America vs USA

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. – John F Kennedy,America chose “Change”, But America went for the “Past” in order to secure their “Future”

“Critics say that America is a lie because its reality falls so far short of its ideals. They are wrong. America is not a lie; it is a disappointment.
But it can be disappointment only because it is also a hope.” These  lines are hugely pertinent today. Trump’s rise and his first policy pronouncements are intimately connected with contestations over America’s identity. A long-held view of America’s national identity is that, Being American was not an ethnic identity. Rather, Americanness symbolised a political creed, or a set of ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence, 1776, which laid the foundations of the American Republic.
Three ideas were critical: Equality, freedom and republicanism. Unlike the “old world” Europeans, the “new world” Americans were free, not chained by historical tradition; they would be equal, not ranked by birth-based, ascriptive hierarchies; and they would govern themselves via elected representatives, not be ruled by a dynastic monarch.
In Europe, only one nation approximated these ideals, France, but only after the French Revolution, and not entirely resolutely. Elsewhere in Europe, ethnicity, linguistically expressed, was the foundation of nationhood (with the exception of Switzerland). Both the US and France were civic nations, not ethnic nations.
The dilemma,  was that societies can’t easily achieve these ideals in their fullness. Given human imperfections, these ideals, especially equality and freedom, were much too lofty. At the time of the Declaration of Independence, African Americans were neither free nor equal. Their slavery ended in 1864, terminating America’s founding contradiction between the ideal of freedom and the fact of slavery. But intense racial discrimination and violence continued. Only in the mid-1960s did African Americans achieve legal parity.
America is not a “lie”, because genuine progress towards freedom and equality had been made. But the pace of progress was “disappointing”. However, precisely because more progress can be made towards those ideals, “hope” would mark America’s evolution. The ideals of freedom and equality, though tough to attain, were far too deeply ingrained in the American psyche to be tossed permanently aside.

How do these foundational ideas apply to Donald Trump?
They do not. In his world, and that of his supporters who got him elected, an alternative conception of American identity exists. Investigating more than a century of American legislation and judicial decisions on immigration and citizenship,It can be argued that these laws “manifested passionate beliefs that America … was a white nation, a Protestant nation, a nation in which true Americans were native-born men with Anglo-Saxon ancestors.” These traditions of Americanism” were not only used against blacks and indigenous Americans, but also against Irish and Italian immigrants, who were Catholic, and against Jews, all of whom were viewed as “inferior races” when they came to the US.
With respect to some non-white immigrant groups, American laws became especially draconian. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, later expanded into exclusion of all Asians, ensured that migration into the US was overwhelmingly white for many decades. Essentially, resentment against each new wave of migrants has repeatedly appeared in American history.
America’s national identity is thus not only about a set of ideals, especially freedom and equality. It is also about the ascriptive white superiority. It is against this long-standing duality that the Trump moment is to be viewed.
Though not without flaws, post-1965 US has been closest to the American ideals that the US has ever been. Externally, the immigration reform of 1965 ended national/racial quotas. As a result, after 1965, most immigration into the US became non-white. Hispanics from central and south America have been the biggest immigrant group and Mexicans the largest among them. Muslims from various parts of the world also arrived after 1965 (as did, incidentally, the Indian Americans, most of whom came to the US after the mid-1960s.
Internally, the Voting and Civil Rights Acts, passed in 1964-65, severely undermined state laws that licensed racial discrimination, especially against African Americans. While the racial situation is far from ideal, it is noteworthy that at no point in American history have African Americans acquired such prominent positions in public life. In Obama, America had a black president for eight years, something inconceivable until some time back. Hispanics too have risen to the highest levels of the polity.
Census specialists now predict that by 2041, the US will not to be a white-majority nation. It is this racial anxiety and the impending loss of white privilege that forms the bedrock of Trump’s base, strewn widely over middle America, as also in the smaller towns on the two coasts. It is especially concentrated among the non-college educated whites. The Protestant-Catholic divisions are no longer salient. A new white nationalism is reborn. The proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border and a ban on Muslim migration is the contemporary incarnation of white nationalism.
Against white nationalists are fighting those who defend the deepening of post-1965 American politics. Institutionally, the courts thus far are leading this fight (they did not always, and they may not). And in terms of mass support, hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of Americans who have come out in protest, represent the post-1965 charge.
Notably, Trump’s temporary Muslim ban did not provoke only American Muslims to protest. Large numbers of non-Muslims, including thousands of whites, have come out in support of an American ideal they hold dear. Moreover, we also have the strong voice of women defending women’s dignity, mocked in such an unseemly manner by Trump.
In sum, the US is witnessing a deepening clash between those who wish to take the country to its political ideals of equality and freedom regardless of race and ethnicity, and those who wish to drag America back to its pre-1965 history.

“Trump’s America is not America: not today’s or tomorrow’s, but yesterday’s.

A political battle is underway.

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Is it a failed Democracy?

The ascension to power of populist strongmen like Donald Trump in the U.S., Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Narendra Modi in India demonstrates the limits of electoral democracy as a system of truly representing the political will of the people. In all three cases, the numbers suggest that most voters wanted these individuals and the political parties that they respectively lead — the Republican Party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — to form the government, but the reality in each country veers away from these purely numerical electoral outcomes.

The logic of democracy proposes that the choice of the majority will stand in for the choice of the whole electorate; but in fact, those who did not choose these leaders or their parties find not only that their will is not being communicated, but that it is being thwarted, undermined, or worse, directly opposed. This is how a supposedly democratic process ends up undermining ‘the people’ for very large numbers of voters.

Judging from Mr. Trump’s statements during his bruising election campaign, his administration will work against racial, religious and sexual minorities, coming down hardest on immigrant communities in America. He has nevertheless won the electoral college votes necessary to be named President-elect. But it is the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, who has won the popular vote by well over 2 million votes, and counting. Protests against Mr. Trump have swept across American cities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, Austin, Boston and Miami, with hundreds or sometimes thousands of people asserting that he is “not my President”. The immediate aftermath of his election shows the U.S. to be a country utterly divided, calling into question the foundational “union” implied in its very name.

Mr. Erdogan and his AKP got elected with a decisive mandate of just below 50 per cent of the votes in the Turkish general elections of November 2015. But after the failed coup against him on July 15, 2016, he has come down hard on members of the Gülen Movement (followers of the shadowy cleric Fethullah Gülen) that engineered the coup attempt, and his political opponents loyal to the Kurdish nationalist party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). His government has arrested, jailed and fired tens of thousands of suspected Gülenists and Kurdish sympathisers, picking out individuals from civil society, the army, the judiciary, universities, the press and political outfits. Mr. Erdogan’s purges are pushing what is technically a multi-party democracy towards what looks increasingly like a one-party state.

Democracies everywhere appear to be in danger. Many electoral democracies are becoming outright illiberal; some are deteriorating into forms of competitive authoritarianism.Violence against Muslims, Dalits and tribals, curbs on dissent and criticism, attacks on secularism and tolerance, and a sharp decline in the freedom of the media and academia have become vandalised in the name of a new “nationalism”. Since this summer, Kashmiris have endured the worst crackdowns against civilians and the longest curfews of the past 30 years under the BJP-Peoples Democratic Party coalition government.

The system of representational democracy — whether based on an electoral college or first-past-the-post — is also opaque about why citizens vote for this or that party.

The challenge is not only for citizens to reconcile their own opinions and aspirations with those of their compatriots who have different political preferences. The onus is on the government of the day to acknowledge that just because it won the election does not mean it represents the actual plurality of voters, their views and their interests. The sitting government has to rise above the ideology of its particular party in order to take the totality of the electorate and citizenry along with it.

Progressive, liberal, secular, egalitarian citizens of all three big electoral democracies — India, Turkey and the U.S. — have to find ways to protect the diverse and inclusive character of their nations, to strengthen their constitutional foundations, and keep in check the illiberal, populist strongmen who have ascended to power with mandates that are numerically partial and morally compromised.

To quote President Lincoln, “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Is it really FOR THE PEOPLE?!