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The “Common Man” – R.I.P.

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]merica’s Common Man exists no more – gone and forgotten. Once he was lauded as the salt of the earth – our country’s embodiment of what made us special, of what made the great democratic experiment successful, of what made of the United States the magnetic pole for the world’s masses.

Politicians paid their rhetorical respects, poets exalted him in paeans of praise, Aaron Copeland composed an “Fanfare to the Common Man” suite. It was an honorable term, an affective shorthand for the Working Man, the Artisan and the Shopkeeper, the clerk. All now passed from our language and from our consciousness. Instead, we are offered the “hard working middle class people who pay their taxes, obey the law and worry about their children’s future.” The linguistic dross of the hackneyed stump speech.

Loss of the Common Man is not due to progressive economic realities and a naturally evolving political culture. More educated Americans are caught in the grip of long-term stagnation than ever before, they have less likelihood of social mobility than ever before, more have every reasonable expectation that their children will be worse off than they are, more are politically marginalized by a party system that serves up a restricted menu of options which effectively disenfranchises 25% or so of voters. The Common Man has lost the attention as well as the concern of the country’s elites. He has been marginalized in every respect but one – he is sovereign audience for a pop culture that provides a heady brew of distractions. In that realm of fantasy he reigns supreme while the serious action which shapes his life takes place elsewhere.

Today, to call a person common is an insult, just as we have degraded the term working class. The connotations are heavily pejorative –they’re failures, they’re losers, they had the American Dream within reach but lacked the will and the spirit to grab it. It is natural, and just, that they should live out their lives on scant rations. It’s their own fault. This Victorian ethic grounded in Social Darwinism has now been restored as part of the national creed. Fitted out in the post-modern fancy dress of market fundamentalist economics, Ayn Randish homilies of narcissistic ego-mania, and a parade of revivalist Christian sects that mix New Age Salvation with balm for anxious egos, this beggar-thy-neighbor ideology dominates our public discourse. It has put on the back foot those who still adhere to the enlightened humanism which propelled progressive thinking and policy for a century.

All this is no accident. Powerful interests have orchestrated a relentless campaign for more than forty years to reconfigure American life in accord with their reactionary aims and principles. This is now obvious to anyone who cares to look. The key questions are: why have so few cared to look, and why the ease with which the crusade has won converts, fellow travelers and the acquiescence of the country’s elites.

The distressing truth of our times is that the Common Man has been abandoned by those elites – in politics, in government, in journalism, in professional associations, in academia. The most cursory monitoring of what they do and say – and, equally, what they don’t do and say – makes that manifestly clear. Personal acquaintance with those elites confirms it. It is a fair generalization that they care little, are preoccupied with their own careers and pastimes, possess only a feeble sense of social obligation, and are smugly complacent. Money is the common denominator in all of this. But why? These are the people whose material well-being is best protected from the vagaries of a globalized economy, from the predations of big finance and big business. Yes, it is true that they are concerned about preserving their fine houses, sending their children to the top schools, having substantial nest eggs, and enjoying generous health care. Yes, avarice and moral courage are not compatible human traits. However, none of their comforts is threatened by public policies that conform to the New Deal consensus which most of them at one time shared (or their parents shared). In objective terms, the greatest potential threat to their well-being lurks in the plutocratic structures that control our public affairs, the effects of gross and growing income mal-distribution, and the lurch toward mindless Rightest nostrums by both parties.

We should look elsewhere to explain the wholesale flight from responsibility by America’s elites. Social anthropology offers more insight than does a crude political-economic calculus. At the heart of the matter is status anxiety. All layers of society struggle with status deprivation or status insecurity. It is most acute among those whose education and ambition have made them ultra-sensitive to insignia of rank and marks of achievement. They can’t live happily without tangible signs of their having a place that honors their efforts and satisfies their pride. Money is that tangible sign. It always has been in America where inherited class position never was wholly secure and easily uprooted by the winds of a constant social shuffling. Americans always have been consumed by an endless, open ended status competition. That generates anxiety since there is never enough positive status to go around. Status is a finite commodity as most are destined to find out to their surprise and frustration. Nowadays, people who see themselves as uncommon winners can’t be bothered by the plight of the Common Man.

What has changed to make contemporary American so anxiously self-absorbed when placed in historical context? Above all, there is the deepening of our narcissistic culture. We are now a society where growing numbers recognize no external communal standard to measure and appraise their conduct – or their worth. The collective superego is shriveled. The self is the only valid pole of reference. That self directs its attention with near exclusivity to its own wants and expectations. It is almost as if the new categorical imperative is to think of oneself alone whenever and wherever possible. To give priority to any other claim on us is taken as unnatural, i.e. something that has to be justified rather than instinctive or ingrained. The Godfather’s self-serving plaint that “I did it for my family” is widely adopted as the all purpose excuse for selfish acts of malfeasance or non-commission which, in an earlier time, would be felt by many to be irresponsible – if not downright shameless. The axial precept “Let humanity be the ultimate measure of all that we do” was the gyroscope for the enlightened social humanism fostered during the second half of the twentieth century. It no longer balances and orients us.

Why then not betray a public trust when doing so (seemingly) advances my political ambitions? Why level with a distressed populace when “America is back!’ strikes such a sonorous upbeat note? Why not defer to the latest doomed escalation abroad dear to an incoming President when skepticism endangers funding, access and visibility? Why not avoid critical columns that expose a naked untruth when the entire political class in going along with the convenient myth that Social Security is part of the Treasury’s budget and a cause of the deficit? Why not trade in my senior government post for a lavish corporate life style since notions of the collective good and of the public trust are subversive of the individual enterprise that makes this country great?; besides, there’s my family’s financial security to think about. Why irritate campaign contributors when pulling your punches supposedly means that your well intentioned self can be kept in office for another 6 or 2 years? Why not conceal from readers the knowledge of systematic civil liberties violations when not printing the truth may give you access to other truths more fit to print? Why call attention to yourself by teaching the untutored and uninformed of how twisted their nation’s public discourse has become? Why not be accomplice to torture when doing so opens a spot at the Pentagon trough for the American Psychological Association? Why not hide your head in the sand to avoid the discomfort of resisting the assault on the law if you are an officer of a Bar Association? Why should a law school Dean or senior faculty stick his neck out when the Koch Bros are offering lush funding to establish Law & Economics programs that just happen to promote market fundamentalist principles?

These are the persons who will stand up front before the bar of History – because they knew better, should have known better, were expected to know better.

Why deny yourself 3 hours of golf on 333 occasions while President even if there are serious, unresolved issues requiring your attention and reflection?

If I have good reason to sublimate all this, why have I a duty to the Common Man – the ordinary citizen? My status, my rank, do not depend on it. My financial well-being does not dictate it. To pose the question this way is to anticipate the convenient answer.

We know one thing for certain: When the “common man” dies, the America that the world marveled at for 250 years dies with him

Americas

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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Americas

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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Americas

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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