Outbreak, Trump and Chauvin just tip of US iceberg
Some CNN commentators gritted their teeth amid Donald Trump’s shocking election victory nearly four years ago, and, in a broadcast seen globally, apparently tried to console themselves by saying that the American political system remained the best there was in the whole world.
Nowadays, to interpret CNN’s own words, they were probably wrong.
Anti-Trump panelists in that 2016 CNN telecast must be watching anxiously as embattled Trump is lurching from a surefire re-election flop to the possibility of another unlikely triumph. A lot will depend on the economy, who wins the blame game, and what is supposed to be a strictly-humanitarian matter of who finds the COVID-19 vaccine first.
A totally bitter CNN analysis/commentary was written a few days ago to decry the fact that a president elected through “the best system there is” appeared to be “using his office to indulge his own need for attention and is exclusively talking to the sizable minority that supports him no matter what.” America, CNN said, has become badly divided largely because of that, and the pandemic, a generational crisis and potentially the biggest challenge the nation has ever faced, “has clearly not drawn the country together.”
A punchline is this: “And there is still no clear path out of the darkness.”
In fact, several other CNN analyses/commentaries have carried the same tones lately. The news outlet has not been Trump’s best friend since Day One, but the way he has been handling COVID-19 and unlikely but possible chances of him winning re-election have amplified the network’s campaign against the president.
And all that was before Derek Chauvin choked George Floyd to death, sparking fiery protests which started last week in Minneapolis and spread quickly through the United States, the ugly racial violence that underlines many pressing issues threatening the social and political fabric of the American society.
What has gone wrong in a country proclaimed as having the best political system in the world?
For starters, the system promotes divisiveness, which is all right when things are relatively all right. At the moment of truth, divisive politics can make the situation a lot worse.
And why does the American system promote divisiveness? It’s because it advocates the “Winner takes all” concept. Winners are not supposed to take all in politics. It is as simple as that.
In tennis, badminton or volleyball, they call it a “tiebreaker”. In football, it’s a “penalty shootout”. The system of deciding who lifts the trophy is essential because in sports people naturally want to settle the question of who are “the best”. The situation is quite different in politics, but whoever founded the American political system thought it should be the same as in sports.
America sold this concept to the rest of the world, sometimes forcefully. Truth is that democratic politics, anywhere on earth, should be about choosing and having the best to work for the people in the long run, meaning elements of luck must be minimized, if not eradicated entirely. It is acceptable if which side the tennis ball falls after hitting the top of the net decides the winner, but CNN should decide whether it is also acceptable if a few votes are the difference between Donald Trump and “more qualified” handlers of COVID-19.
If CNN accepts that the winner should take all no matter what and even the slightest margin of votes can mean four more years of Donald Trump, it should move on and stop complaining about Trump, because he is the rule, not exception. If CNN no longer accepts this status quo, the network faces a soul-searching question of what it can and should do about it.
Democracy advocates always say “People have spoken”, and that we should respect it. But what do they make of, say, the Thai general election results? One party won a higher number of parliamentary seats than its closest competitor, which in turn won the highest number of nationwide votes.
The “Winner takes all” concept rules out the chances of the two parties working together. Democracy is good, but the concept that is an integral part of it has morphed into something bad and spread something worse.
The second of what went wrong was the apparent hypocrisy on a grand scale. It’s not something like a teacher who smokes reprimanding students who do the same. The American hypocrisy is about helping a corrupt ruler in one country but undermining a decent one in another; about its media “exposing” something following the “slightest” doubt but leaving key doubts to continue to be the elephant in the room; about “rights organizations” it founded or supports turning a blind eye on matters that would discredit Washington; and about applying a different light if, for example, police in another country choked an unarmed citizen to death.
The third is obsession with China. Former US president Jimmy Carter over a year ago bemoaned the political system in his country as too much outwardly and militarily obsessive. Many innovations, efforts and much time were geared toward political dominance beyond the frontiers.
Whereas the United States preoccupies itself with “warlike” issues, China has built fast trains, created skyscrapers in record times, teleported certain elements to the outer space, advanced cloning technologies and done well in global trades, all the while enduring loud diplomatic noises from Washington over the South China Sea, Hong Kong and Huawei.
The fixation feeds on itself and has resulted in a major mess. Trump has demonized China and CNN and CNN has demonized both Trump and China. Who should the American public trust when they disagree? What issue should we trust whom with? What Trump’s statements are true and what CNN’s statements are false? Worse still, if CNN and Trump speak in once voice, are they really trustworthy?
As pain and anger spread across America over the killing of a black man, George Floyd, who was unarmed, handcuffed and subdued following his arrest related to reported use of counterfeit money, Trump went on stage to announce tough trade and diplomatic measures against China while he should have done something else to correct the renewed racial trouble. He did do something about the domestic tension but his tweet that rioting might be suppressed with shooting inflamed anger rather than cooled it down.
The fourth of what went wrong is the belief that America is entitled to extra excuses. Imagine a law enforcement officer choking an unarmed, handcuffed man, killing him in the process, in another country. Imagine a foreign nation waterboarding a suspect. Imagine a “dictatorial” leader threatening publicly to shoot rioters or asking the military to get tough amid street protests. Those incidents would be inexcusable.
That America has been literally off the hook for those kinds of incidents gradually but surely sowed questionable moral seeds everywhere and in politics in particular.
All of what went wrong feeds on itself. The divisive politics increases the need to win at all costs, encourage cover-ups, and weakening political morality and integrity in the process. The hypocrisy has led to action, policies and measures that call for greater hypocrisy domestically and globally. The hegemony is, as a Thai saying goes, “a ride on a tiger’s back”, requiring the rider to keep on going, and he needs constant hypocrisy and a large amount of human and financial resources for the military to do so. The relationship with China has been under great influences of divisive politics, and that has greatly complicated the American ties with the World Health Organization at a very bad time.
And all of it explains Derek Chauvin, Donald Trump and Washington-initiated schoolboy diplomacy in which top American politicians said the Hong Kong protests were a “beautiful sight to behold”, prompting China to ask “What about Minneapolis?”
Laughable elements aside, international political watchers are fearing the worst, a world rocked by a major trade war, or returning to a Cold War, or facing realistic threat of a real war.
Trust, something China is trying to build and the United States is struggling to keep, is at issue here. Both countries are at crossroads. They can choose to play new politics the same old ways, or they can choose to review what they have done and try to determine if they are winning it or losing it properly.
As for America, the crossroads is ultimately crucial because, if CNN and the likes ponder the entire situation really deeply, Donald Trump and Derek Chauvin may be just the tip of the iceberg.
By Tulsathit Taptim