Lessons from America's decline

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Lessons from America's decline

CANUTE THOMPSON

Sunday, January 10, 2021

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In a compelling book, entitled Time to start thinking: America in the age of descent, first published in 2012, Edward Luce, The Washington Post's bureau chief for the Financial Times, catalogues the steady fall of America, characterised, in part, by realities such as its addictive borrowing from China to fight a war against China, its declining education system, and the corrosiveness of its politics.

On this final issue, Luce expounds further in a subsequent publication entitled, The retreat of Western Liberalism.

The events which unfolded in the US capital of Wednesday, January 6, 2021 may yet become the defining symbol of America's decline/descent and the evidence of how destructive and corrosive the version of liberal democracy practised by America for decades can be.

The decades-old claim by several American leaders and citizens that America is the greatest country and democracy on Earth has been shown for what it is — a farce.

Racism at the core

At the heart of what the world saw on what is now “America's day of shame” was the bareness and reality of engrained racism. The routing of law enforcement and the brazen entry in the Capitol's precincts and offices by a band of rioters was not a failure of intelligence or law enforcement, in my view, but the winking at the wrongdoing of whites.

A few weeks ago, a similar scene played out at the Michigan State House, including the attempted hostage-taking of the governor. Police stood by and watched as armed men bulldozed their way into the building. Does anyone doubt that had the rioters in Michigan or Washington been black they would have been shot, and the police would say they had a reasonable fear of harm, and thus were justified? But since they were white, “fine people”, the police largely stood by and were nice to them; some even ran away.

So, while freedom of expression is claimed to be America's ultimate symbol of a liberal democracy, that freedom of expression is limited to, or reserved for, whites, and therein lies America's biggest problem. America then, in my view, despite progress in some areas — thanks to people like Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and Stacey Abrams — is suffering from a debilitating form of hate towards “people of colour”, and it is this hate that defines the voter fraud claims of President Donald Trump and his allies.

That these claims have been bought by so many reflects that country's education system in which critical thinking is woefully lacking and the pre-occupation with guns such a cult. America's path out of this mess must begin with a will to start thinking. When rational, reasonable, and critical thinking become embedded in the American culture, people of colour will be truly equal, and the double standards in law enforcement, as well as maldistribution of resources, and racism will end. So too will the hypocrisy in how the media covers events.

I have little hope that any of these will end soon, but if America is to recover from its day of shame then it had better start acting sensibly. Its version of democracy needs radical revision and the removal of racism from its culture is essential.

Trump: Enabled Manifestation

It is a truism to argue that America's day of shame was long in coming, was predictable and predicted, and that the seeds of its occurrence were planted long ago. That it happened on the day it was certifying the votes of its general election was profoundly poetic and chillingly telling. In short, there could be no better day for this evitable event to have occurred, and no better place than the seat of government, as perhaps there was no other place at which it could have occurred for it to be seen as reflection of what America has become.

The riots in Charlottesville, at which a woman died, was not seen as a telling tale of what America had become; nor were the assault on the Michigan State house, the gruesome murder of George Floyd and so many other unarmed black men. It was, therefore, inescapable and inevitable that it would have taken a raid on the US Capitol for the truth of America's hypocrisy and sickness to be laid bare. And who better to have been the instruments of this exposure than the supporters of Trump?

If any other group had done this the assessment would be that those people are the problem. With the insurrectionists being Trump's supporters the point is made pellucidly that this is America's embarrassment.

But America has got to this place not primarily because of Trump, but because of his enablers and facilitators. Trump, in this regard, is merely an enabled manifestation. The people who called Trump racist, xenophobic, amoral, self-serving, divisive, narcissistic, and would tell reporters off the record that he is doing damage to America, but who refused to confront him, are the people who are to be blamed for what America is, has long been, and been shown to be. All those senators, congressmen, evangelicals, and business leaders who kept cleaning up for Trump, explaining away his wrongs, and refusing to hold him accountable with each transgression, must take blame for that country's pitiful and despicable state.

What is even more sad is that, while many of his enablers acted out of fear and sought to promote and protect their financial, personal, and political interests, many bought into and believed the underlying philosophy which drove his behaviour; namely that white is right, especially white with money. If Trump is not held accountable, a fix may well be impossible.

Lessons for other countries

There are several lessons other countries can draw from America's day of shame. I will highlight only four:

(1) No one should be above the law

East Asian and some African countries do a good job of prosecuting public officials and removing them from office for proven wrongs, some of which are not criminal but are ethical violations. Jamaica and other countries, and of course America, need to affirm by precept and practice that no one is above the law —, elected official, connected private individuals, party donors, or whomever.

(2) Overlooked misconduct will mushroom

There should be zero tolerance for misconduct, especially by public officials. Vices at which we wink, we soon pity, later explain, and soon defend and embrace. Jamaica, like other countries, needs to raise the bar on what we demand of our leaders.

(3) Speaking truth to power is a moral and essential duty

If people were willing to tell Donald Trump the truth to his face from the beginning he would not have morphed into this worse version of himself. Here, in Jamaica, there is a deeply disturbing place at which we have reached with the erstwhile probing media having all but capitulated to power. With the duty of holding the Government accountable been left undone by a weak and ineffective parliamentary Opposition, the media — which is the fourth branch of government — should have been serving as the vanguard. This has not been the case, for the most part, in Jamaica in recent times.

Several auditor general reports have been published, yet there is little public discussion and no consequence. The Government is seeking to set up a system of having oversight of itself by removing the Opposition from chairing key committees of Parliament and we have hardly heard a peep from those formerly vocal voices in media.

Like America, we will reap what we sow.

(4) Fear is not an option

One of the philosophies by which I live is this: If you remain silent they will trample on you; if you speak they will attack you — either way they will do you harm. I would rather be attacked than be trampled. It's time to start thinking.


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