Murari Sharma: Politics of Personal Destruction

Horrible examples spread faster than decent lessons. Politics of personal destruction in democratic countries is a terrible development that is gaining currency now. Politicians, especially those who have no vision, will keep this nihilist politics alive and thriving.

In 1992, then US President Bill Clinton had said, “The American people are tired of politics of personal destruction.” Apparently, it was a wishful thinking of an embattled president, not a statement of fact. Contrary to Clinton’s assertion, such politics has continued to grow in the United States.

The politics of personal destruction — destroying your opponent physically and morally — has been the favored strategy of dictators throughout history to gain and retain power. In democracies, such politics, though existent, had been rarely used in the old days. In the United States, the Federalists, particularly John Quincy Adams, who later became the US president, were blamed for engaging in such politics in 1808.  Ever since, In the US, Republicans, more than Democrats, have used the weapon of personal destruction successfully to destroy their opponents.

The term was first used in 1808 in the United States. The Federalists, particularly John Quincy Adams, who later became the US president, were blamed for engaging in such politics. But it was not widely used until the rise of Newt Gingrich in the United States.

 

Gingrich, the Republican US Speaker from 1995-99, had then said, “We the Republicans are not going to be able to take over unless we demonize the Democrats.” He used this strategy to win a majority for the Republicans in the House of Representatives, minimize President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and stifle his policies.

Ever since the strategy has become the principal vehicle for the Republicans to win political offices. It reached an unprecedented height in the 2016 presidential and Congressional election. In the presidential elections, Donald Trump, a Republican, defeated his opponent Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, with this nihilist strategy. He constantly called her “Corrupt Hillary,” chanted “Lock her up,” and promised to throw her into jail if he got elected.

He had no vision, policy or plan to Make America Great Again, his election slogan. On security matters, he said he had a plan to defeat the Islamic State but did not want to show his hand to the enemy. He said he had an economic plan but never presented it to the American people. He said he would repeal and replace the Obamacare with his best and beautiful plan without ever outlining what the plan was.

As it became clear after his election, he had none of those. No strategy to defeat the Islamic State. No economic policy other than cutting taxes for the wealthy. No alternative to the Obamacare. The Trump administration and Congress are now muddling through those areas.

Most Republican senators and virtually all Republican candidates for the House of Representatives applied this strategy. They endlessly vilified President Obama and his signature Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) without offering an alternative. They minimized the robust job growth under Obama and promised to cut taxes for the wealthy to boost growth, which has failed repeatedly to deliver growth. They castigated Obama for his foreign policy without offering anything credible.

Only last week, Karen Handel, the Republican candidate for the House seat in Georgia,  used the politics of personal destruction to defeat her opponent,  Johan Ossoff, a Democrat. Ossoff’s high-road politics did not win.

The Democrats, who often prefer to run on policy, too have used the politics of personal destruction, though to a lesser extent.  Outside the United States, the Conservatives in the United Kingdom used it successfully in the last two elections.

In 2015, in my view, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron secured a majority in the parliament by demonizing his Labor rival Ed Miliband, rather than convincing the voters on his policies and programs. The conservative media went to the extent of ridiculing Miliband even for eating a bacon sandwich.

In June 2017, Cameron’s successor, Teresa May, a Conservative, demonized her Labor rival Jeremy Corbyn and other party leaders as the coalition of chaos in trying to prove that she was stronger and steadier. Though her party lost the majority by a small margin, she did manage to make her party the largest in the house and retain her premiership.

I do not agree with all the policies and programs presented by Labor leaders Miliband and Corbyn. But I appreciate that they tried to conduct their campaigns on policy and avoided the politics of personal destruction.

Why have the Conservative political parties, more than their liberal rivals, resorted to the politics of personal destruction so heavily and frequently? I have a quick and dirty answer to the question. It works for them at a time their other electoral planks have lost effectiveness. The main elections planks of Conservatives used to be God, religion, nationalism, small government, and tax cuts. But these electoral planks have lost their effectiveness or credibility over time.

The Conservatives’ main electoral planks used to be God, religion, nationalism, small government, and tax cuts. But they have lost their effectiveness or credibility over time. God and religion have lost much of their hold on voters. Conservatives themselves have flouted their commitment to small government whenever they came to power. Tax cuts have made rich richer but failed to boost growth. Remember the Kansas supply-side experiment?

That leaves only nationalism, which by itself is not enough to have an upper hand in the globalized world. So they have combined nationalism with the politics of personal destruction, which works for the Conservatives.

It is not all gloom and doom, though. For instance, Marine Le Pen of the National Front, who took a page from Donald Trump and David Cameron, did not win the French presidency. Emmanuel Macron — a pro-Europe, centrist political neophyte — did, renewing the faith of those like me who believe in democratic politics based on competing visions and policies.

But as the bad money drives out the good money, bad politics drives out good politics. I am afraid the politics of personal destruction might spread quickly in the rest of the world and make the entire planet worse off. I hope the politicians resorting to the nihilist strategy abandon it before the policy-based democratic politics dies a slow death.

 

 

Advertisements

Murari Sharma: A momentous week with serious implications

The last week was one of the most momentous ones with terrible consequences for the world.

US President Donald Trump withdrew America from the landmark Paris climate change accord, undermining the global efforts to protect the environment. With this, America has become the third country in the world, together with Syria and Nicaragua,  to stay out of the agreement.

The former US Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey pushed the US President Trump a few steps closer to impeachment. Comey told a Senate hearing how the president sought to stop the FBI investigation into Russia’s role in influencing the American presidential elections in 2016. Though Trump might not be impeached by the Congress controlled by his party, for now, what will happen after the midterm elections in 2018?

British Prime Minister Theresa May lost her majority in the parliament in the snap election. She ran on despair and lost her slim majority in the dissolved parliament. Though her party is still the largest, she will be considerably weakened both at home and at the Brexit negotiations.

China seems to have decided to set up its military base in Pakistan, cementing its economic and strategic surge. It is an integral part of the Chinese ambition to become a strategic force in West Asia and Africa.

Several Arab countries spearheaded by Saudi Arabia imposed an embargo on Qatar, which was blamed for supporting Sunni Islamist terrorists in the Arab world.

Terrorists killed 12 people in Iran and 7 in the United Kingdom, the one in the UK was second such attack in as many weeks.

Back in Nepal, several important developments took place. Sher Bahadur Deuba replaced Pushpa Kamal Dahal as prime minister under an understanding between the two leaders. The ruling coalition withdrew the impeachment motion it had filed against now the former Chief Justice Sushila Karki. And the second round of local elections was postponed to 28 June 2017 to accommodate the Madheshi parties.

These are only a few representative examples. But the message is the world is in turmoil. What does it all mean for the world and Nepal?

Let us start with the world. The US withdrawal from the Paris accord has set back the potential progress in taming climate change and environmental degradation by decades. It means some island countries will move a few steps closer to extinction and many coastal countries will see their coastal areas under water.

The political turmoil under a bully authoritarian president will weaken democratic institutions in the United States and other countries. It will also weaken the US economy and the global economy.

China’s plan to establish its military base in Pakistan will further destabilize the already unstable South Asia. Besides, it will embolden Beijing to assert itself more vigorously in the South China Sea, where it has claimed a large ocean territory, and lead to a major conflict there.

Ganging up by several neighbors on Qatar has destabilized West Asia further,  already the most volatile region in the world. While Qatar’s support for terrorists must not be denounced, this norm must also apply to other backers of terrorism, including those that have pulled out the dagger against Qatar. There are no good or bad terrorists.

Once again, terrorism is raising its head. After the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soared the tempers to the stratosphere had somewhat subsided, global terrorism also had somewhat receded. But the Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have pushed it to a new height.

That brings me to Nepal which has been, and will be, bearing the impact all these global developments as well as its own internal turn of events.

For instance, the impact of climate change is real for Nepal. The Himalayas have lost their snow cover. Glacial lakes have been filling up fast, threatening to burst, which will wipe out millions of people and animal and inundate the downstream fertile land. Several species of flora and fauna have become extinct or near extinct.

Any increase in tension in South Asia will directly affect Nepal. Sandwiched between China and India, the country is already suffering from its neighbor’s conflicting ambitions. Instability in the US will embolden either one or both of our neighbors to do foment the tension which they would otherwise avoid.

The turmoil in West Asia will affect Nepal seriously. It has frightened more than 2 million Nepali people working in the region, particularly the Gulf countries. It might also adversely affect the supply of petroleum products in Nepal, making life hard and holding development activities back.

Terrorism remains a scourge for Nepal. Some Maoist groups have continuously resorted to terrorism as their favored weapon to frighten people and to bend the government to their wishes. Similarly, some Madheshi groups have also taken to terrorism to have their way, as the Maoist had in the wake of their armed insurgency, 1996-2006.

True, the change of the prime minister might not mean much if the policy stays the course, but one must wonder about the new prime minister and the timing. Every time Sher Bahadur Deuba has taken the helm, the country has suffered a major political disaster.

The first time, the Maoist started their armed insurgency, in 1996. The second time, Deuba irrigated the culture of corruption in the political class by buying and selling members of parliament, offering expensive vehicles and other facilities. More seriously, he handed democracy to King Gyanendra’s palace on a gold plate to remain in power just for a few months, in 2001-02.

The third time, Deuba proved unable to prevent King Gyanendra from dismissing him and assuming direct power, in 2005.

Besides, the timing of the change is not propitious either. Half of the country has had local elections under the previous prime minister while the remaining local elections, as well provincial and federal elections, need to take place under Deuba in next seven months. Given Deuba’s tainted past, one cannot be sure whether he will take the country over a political precipice, as several commentators have feared.

The most troubling for Nepal was the impeachment motion moved by the ruling parties against the just-retired Chief Justice Sushila Karki for the Supreme Court’s decision against the government. The motion has frightened judges to dispense justice without fear or favor, which is a recipe for destroying democracy. The Madheshi parties’ fear to join the local elections could have long-term consequences for the country’s integrity.

Vladimir Lenin says, “There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience.” You do not have to agree with his ideology to appreciate the truth contained in Lenin’s quote. Let us hope that our politicians do not give us in the future such terrible weeks as the last one.