by Rajan Philips
In the last week of October, President Trump and the traditional Halloween pumpkin inspired the adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ fictional dwarf to create a new political meme – Trumpkin: “orange on the outside, hollow on the inside, and thrown out in November”. The November 3 US presidential election has come and gone. Americans voted in record numbers in spite of the coronavirus, and did throw Trumpkin out. But the big yellow head has got stuck in the nation’s garbage chute. It is refusing to budge, and political wags will have to come up with a different meme for Thanksgiving – a two-headed turkey? – to caricature their nation’s State (of affairs) after its so-called consequential presidential election. ‘Some election, some consequence,’ Sir Winston would have growled. America’s political detractors around the world are delighted. This is their LOL moment of schadenfreude as they portray the world’s oldest constitutional democracy as its newest banana republic. Seriously, not quite. But the old American fact and the new Trumpkin facial can cohabit handsomely in the universe of alternative facts that Trump has created for his Republican followers. He has quite a flock of them.
There are two parts to the results of the 2020 American Presidential and Congress elections. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have made history as the oldest President elect and the first female-and-person-of-colour Vice-President elect, while amassing a vote tally that will likely reach a record high 80 million by the time every vote is counted. The defeat of Trump, the incumbent President, is in itself historic, as Trump is the first President in the 21st century to be defeated after a single term in office. There have been eight before, four each in the two preceding centuries.
The second part is that Trump was able to increase his vote tally from 63 million in 2016 to a potential 73 million in the final count in 2020, the largest by a sitting, and losing, President. Even though Biden achieved a great and convincing victory, winning both the popular vote by a much larger margin than Hillary Clinton in 2016, and the Electoral College Vote likely by the same margin as Trump did in 2016, it is not at all a convincing repudiation of the politics of Trump, or, as it has now come into vogue, of ‘Trumpism.’ Trump’s final vote tally is a shockingly powerful demonstration of the bedrock of resonance in the American social formation that a phenomenon like Trumpism can effortlessly tap into. The surge in the Trump vote helped the Republican Party to gain seats in the House of Representatives (although Democrats will keep their House majority), and to ward off the Democratic challenge for majority in the Senate.
There are still two pending Senate races, both in Georgia and scheduled for January 5, 2021. The Democrats must win both to tie their Senate tally with the Republicans at 50-50, which would give them the majority with Vice President Kamala Harris having the deciding vote as president of the Senate. If the Republicans win even one of the two races, they will retain their majority and control the Senate for at least till the next mid-term elections in 2022. Gridlock in Washington will continue. Joe Biden will not be able to implement all or any of his aggressive legislative agenda unless he is able to draw from his long senatorial experience and persuade some of the Republican Senators who are critical of Trump to vote with the Democrats on critical issues.
So far, fewer than dozen out of fifty Republican Senators have publicly acknowledged Biden’s victory and congratulated him. A majority of them will not publicly do so (a number of them are known to have sent felicitations privately through their Democratic colleagues) for fear of angering Trump and alienating the Trump Nation of voters whose support they need for their future electoral survival. The Republican Senate leadership is publicly standing by Trump for now – at least until the two Senate races in Georgia are over. They want to keep their petulant President engaged and his vote base in Georgia enthused to avoid Republican disenchantment in Georgia and a drop in their vote turnout on January 5. That might just happen in spite of all the Republican machinations. The Democrats clearly have their tails up, and the political wind behind them. Yet, it is a historically uphill task to win two Senate seats in a southern State at the same time.
Whatever the outcome, the Georgian Senate elections on January 5 will mark the formal beginning, if it did not begin already, of the end of Donald Trump’s first and only term as American President. If the Republicans win, they will cajole Trump to leave office gracefully, while enticing him with the prospect of rerunning for a second term in 2024. On the other hand, if the Democrats win both Senate seats in Georgia, it is all over – game, set and match, for Trump and the Republicans until the next time.
Trump and Trumpism
Until January 5, Trump is likely dig deeper into his petulance with irrational executive orders, firing and hiring, and all manner of legal shenanigans to upend Biden’s victory. Trump’s legal challenges are not seriously expected to succeed at any level in any of the courts. But they can and will have the effect of delegitimizing Biden’s victory among Trump’s supporters. Add to that all the confusion and disruption Trump is already creating using his executive powers, America is in for a rough period of transition in the midst of a raging pandemic. It is here that the dialectic between Trump and Trumpism come into play.
Jeff Goodwin, the New York University sociologist, has described Trumpism as a “contradictory, unstable amalgam” of social conservatism, neoliberal capitalism, economic nationalism, anti-immigrant nativism, and White nationalism. There is nothing new here, nor were any of these created by Trump. Pre-Trump, the Bush era Republican ideologues privileged social conservatism and neoliberal capitalism, while downplaying, even genuinely eschewing, the other ingredients of economic nationalism, anti-immigrant nativism, and White nationalism.
Then came the Tea Party, and with or without the backlash incentive of Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American President, forced the fusion of all five ingredients. But there was no one in the Republican Party to raise this fusion to the national level as a viable presidential platform. Until Trump came along in 2016. His perverse genius for marketing and his personal animus towards Obama found common cause with all the items of the Tea Party agenda, that other Republican presidential aspirants were simply too squeamish to touch all at once. The Trump Nation loved their Messiah’s crass candour, intimidating insults, and reckless lies and boasts. Trump won the election in 2016 against his own expectations and those of everyone in the Republican Party.
The marriage of convenience worked, and might have continued for four more years, but for Trump’s inept and unempathetic handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. But even the pandemic could not stop Trump from being able to fool 10 million more people in 2020 than he fooled in 2016. The 73 million votes he was able to amass provides a solid base to challenge the new Biden-Harris Administration and launch a comeback in two years for the 2022 midterm elections, and in four years for the next presidential election. However, if Trump and the Republican overplay their grieving hand, that will likely turn off a good majority of the people who voted for Trump but who are not part of the Trump Nation.
Another trouble for the Republicans is that Trump is not serious about their future or the future of Trumpism itself. He is not committed to the future of the Republican Party or any aspect of Trumpism either by conviction or any kind of persuasion. He might just pick up his wallet and leave politics altogether, or may be constrained to stay in politics as a way to forestall state and federal cases that he is likely to face when he is no longer president. Whether Trump stays in politics, or someone else emerges to take his place, the social presuppositions of Trumpism will remain alive and cannot be wished away in the afterglow of Biden-Harris victory.
Biden-Harris Victory and Challenges
To emphasize the significance of Trumpism is not to detract from the greatness of Biden-Harris victory. The Biden-Harris hyphenation would appear to be becoming the new normal, and it was symbolically asserted when the honour was given to Kamala Harris as Vice President elect to address the nation first and introduce Joe Biden as President elect to deliver his address. This has not happened before and it will be interesting to see if there will be two inaugural speeches in January, if it would be possible at all to have a non-virtual inauguration given the pandemic and Trump’s transition tantrums. Addressing the nation for the first time as Vice President elect, Kamala Harris rose to the occasion splendidly and captured the history of the moment, both symbolically – wearing a suffrage white pantsuit (a nod to Hillary Clinton), and eloquently – congratulating Joe Biden for his ‘audacity’ (a nod to Barack Obama) in selecting a woman of colour as his running mate.
The election of Barack Obama as President in 2008 and 2012, the elevation of Kamala Harris as Vice President in 2020, and the Trump presidency in between speak to the deep tensions in the very soul of America – between the persistence of systemic misogyny and racism, on the one hand, and ever widening possibilities for inclusion and diversity, on the other. Given its power in the world and its foreign policy misadventures, America is an easy target for self-righteous condemnation by others. But few other countries in the world offer official space and opportunity for equality and diversity. In fact, in many countries, big and small, equality in space and opportunity are denied by customs, conventions and even constitutions.
Commentators have swung left and right to find presidential precedents that Joe Biden could draw from as he battles his way through his time in office – from Franklin Roosevelt to Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. But Joe Biden’s unique political challenge is going to be in balancing the contending forces inside the Democratic Party. Already, the so called moderates are clamouring that the young progressives cost the Party a much bigger victory than what has been achieved. The accusation is a bit rich because conventional moderation would have dampened enthusiasm and turnout among the young and minority voters. Without progressive enthusiasm, eighty million voters would not have come out to vote for the Democrats, and in a way they may also have ended up provoking the extraordinarily large Republican turnout.
The new Administration has its work cut out, and has offered an agenda that is both balanced and ambitious not only to address the many crises facing America, but also to satisfy the competing constituencies of moderates and progressives within the Democratic Party. There is no shortage of crises and challenges – from Covid-19, to jobs and the economy, climate, government reform, health care, racial justice, immigration, taxes, infrastructure, and foreign policy – the list is long and daunting. The easy part on every one of them would be to stop doing whatever Trump was doing. Systematically ending many of Trump’s ill-advised and ill-planned initiatives would in itself be progress.
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!