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Is Democracy Dying before our Eyes in America?

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Freedom” –Thomas Jefferson “And at the end they go crazy”   –Giambattista Vico

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] J [/yt_dropcap]ohn Adams, the second president of the United States, did a study on the life of Republics from their inception all the way to the 18th century. To his great surprise, he discovered that they all died, sooner or later. In other words, they were mortal. The ones who lasted longer were what he calls “republics of virtue.”

By republic of virtue Adams meant a polity based on the rule of law, concern for the common good of the whole polity, rationality, justice, personal virtues such as courage, honesty, sobriety, wisdom, harmony, enterprise, magnanimity. These were the virtues as enunciated by the ancient Greeks’ ethical treatises, considered essential components of personal as well as collective well-being.

Rome could also function as an example of that stance toward republicanism, at least at the beginning. That may explain why it lasted so long, some 500 years as a Republic based on democratic principles of people’s representation via the Senate. It was built on a solid political foundation.

But as that other great observer of republicanism in Roman history, Giambattista Vico, well observed, it too eventually succumbed to the process of an historical law wherein republican polities begin with a basis in necessity and a need to survive (the poetical era of the gods), continue with a basis in utility based on prosperity (the era of the heroes), and finally, as he puts it, they become corrupt with abundance and luxury and “they go mad” (the era of men) The process of “madness” comes in the third and final cycle. Then the process repeats itself and from extreme rationalism there is a gradual return to the poetical.

That is to say, at the end republics manage to destroy themselves. The destruction happens interiorly, with the corruption of the essential moral core of the republic based on virtue. And this was the second great surprise to Adams: they did not succumb to external invasions by fierce enemies; they committed suicide.

The best example of that sad situation is to be found in Roman history in the reign of Caligula which was the culmination of imperial corruption. Prominent on stage, at that time, there was a deranged emperor sitting on top of a pyramid of power which had lost even the memory of its virtuous republican heritage.

He was a vindictive sort of fellow and thought of himself as a magnificent god before whom his subjects had to kneel in adoration, even when he presented himself naked in every respect, especially the moral sense. Few dared shout that the emperor is naked. In effect, the Romans had become sychophantic narcissistic idolaters worshipping themselves. Caligula was the supreme representation of that narcissistic idolatry. Rome worshipped itself as a goddess. It was nothing less than the beginning of the end.

Enter Thomas Jefferson: he agreed with Adams that virtue was essential but added that it was also important to keep up one’s guard and not sleep on one’s laurels, so to speak, and not take the democratic system, as brilliant as it might be, too much for granted. That too can be corrupted. Hence he coined the famous dictum: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”

When Jefferson counseled “eternal vigilance” he did not mean the installment of a powerful invincible army buttressed by state-of-the-arts weapons that would keep the peace world-wide (the pax Americana, similar to the pax Romana), but the preservation of the virtues on which the republic had been built: its democracy, its checks and balances, its freedom of speech, its Constitutional guarantees, its bill of rights, its freedom of religion. Unless those were preserved, Democracy would eventually turn into a shamble of sorts. Democracy can be powerful in a military sense, but to remain a democracy, its foundations cannot be based on sheer power, in a Machiavellian mode, so familiar to European nationalism, but on virtue as the Greeks and early Romans understood it.

Let’s now briefly look at the present situation. The parallels between Trump and Caligula are uncanny. Undoubtedly we still have all the trappings of democracy in America: three branches of government, elections, congress, executive, judicial, constitutional guarantees of human and political rights, free unfettered debates.

All this in theory. In practice we have an electorate of which 50% and more does not bother to vote; of the other 50% approximately 25% have opted to vote for a madman who has somehow managed to become a president by the subversion of democracy even if never won the popular vote (which he lost by 3 million votes). He won mostly by electoral college count and, most importantly, by harnessing the help of an undemocratic foreign power run by authoritarian oligarchs, Putin at the forefront. That remains to be investigated.

To be perfectly truthful and frank, the whole process was rigged and fraudulent. Had Congress insisted on the revelation of Trump’s tax returns, as all other modern presidents had done, his financial connections with Russia, going back 30 years, would have come to the surface and would have revealed malfeasance and corruption. He has no intention of doing so, and the Republican controlled Congress has no intention, so far, to demand the disclosure; which in effect means that they are in on the malfeasance.

This illegitimate president reigning like Caligula and demanding constant adulation, has so far fooled some 40% of the electorate by making it look like populism: he feigns to be for the people and by the people. In reality he has surrounded himself with “fat cats” who are beginning to show their bias for tax cuts for the rich and diminishment of social benefits for the poor and middle class, not excluding their health insurance. This is in process as we speak.

Behind the scene, pulling the strings, there is his strategist Steve Bannon, who is in possessions an historical theory of clash of civilizations and white supremacy. His allies are those who believe that there is an alternate government at work (consisting mostly of Intelligence agencies) which they call “deep alternate government.”

It stand to reason that the enemy would be perceived to be intelligence agencies, globalization in any shape or form, the liberal media, and, by default, genuine democracy itself. And that is exactly what we have been witnessing for the last few weeks. Few pundits and media experts have shouted “the Emperor is naked.”

The allies, on the other hand, are perceived to be “white supremacist” authoritarian fascist-leaning nations like Russia or Hungary who have little use for democracy and social justice. It’s all “grab what you can” for yourself, at the personal and collective level and to hell with democracy.

We have now reached the sorry stage when some 30% of Americans have more sympathy for Russia than for our traditional allies in the European Union. The same people continue deluding themselves that they live in a thriving democracy. I suppose derangement is like a disease: it spreads exponentially.

So the urgent question resurfaces: are we witnessing the beginning of the end of American and Western democracy as we know it? Will Jefferson’s dictum come back to haunt us when America and the EU will have destroyed themselves by destroying their own principles and ideals? Indeed, Jefferson had in on target: “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”

Let me end with a modest proposal. The Romans had in place a system of emergency in case of a political disaster. It was the equivalent of desperate measures to confront desperate situations, like a Hannibal, for example. We should install such a measure, democratically installed and approved, of course: when the republic is in mortal danger, and it is discovered that a national election was rigged and fraudulent, it should be declare null and void and the citizens be invited to return to the urns and vote again, this time in a legal and fair mode. Any takers? Let those who have ears, let them hear.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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