11 July 2024

The Republicans are trying to kill the Democrats with the latter’s own swords, and the battle between “liberals” and “conservatives” has been unfolding with one big plot twist after another, just like what’s happening in the Land of Smiles.

The latest unexpected turn of events in America has the conservatives scream “Political persecution!” and the so-called liberals accused of running a “Banana Republic” only known previously to the third world. That irony might be the key difference in the comparison with Thailand.

To cut a long story short, Donald Trump’s criminal conviction is putting the American democracy and rule of law under the microscope.

Donations are pouring in for the Republicans; Trump’s popularity is threatening to go through the roof; and pro-Biden mechanisms are apparently unsure what to do.

Take away the terms “liberals” and “conservatives”, it will be hard to differentiate between Thailand and America.

In both countries, one side is claiming the other is “weaponising” the justice system for political reasons and the perceived victims thrive on groundswells of sympathy.

Similarities also include the issues of LGBTQ, proclaimed “dangers” to the status quo and the fierce competitions to use celebrities and intellectuals to promote or attack causes, and the question of whether it’s actually liberty or anarchy.

In the big picture, what is going on in Thailand and the US shows that politics everywhere is undergoing a major transformation.

If the American model is seen to be failing, democratic formulas anywhere else will have to undergo soul-searching.

Since America is the leader of the “Free World”, the global stake is huge whether Trump wins or not, and whether the eventual outcome of the US presidential race is accepted or not.

The rivalry between Trump and Joe Biden has gone far beyond simple democratic competition because each has demonised the other so much.

It’s politics at its fiercest yet, one the United States has not seen since the Civil War and one that makes coexistence a big ask.

It has come to a point where if half of America is right, the other half must be seriously wrong. When players of democratic politics give voters just one choice _ vote for me or you choose evil _ it stops being democratic.

Like political enemies in Thailand, Americans are getting misled or confused about “democracy”, which has been vastly misinterpreted, used selectively but broadly by the protagonists, and somehow turned into a big cause of national divide.

And just like their Thai counterparts, American friends and relatives have stopped discussing politics, or they will fight.

That is a gigantic shift. Americans used to be familiar with a peaceful and graceful handover of power, a luxury Thais never had. The “maturity” that everything has been based upon stands to be seriously tested, as Thais struggle to reach theirs.

In a way, Thailand is undertaking a more advanced course. The Pheu Thai-conservatives uneasy partnership, with the future of Thaksin Shinawatra thrown in along with the unpredictability of Srettha Thavisin’s premiership and Cabinet, mean things are messier than the American divide.

Simply put, if the United States is becoming a Banana Republic as claimed by many pro-Trump Americans including well-known politician Tulsi Gabbard and famous commentator Tucker Carlson, it’s a fledging Banana Republic and can learn from the pros scattering around the globe.

This is not to say that America is not experiencing a “first” of its own. The Thai politics has not seen accusations that the liberals “weaponised” the justice system, although it can be argued that only those in power can abuse the justice system, and Thailand’s “liberals” have not really had that power yet.

The Republicans are wielding the Trump conviction like a sword. But it’s a sword snatched from the Democrats, who have been telling voters that the man is democracy’s biggest threat.

A Trump landslide is now a possibility. If that really happens, it will be on the back of accusations liberals are not usually associated with, in public eyes at least.

But what could be worse for the American formula is that the two-party system could lose much credibility.

Thailand then can be considered to be luckier, in that it has a multiple-party system, which has greater “flexibility” (that allowed Pheu Thai to join hands with the conservatives and presents more leadership choices).

In fact, the two-party system always faces a bigger danger of sliding into authoritarianism. That is because, in that system, when you call your opponent an evil, you give the public no other choice but yourself.

As things stand, both systems _ two-party and multi-party _ are seeing the ultimate consequences of their shortcomings.

The main difference is that while America’s trouble originated from the fact that it has just two parties competing for power, hence having the tendency to do anything necessary, Thailand’s is more individualised.

It all comes back to the most important question, asked throughout the history of mankind:

Should we set up a system and put people in it, because system can change or control people, or should it be the other way around, because when it comes to good and bad people, system matters less than what they do?

Tulsathit Taptim