous steps in order to achieve evolutionary advantage, particularly when it is perceived that they can get away with their selfish partisan actions.  

The economist Thomas Sowell contends that there are two visions of human nature: (i) The utopian vision, which claims people as naturally good and virtuous. They do virtuous things for the benefit of the community and country unless propelled to do otherwise, and (ii) The tragic vision which shows people as inherently flawed and vile.

This tragic vision in human nature comes from inherent selfishness and mendacity with the purpose to attain advantage. Exclusive personal interests override collective interests. In fact, quite often, collective interests may be viewed as counter to individual interests of a selfish individual, as any competitor in the collective pool may benefit from the collective aggrandisement and thereby jeopardising the relative advantage of the selfish individual. This is, to a large extent, part of the evolutionary drive. Thus, it can be said that science supports this tragic vision.

History also supports tragic vision. This vision is the natural drive for dominance. The philosophers Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt advanced the tragic vision and rejected the implicit natural goodness of humanity. They tendered the view that humans are potentially evil. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche stated that those who fight monsters must be aware of becoming monsters themselves. The implication of this view is that in a society of monstrous humans, monstrosity tends to infect the surrounding and propagate itself, unless constrained by some contrary means.

The founding fathers of the USA held tragic vision and hence created checks and balances to constrain the political leaders’ worst impulses. Nothing is more flagrantly evident than the present state of affairs in the USA of the incumbent president, where racist xenophobic tendencies are blatantly exposed and weaponised.

Democracy is manipulated and molested due to vileness of human nature not only in the United States but also in the United Kingdom and many more countries in the world.  David Gauke, ex-Justice Secretary in the UK, said on 3 July 2019 in his Mansion House dinner speech, “A willingness by politicians to say what they think the public want to hear, and a willingness by large parts of the public to believe what they are told by populist politicians, has led to a deterioration in our public discourse”. He also said, “This has contributed to a growing distrust of our institutions – whether that be parliament, the civil service, the mainstream media or the judiciary.” This vile abuse of democratic process by selfish, manipulative, mendacious, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, bigoted politicians undermines and contaminates the whole of democracy. But these vile selfish politicians care very little about the collapse of democratic process as long as they can achieve political advantage for themselves.

The word ‘democracy’ originated from the Greek word ‘demokratis’ meaning the ‘rule of the many’. Plato, the Greek philosopher, detested democracy as it embodied the rule of the imbecile and ignorant deplorables over the educated and the knowledgeable. He upheld the view that democracy is the rule of mere opinion. Indeed, this opinion could quite often be ignorant or misinformed or misled by opportunistic populist politicians.

Contrary to the conventional ‘democratic principle’, Roman Republicanism advocated that everyone was not fit to vote to elect the government. It gave some very good reasons including stating that only those who participate actively in public life and affairs of the State are qualified to vote. This ruling was eminently more sensible than allowing everybody to express opinions on issues regardless of their knowledge or suitability or association. For example, a significant majority of the general public with very little or no knowledge of the role or functioning of the EU voted in the EU referendum on 23 June 2016 to leave and then on the following day more than one million people carried out Google search on what the abbreviation ‘EU’ stands for! Their expressed opinion against the EU the previous day was not based on knowledge or rational assessment, but on pure prejudice and bias. Car workers throughout Britain voted overwhelmingly to leave Europe, because they were unhappy with their working conditions (nothing to do with EU). The farmers in Wales and in large parts of England voted to leave on misinformation and false promises by Populist politicians. The general public were fed blatant lies that the NHS would get extra £350 million per week on leaving the EU and there were many more lies. All of these misinformation and blatant lies had fundamentally altered the knowledge base on which the public had voted and hence the outcome became screwed up.

The politicians, the people in power comprising industrialists, financiers and increasingly media barons and social network bosses manipulate the very essence of democracy for advantageous positions. Boris Johnson, the present British prime minister, in his first term prorogued parliament within few weeks of gaining prime minister position, not out of necessity but out of dubious advantage of denying any democratic opposition to his sectarian views and dogma. However, his action was found to be unlawful by the highest court of the land (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the Northern Ireland) and he had to recall the parliament. Subsequently, when he signed a Withdrawal Agreement (revised) with the EU, he called it a ‘oven ready’ and ‘excellent’ agreement and on the back of it, he won the election on 12 December 2019 with an overwhelming majority. But within ten months of signing that historic Withdrawal Agreement by himself, he is now preparing to defy this internationally binding agreement to achieve political advantage. Nothing can be more mendacious in human nature with its tragic vision than this.

The Greeks had a word called ‘parrhesiastes’ which identified an individual who used freedom to uphold moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy, who adopted frankness instead of persuasion and who chose truth instead of falsehood or silence. Unless parresia, the attribute of the parrhesiastes, dominates the contaminated so-called ‘democracy’ of today, the virtuous attributes of democracy are going to be abjectly negated.

Democracy cannot survive in ignorance, illiteracy or moral degeneracy. When honesty, integrity, morality and ethics are divorced and opportunism and bigotry make inroad, democracy takes leave and tragic view of human nature dominates. As Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education”.

–           Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Environmental, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political

Racism in America: Police chokehold is not the issue (Part II)

(Following the previous post which constituted the initial section of the article, the present post is the concluding section of the article).

According to the Sentencing Project’s Report to the UN in 2018, Blacks are three times more likely to be searched, twice as likely to be arrested, and receive longer prison sentences for committing the same crime. Thirty-five percent of all executions in the US have been Black; they constitute 34 percent of prison inmates and 42 percent of people on death row.

However, while police brutality and related injustices are obvious, the most overwhelming burden for Blacks is the political disempowerment and economic inequities which they have to bear.

Blacks are approximately 13 percent of the population. But currently, while their presence in the House is roughly equivalent (52 out of 435), they have only three Senators (the highest ever), and no Governors. Of the 189 American Ambassadors, only three are Black, usually in “hardship posts” or less relevant assignments (like Bangladesh?).

According to Valerie Wilson from the Economic Policy Institute, in 2018, a median Black worker only earned about 75 percent of what a White person does (USD 14.92 per hour to USD 19.79), and The Economist reported that in 2019 mean household wealth was USD 138,000 for Blacks, and USD 933,700 for Whites. While more than 72 percent of Whites own homes usually in nice neighbourhoods, only 42 percent of Blacks do so usually in shabbier environments. Unemployment rates are typically twice that of Whites. 

Approximately 23 percent of Covid-19 patients are Black, and similar discrepancies are seen in terms of people suffering from blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, asthma, cancer, and other health challenges.   

Educational disparities are pronounced. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, while almost 80 percent of Whites graduate from high school, only 62 percent of Blacks do so. While 29 percent of White males and 38 percent of White females graduate from college, only 15 percent of Black males and 22 percent of Black females do the same. 

This is not because of innate intellectual differences traditionally used to explain the “achievement gap” (comparative lower scores in reading and math for Black students). As John Valant pointed out, Black performance in standardised tests has much more to do with exclusionary zoning policies that keep Black families from better school districts, mass incarceration practices that remove Black parents from children, and under-resourced Black school districts that impose relatively poor-quality teachers, weak supportive infrastructure and an environment of hopelessness and despair that students are compelled to endure. Expecting these kids to perform at the same level as others is like tying a weight to their legs and hoping that they can be competitive in a marathon.

President Johnson’s effort to “level the playing field” led to some Affirmative Action policies, and the formation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1965, to provide historically disadvantaged groups some extra educational and economic opportunities. Some progress has certainly been made. A small Black middle class of professionals has gradually come into existence, some Black entrepreneurs have been notably prosperous, and a few Black performers have gained spectacular success in the entertainment and sports industries (unrelated to affirmative action).

But, on the other hand, many Whites resented these programmes which were gradually challenged, and in some ways gutted, through charges of “reverse discrimination” (Bakke v Board of Regents University of California, 1978). The sentiment was that these policies unfairly violated a merit-based system of rewards, and created an entitlement culture for undeserving Blacks (conveniently forgetting that Whites had gained from it for centuries). Sometimes affirmative action only meant incorporating a few Blacks in various positions to prove an institution’s quantitative adherence to EEOC requirements. It was tokenist, grudging and alienating. Instead of bridging racial divides, they deepened them.

Ay, and there is the rub, as Shakespeare would say. The issue of racism is not about a chokehold of a White police officer, but its stranglehold on US society. It is ingrained in the predatory capitalism that the US worships with its emphasis on ugly materialism over human development, selfish individualism over collective welfare, desperate profit-seeking over social responsibility, immoral inequalities over a sharing culture, patriarchal dominance over an inclusive democracy, mindless consumerism over ecological concern, and a phenomenally successful strategy of keeping people, particularly the working class, divided and loathing each other.

It is also true that the races are prisoners of their respective assumptions, perceptions and judgments that lead them to see “the other” in radically distorted terms. Their narratives of history, their engagement with reality, and their judgment of events condemn them to their own rhetorical echo-chambers, making communications difficult. What the Blacks will see and remember will be vastly different from what the Whites will (e.g. Blacks will hear George Floyd crying out for his mother as a casually sadistic White officer chokes him to death, Whites will see the looting). In these conditions, hate becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Finally, when racism is reduced, and isolated, to a simple problem (e.g. police brutality), it will let politicians shake their cynical heads and issue condemnations with platitudes and clichés that will come trippingly to their tongues. It will permit them to tinker with this or that aspect of law enforcement and claim to have “fixed it”. It will encourage the power-elite to seek TV-rich moments such as taking a knee, or carrying a BLM placard, or raising a fist at a funeral memorial—high in symbolism but pitifully, perhaps deliberately, low in accomplishment.

As long as they ignore the larger historical, political and psychological context in which White defensiveness and Black weaknesses are located, one can treat the symptoms and not the virus of racism. The intellectual honesty and moral courage this would require has been absent in the past, and there is neither much evidence, nor much hope, that we will see it anytime soon.

Postscript: Having lived in America for many years, I can personally attest to the fairness and decency of the vast majority of colleagues, students, and general people my wife and I have met, and the genuine graciousness and warmth of many friends that we have been blessed to have. This merely underscores the point that the issue is not individual but institutional, not personal but structural.

(The cases mentioned in the article are all Supreme Court cases.)

 Ahrar Ahmad is Director General, Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation, Dhaka.