by Vijaya Chandrasoma
Donald Trump has yet to concede that the Biden/Harris ticket has won the presidency by an overwhelming majority, of both the popular vote and the Electoral College. He alleges that the election has been stolen from him by the Democrats, with ridiculous statements about widespread voter irregularities. Election authorities throughout the nation have confirmed that no cases of voter fraud have been found. Trump chooses by his aberrant behavior to delegitimize not just the incoming Biden administration, but democracy itself. He is acting like a revenant, a corpse revived from death to haunt the living.
Sadly, only a handful of Republicans has advised him of the inevitability of his defeat and the need for a graceful departure.
The worst-kept secret in the world is that Trump is a terrible loser, but he does have the right to question the results of the election until it is formally certified by the Electoral College in December. However, as a Lame Duck president, Trump, instead of co-operating towards a smooth transfer of power, is engaging in the unthinkable. He is planning to burn everything behind him as he leaves the White House. His refusal to facilitate a smooth transfer of power endangers the security of the nation. It would be a great relief if he leaves/is dragged out of the Oval Office, screaming and kicking like the petty little man he is, without starting Civil War II or World War III.
Trump has already refused to release the funds necessary for the transition. He has fired Defense Secretary, Mark Esper and three senior officials in the Department of Defense. He is threatening to get rid of CIA director, Gina Haspel and FBI director, Christopher Wray, for the “crime” of not indicting President Obama, Vice President Biden and Hillary Clinton for spying on his campaign in 2016, a delusion dismissed by the FBI and the Department of Justice as having no merit whatsoever. He has filled these key security positions with party hacks who will obey his orders without question.
The security leadership vacuum so caused may encourage adversaries to take aggressive action to further their national interests with impunity and without threat of American retribution. Russia could continue to make illegal incursions into sovereign nations which were part of the old Soviet empire; China could take control of islands in the South China Sea contested by their neighbors. He has also threatened to release classified information which would jeopardize covert CIA operations in countries inimical to the interests of the United States.
Trump refuses to release the Presidential Daily Briefings, a dossier put together by the leading security agencies designed to keep the president au fait with the global security situation. Traditionally, the President-elect has access to these briefings during the transition, so that he would be able to hit the ground running from the day of his inauguration.
All the while, the pandemic is raging, with the projection that 300,000 American lives will be lost by end-January, if the present administration continues to take no steps towards its mitigation. Trump has callously remained silent about this tragedy, which shows no sign of respite.
Biden has stated his intention of relying on a science-based strategy to combat the virus. To this end, he has already appointed an Advisory Board of distinguished physicians and epidemiologists, headed by Dr. Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General during the Obama administration. Trump’s challenges to the legality of the election during the interregnum means that this Board will be given teeth to their policies only after January 20, 2021.
There is a sliver of light at the end of the Covid tunnel. Pfizer has announced they are on course to produce a working vaccine with over 90% efficacy against Covid19 by the end of the year, which could be released to the American public by end April. By which time, if preventive actions like masks, social distancing and avoidance of crowds are not taken, the nation would have suffered over a half million deaths.
Secretary of State Bill Pompeo, who visited Sri Lanka last week and gave much gratuitous advice to us on democracy and human rights, was asked, at a recent press briefing, about the charade of denial by Trump of the legality of the election and his refusal to facilitate the smooth transfer of power. He stated, against all evidence, that Trump had won the election, and said, smirking, that there will be a “smooth transition to Trump’s second term”. A frivolous statement made by the nation’s chief diplomat, who is supposed to “show the face of the country” to the world at large. He certainly has done that, and the face is as ugly as that of any banana republic. The United States has forfeited the right to sanctimoniously rail against countries committing indiscretions, even atrocities, in the name of democracy, guilty as it has been of those very crimes.
The leaders of many countries have already spoken to President-elect Biden, congratulating him on his election. These congratulatory telephone calls have come from Trudeau, Boris Johnson, Macron, Angela Merkel, and Pope Francis, among many others. There is also a stack of congratulatory messages from other countries, including Sri Lanka, which the State Department has not released, on instructions of the White House.
Among nations to have implied reservations about the legality of the election of President-elect Biden have predictably been Russia, China and North Korea, whose leaders may be distressed that the United States has reversed its four-year slide on the slippery slope towards authoritarianism.
Trump has this uncanny ability to gaslight himself, to convince himself that he is doing a wonderful job, when all evidence is to the contrary. He lives in an alternative fantasyland, in which he can do no wrong. But his great gift, one shared by many successful cult leaders and dictators of the past, is that he is able to so gaslight a vast section of his countrymen, as evinced by the 71 million Americans who voted for his re-election. He enjoys the kind of success enjoyed by Hitler, who persuaded a majority of the German people that Jews presented a clear danger to the prosperity of their country, that his obscene Final Solution was not only rational but essential for their own survival. Hitler himself believed this, and he was able to get the Germans to go to war to preserve these inhuman beliefs. Just as Trump has brought to the surface the white Americans’ innate fears of a black and brown invasion and the erosion of white privilege. He may incite his white supremacist cult, armed with military style weapons, to widespread violence during the interregnum.
Trump suffered an overwhelming defeat in this election. He lost by the exact majority of 306 Electoral College votes that he had won in 2016, which Trump had described as a landslide. The popular majority for Biden was 77 to 72 million votes, a margin never before achieved by any past president. Amazingly, after four years of calamitous leadership which has seen 245,000 Americans killed so far by his homicidal incompetence in the management of the pandemic, an economy reduced to devastation with unemployment and homelessness faced by millions, Trump still managed to garner the highest number of votes ever won by a Republican candidate. The votes so accumulated by Trump, according to exit polls, included 57% of white Americans, a sad commentary on the racial hostility that still inflicts the nation.
President-elect Joe Biden has been remarkably calm in the face of Trump’s continuing assault on the legitimacy of his election. When asked to comment on Trump’s attitude towards the election and the transition, he smiled ruefully and said, “I just think it’s an embarrassment, quite frankly. The only thing that – how can I say this tactfully – I think it will not help the president’s legacy”. With extraordinary tact and restraint, Biden showed his decency by remaining silent on Trump’s post-election antics which are in perfect conformity with the legacy he will leave, a legacy of lies, deception, fraud, misogyny and treason.
It has been a tradition, since the 1930s, to celebrate and honor the legacy of previous presidents with a presidential library built in his home state. The only realistic memorial to the most tragic and dangerous period in the history of the United States would be the construction of a center for the rehabilitation of raving lunatics with dangerously pathological personality disorders. In Palm Beach, Florida.
In conclusion, I am reproducing below the speech of Oliver Cromwell when he dismissed the Rump (you can’t make this stuff up) Parliament in 1653. I wish I had the gift of eloquence that expresses my feelings of contempt towards Trump and his gang of sniveling enablers so perfectly:
“It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice.
“Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government. Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.
“Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse. Gold is your God. Which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?
“Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defiled this sacred place, and turned the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices?
“Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation. You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance.
“Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which, by God’s help, and the strength He has given me, I am now come to do.
“I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place. Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.
IN THE NAME OF GOD, GO!”
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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!