Get off your high horse, America, we do not need a ride

opinion June 26, 2014 00:00

By Pornpimol Kanchanalak

5,507 Viewed

The Thais collectively have made a mess of their political system." The patronising words, with a typically blinkered anti-coup undertone, come from an American academician. Like him, his government has since May 22 been preaching down to Thailand, the co

For a nation whose legislative branch last month received a lowly 7 per cent approval rating, the lowest in Gallup Poll history, from a public disillusioned and dissatisfied with its political paralysis and ultra-partisan politics, the term “political mess” is surely a better applied as a self-depiction.

According to the same poll but in the opposite direction, the American military is enjoying a high public confidence rating of 74 per cent.

Political mudslinging was described by Libby Copeland of the Washington Post in 2008 as a “messy American tradition”. But it was nothing new. Winston Churchill had, long before, referred to the American system of democracy as “messy”.

The term “dirt diggers” has found its way into the American political lexicon.  These diggers have also found their way into prestigious Congressional offices as well as the White House. The increasingly obscene infusion of finances into elections, both local and national, exemplifies the darker side of American democracy – the money politics.

How bad has it got?  So bad that there was a Congressman who stored banknotes wrapped in aluminium foil in the freezer of the refrigerator in his office. When a family member of a senator was asked by her incredulous friend how the incident could have come about, her honest answer was, “It has always been this way,” referring to paying off members of Congress.

Another inconvenient truth of American politics is the shambolic political gridlock that has made the term “fiscal cliff” well known throughout the world.  The dreadful polarisation of American politics has turned the world’s initial fascination with the American experiments in democracy into pity for its hapless governance.

In 2013, the Economist published an article titled “The United States of Amoeba”. It was based on an experiment in applied physics by Renzo Lucioni, an undergraduate at Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Science. It presented a graphic illustration of how polarised and partisan American politics had become. According to the article, it looked like “a diseased brain, with few neural pathways between the two hemispheres”.

It is also worth mentioning that the brutal invasion of Iraq prompted many Americans to confide to friends overseas that they wished they could have a military coup to throw away their government. They just could not stand the notion of the demise of thousands and thousands of innocent Iraqi lives at the hands of their government.

The American Civil Liberties Union most recent report, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarisation of American Policing”,  outlines incident after incident of the dangerous militarisation of US law enforcement at all levels in recent years. Heavily armed SWAT teams have been deployed to serve warrants and for drug searches, but rarely for the hostage situations they were designed for.

A few of the incidents highlighted in the report:

l “In 2010, 7-year-old when, just after midnight, a SWAT team threw a flashbang grenade through the window into the living room where she was asleep. The flashbang burned her blanket and a member of the SWAT team burst into the house, firing a single shot, which killed her.”

l Jose Guerena, a 26-year-old Iraq War veteran, whose wife heard a noise that turned out to be a SWAT team. Guerena “picked up his rifle, with the safety on, and went to investigate. A SWAT team fired 71 shots at Guerena, 22 of which entered his body and killed him”.

In Thailand, we have had our fair share of social and political turmoil in recent years. A military coup may or may not offer a sustainable solution to our own multifaceted problems generated by and clothed in the lofty notion of “democracy”. But we need to fix our problems before they become permanently stuck.  This is our ship, not that of Unites States or the European Union, and we sink or swim with it, while no one else shares our fate.

In answering a hypothetical question on Thailand and its relations with superpowers by an American interviewer in the 1970s, then prime minister Kukrit Pramoj deadpanned:  “If that happened, I’d go to the airport and drive a stake into the ground that said ‘Closed for Repairs’.”

On Tuesday, former prime minister Anand Panyarachun – a man renowned for his integrity and wisdom – echoed Kukrit’s sentiment, which also reflects the view of the majority of Thais. According to the latest polls, the public satisfaction rate with our military leaders during the past month is higher than 80 percent.

As for the US, there is no shortage of miscalculations when it comes to its foreign policy. Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria are but four of them. The rapid surge of the militant ISIS Sunni forces is one result of the push by the US for Iraqis to hold untimely elections without circumstances on the ground that could bring lasting democratic rule. To paraphrase the German philosopher Emanuel Kant (1724-1804), out of crooked timber, no straight thing was ever made. By now, the US should have learned that an election is not a panacea. But apparently it has not.

Instead, despite its own political mess at home, the US has got on its high horse and preached to us. It calls to mind the words of the late Andy Gibb of the Bee Gees:

“I started a joke

Which started the whole world crying

But I didn’t see

That the joke was on me, oh no…”