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OP-ED: America’s predicament, pre-Fourth of July

  • Published at 08:39 pm July 1st, 2020

It is a crying shame to have philistines strut about in power

Watching Mike Pompeo term John Bolton a traitor was a little unnerving. 

One hardly expects an individual holding as respectable and influential a position as Pompeo does to let off steam in such pedestrian ways. But then, the America we have before us today is a place where almost everybody we know is letting off steam. 

Be it the policeman who has his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, choking the life out of the African-American man; be it the rabid whites who feel little compunction in making their racist attitudes clear in times we had thought would be different.

But, of course, this is the America of Donald Trump, the improbable president the country got four years ago in an election which remains tainted in controversy. 

There are grave reasons to suppose that Hillary Clinton did not lose the race for the White House; and it is not just the fact that she won nearly 3 million more popular votes than her rival. 

Bring Russia into the picture; bring James Comey’s last-minute intrigue into the scene. Something of a composite picture emerges, which speaks to us of a woman from whom the presidency was stolen by means clear for all of us to see. 

And in the White House today we have a man uniquely unqualified to be president, indeed unqualified to hold any position in government. 

That is the American predicament today as Americans prepare for the Fourth of July. 

When Mike Pence sails against the wind and informs people that progress is being made in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, when precisely the opposite is happening in his country, one is left gaping at the absurdity in the man. 

American vice presidents before Pence were certainly expected to support the presidents whom they served, but hardly has there been any vice president noted for the sort of obsequiousness that Pence has been showing before Trump. Even as Trump sits on a chair speaking of things that make little sense, Pence stands behind him in all his abject subservience. And this is a man who is a heartbeat away from the presidency. 

Perhaps Americans will have a chance to restore something of their nation’s dignity if Joe Biden can eject Donald Trump out of office come November. 

Then again, having in recent years observed the manner in which the US Supreme Court stepped in to stop the counting of votes in Florida in late 2000, thereby handing the presidency to George W Bush, one is not so sure America will have its renewal anytime soon. 

Al Gore, going by the arithmetic of 2000, was the man who should have succeeded Bill Clinton. That the secretary of state of Florida, a Bush partisan, and the Supreme Court frustrated the result is a dark chapter in American history.

 It all takes us back to the 1960 election, which many believe was narrowly won by Richard Nixon. But Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s last minute, questionable maneuvering of a clutch of votes put John Kennedy over the top. 

Nixon did not contest the results for, as he said later, he did not wish to set a bad precedent.

The extent to which America has declined in esteem around the world is reflected in a president whose political and personal character remains open to question. 

He has his attorney general operate in the same way Rudy Giuliani operates, as his personal lawyer. 

He badmouths everyone who disagrees with him or is critical of him. 

Never in American history has a president gone after his predecessors, preferring to remain silent even when they have tended to disagree with him. Trump has been an exception to that decent rule, Third World-like in the abuse he showers on Barack Obama. 

His public rallies are demonstrations of mob power. The Trump presidency has spawned a generation of political sycophants, which again is a rarity in US history. Men like Mitch McConnell, Paul Rand, and Tom Cotton have kowtowed before Trump in an unabashed manner. 

For one of those rare times in America, divisive politics has acquired official sanction, to the extent that it has had Republicans and Democrats vote along absolutely partisan lines in Congress. 

When one listens to the Republicans, with such exceptions as Mitt Romney, one notices the contempt for their rivals in their eyes. 

They are people who were happy when Trump raised the birther issue around Obama. They are yet to forgive Obama for the eight years he served as president. 

The old, liberal America we once knew is gone, perhaps for a very long time if not for all time. 

Men like Bolton, who now as a disgruntled former official spews venom against his former boss, are among the people who have done grave damage to their country. 

Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations did everything in his power to undermine the world body. 

And when one comes to Colin Powell, who recently made a public declaration of support for Joe Biden, one cannot but recall the untruths he spewed at the UN Security Council in 2003 about Iraq’s Saddam Hussein about to unleash weapons of mass destruction against his enemies. It was a choreographed lie and, on the basis of the lie, George Bush and Tony Blair destroyed Iraq.

Mike Pompeo has described the International Criminal Court as a kangaroo court. His president, with little understanding of politics and no comprehension of global affairs, has been tearing up international treaties one after another.

The press secretaries who have served Trump in the White House have trumpeted one lie after another before leaving their jobs. 

And the president? He does not read newspapers, has no fascination for books, watches television all day, and spends time tweeting insults at people across the board.

America today does not have a president who is presidential. The White House has been shorn of its dignity. 

In a country where cerebral men like Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama have been presidents, where John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln are representative of history, it is a crying shame to have philistines strut about in the corridors of power in Washington today.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.