In New Zealand we have experienced two big political events. Firstly, our Central Government was elected by the voters…then we had the American election.
Politics is seen by many in the community as something they would rather ignore until the event, and get on with their lives. We have to challenge that approach. As Sam Johnson said last week, politics needs to come from the bottom up. That means constant involvement by as many of us as is possible.
Those who say that people are engaged right now have obviously not looked hard enough at what is happening at every level of Government, Local and Central. Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of America. once said “the price of democracy is eternal vigilance”. He was so correct. Just this week we have been subjected to a local political group at a Community Board in this City behaving badly in our own City. We will be vigilant those of you playing games. More about this further down this email.
This week I am focusing mostly on what is happening in USA. A commentator there, Giacomo Lichtner, wrote this about democracy this week. It is interesting to read his interpretation of democracy that he wrote about; and the many ways it is exercised, by us all, every day:
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was inspired in quoting the late civil rights campaigner and Congressman John Lewis: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act.” This ‘act’ of democracy is more than the vote, though: it is exercised every time one seeks reliable information; it is renewed every time one chooses civic responsibility over personal gain and respectful scepticism over self-centred cynicism; it is inscribed in commitment and engagement and critical thinking.
Also, this week I read an article by a writer by the wonderful name of Fintan O’Toole, who investigated the base of the Trump appeal, bearing in mind that 70 million people voted for him:
Its core appeal is necromantic. It promised to make a buried world rise again: coal mines would reopen in West Virginia; lost car plants would return to Detroit. Good, secure, unionized muscle jobs would come back. The unquestionable privilege of being white and male and native would be restored. Trump did not manage to do any of this, of course. But, in a sense, that very failure keeps the promise pure, unadulterated by the complexities of reality. We have seen in Trump’s triumph in Ohio and very strong performance in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that it still has great purchase on the imagination of millions.
In other words, the Republican Party endorsed the myth that Trump would be the new saviour, who would recreate what existed in the past. Then USA had a combination of a political party which has sold its soul to the devil and how has as its base the clambering for power rather than ideas. They willingly endorsed a person with few admirable values as the front person. That’s the Republican Party in USA. Below there is a superb article by Peter Moses about how the country of his birth experienced a similar event, and who was really behind the political figure. The same forces were in place in USA, and probably here as well. Peter makes his point much better than I could.
Then Fintan O’Toole went on:
But the Trump presidency has been no nightmare. It has been daylight delinquency, its transgressions of democratic values on lurid display in all their corruption and cruelty and deadly incompetence. There may be much we do not yet know, but what is known (and in most cases openly flaunted) is more than enough: the Mueller report, the Ukraine scandal, the flagrant self-dealing, the tax evasion, the children stolen from their parents, the encouragement of neo-Nazis, Trump’s admission that he deliberately played down the seriousness of the coronavirus. There can be no awakening because the Republicans did not sleep through all of this. They saw it all and let it happen. In electoral terms, moreover, it turns out that they were broadly right. There was no revulsion among the party base. The faithful not only witnessed his behaviour, they heard Trump say, repeatedly, that he would not accept the result of the vote. They embraced that authoritarianism with renewed enthusiasm. The assault on democracy now has a genuine, highly engaged, democratic movement behind it.
And he then finished by saying:
Trump, the purest of political opportunists, driven only by his own instincts and interests, has entrenched an anti-democratic culture that, unless it is uprooted, will thrive in the long term. It is there in his court appointments, in his creation of a solid minority of at least 45 percent animated by resentment and revenge, but above all in his unabashed demonstration of the relatively unbounded possibilities of an American autocracy. As a devout Catholic, Joe Biden believes in the afterlife. But he needs to confront an afterlife that is not in the next world but in this one—the long posterity of Donald Trump.
So far, I have only produced the opinions of commentators. What about a Republican activists’ thoughts? I have written many times about my admiration for old fashioned conservatives. The Republican Party must have heaps of them. Why have they been largely silent? Have party machines become completely self-serving? I think they have in New Zealand, and I guess that would be the situation in most countries.
Here’s part of an article in the Washington Post this past week by a Republican activist:
A group that was once seen as censorious became the least strict chaperone at Trump’s bacchanal. Under the president’s influence, White evangelicals went from the group most likely to believe personal morality matters in a politician to the group that is least likely. “We’re not electing a pastor in chief,” explained Jerry Falwell Jr., the former president of Liberty University. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, argued that “outward policies” should matter more than “personal piety.” Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition made his case for Trump’s re-election based on conservative deliverables. “There has never been anyone,” Reed said, “who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump.”
This is politics at its most transactional. Trump was being hired by evangelicals to do a job — to defend their institutions, implement pro-life policies and appoint conservative judges. The character of the president was irrelevant so long as he kept his part of the bargain. Which Trump largely did.
But now we know what a president without character looks like in the midst of a governing crisis. We see a dishonest president, spinning lie after lie about the electoral system. A selfish president, incapable of preferring any duty above his own narrow interests. A reckless president, undermining the transition between administrations and exposing the country to risk. A vain president, unable to responsibly process an electoral loss. A corrupt president, willing to abuse federal power to serve his own ends. A spiteful president, taking revenge against officials who have resisted him. A faithless president, indifferent to constitutional principles and his oath of office.
I have always been puzzled how any Christian could be attracted to Trump. He’s about as far away from Christ’s teachings, and the lessons of the Gospels, as you can get. However, I believe Catholics flooded to him because he said he was anti-abortion. I can’t get my head around that. One issue caused people to vote for him. I thought that the house of morality and ethics had many rooms. I personally found the arguments of the fundamental Christians arguments to endorse Trump about as hollow as I’ve ever heard. He was about power. They were demonstrating how far blind naivety can take people.
The Republican activist concluded with:
Two lessons can be drawn from the Republican failure of moral judgment. First, democracy is an inherently moral enterprise. Yes, politics has a transactional element. But those transactions take place within a system of rules that depend on voluntary obedience. Our electoral system and our presidential transition process have flaws and holes that an unprincipled leader can exploit. Which is a good reason to prefer principled leaders.
To this quote I say hear, hear. Politics is about ideas. It’s about ethical leadership. it’s not only about power. Unfortunately, power is too often the driving force which attracts many mediocre people to become involved throughout the world. It’s too often the resting place for game players and narcissists. When an American judge asked this week when presented with another weak case by one or Trump’s lawyers
“At what point does this get to the ridiculous?” Judge Andrew P. Gordon asked.
He was saying that it was about power not testing through the Courts whether or not the system was honest and being administered ethically.
In American fear drove people in the media from calling the election. Millions of people are completely polarised. “Count each vote” rang out in the streets. Others chanted the reverse. The country is completely divided. Families and friends of divided. It is scary what can happen. It could happen here if we do not remain vigilant.
The Tuesday Club remains a chance for a small group of us to think locally. To play with political ideas. To help good ideas flourish, and to drown silly ones. We live in a really amazing country. We are privileged to live in a great part of this country. We must keep looking hard at ideas and thrashing them about. We must support good people in political office and call out those who are being dishonest, or disingenuous in their motivation.
What is happening in USA is our warning. It is also our opportunity to learn and grow and treat our place in the world as special, and with which we are actively engaged.