AS THE ancient Chinese liked to say, we are living in interesting times.
For the first time in our lifetimes, we are witnessing a once-in-a-century phenomenon in this coronavirus pandemic, something the world has not seen since the end of the first world war. And for those of us who grew up looking to America as the paragon of civility and democratic values, we are witnessing an unprecedented spectacle of indescribably comical proportions, the likes of which will make the citizens of the most banana of republics cringe with shame.
Yes, it is that bad.
So bad that jokes are now circulating of Britain wanting to “repossess” their former colony for behavior unbecoming of a free and independent republic. And in this most tragic of tragedies, there can be no one else to blame but the American people.
I know, most Americans will resent the accusation. After all, their current leader was not elected by a majority of their people. And therein lies the rub. Because in the United States today, so much of the rules that apply, ought not to anymore. For a nation that likes to bask in its modernity, so much of what makes this country run are relics of a bygone era, appropriate at a time when the Minutemen were still fighting the Redcoats, but woefully wanting in a modern society fighting an invisible enemy like Covid-19.
Think about the odd situation, for example, that a president not elected by a majority of the people (notwithstanding his utterly false claim to the contrary) could manage to assume power. Because the United States was born out of the union of independent states that voluntarily came together to form a republic, one of the oddities of American democracy is that some states (through the electoral college system) could have a far greater influence on the outcome of elections in proportion to their populations. This results in the possibility—unheard in most representative democracies—that someone who receives a minority of the popular vote, could still secure a majority of electoral college votes and become president. It happened with George W. Bush, and has happened again with the incumbent president. Strange as it may seem, a leader elected by a minority of the American people, once again sits as their leader.
It’s bad enough when the leader resembles a decent and civilized human being. It is a total disaster when the person elected is a totally unlikeable character, who appeals only to the minority who elected him to office. You then have a majority seething with rage at a president they resent, and a minority resenting the fact that the majority are seething with rage at a president they elected.
Leading with a minority government is a delicate balancing act, difficult to pull off for even the most diplomatic of characters. Most leaders automatically assume that they are leading their entire nation, and not only the people who elected them into office. They therefore seek to win over the naysayers, in order to unite rather than divide their countries.
Not this current US president.
Unabashedly pandering only to the minority who voted him into power, whatever else the majority think are simply ignored. Full steam ahead, the union be damned.
The result is a disunity the likes of which has never been seen in America since the Civil War. It’s a conflict that is tearing the fabric of the nation, dividing opinion so profoundly, and exposing divisions so deep that it may take a long time to repair, if at all. Which is tragic, to say the least.
The United States has always been the moral compass for the world. It led more by the power of its example, and less by the example of its power. Like a good older sibling to unruly children, everyone else fell into line and imitated its good behavior.
Today, the US is like a dysfunctional, drug-addicted brother. Its leader is behaving more like a truant, and less like a model child. And unless the nation gets its act together soon, the rest of the world may just end up looking for another country to emulate, for which there is no shortage of interested applicants.