Thursday, February 15, 2018

Toddlers and Tyrants

My second serious discussion about politics in China. Which basically boils down to:

1.     Government gives orders.
2.     You obey.

I keep coming back to my perception of the three-fold saving grace of democracy. Free speech. Legal system. Elections with term limits. These are the three institutions that help safeguard the checks and balances of a healthy society. And China is 0 for 3.

If you post something on the Chinese Facebook equivalent, We Chat, criticizing the government, it will be taken down within ten minutes. And your account closed. So much for free speech.

If the government decides to build a highway through a sensitive ecological zone, there’s no court to take the action to. It’s done. So much for a functioning legal system.

If you vote in an election, you are voting for different candidates in the same party with the same ideology and the same commitment to maintain the status quo. For as long as they can with no 4-year term limit in site. So much for free elections.

And yet somehow it ”works.” China is better fed and its people more prosperous than it ever has been in its long history. And the people I am meeting are people of good character who at least privately can express some coherent political thought.

Meanwhile, America, with all its freedoms, has elected a toddler tyrant and allowed the super-rich to grow yet richer with no concern for the commons, for the health of the environment or the state of health care or education, with no responsibility to give back and share the wealth and every attempt to use their power to further their own greedy ambitions. To dismantle the checks and balances that have kept us healthy.

And so here we have the two extremes. The “Father Knows Best” mentality of the tyrant head of the family who demands obedience, compliance, unquestioned respect for authority not necessarily earned or worthy. The people, out of habit, out of fear, out of an education designed for following and not thinking, shrug their shoulders and abdicate (or are forced to abdicate) any participation in a political process, any contribution to decisions that affect their health and safety.

Then at the other extreme is the whiny toddler insisting that no one get in his way and tell him he can’t own 20 assault rifles, drive his Hummer wherever he damn well pleases, earn money without taxation, use his free speech to trumpet his hatred of people different from him.

And then to complicate matters, you have both the toddler and tyrant rolled into one Trump incapable of leadership beyond his own self-adulation, a tyrant who decries all who don’t praise him as fake news, a toddler who throws twitter-tantrums and insists that no one can make him obey the law, respect the Constitution, care about our citizens—he’s free to do as he damn well pleases.

Have we learned nothing? No one, not even Gandhi or Mother Teresa, is worthy of unquestioned obedience. We frail humans are too short-sighted with even the best of intentions to understand what the best decision is. We need, all of us, some sense of checks and balances, some willingness to consult and discuss and consider. We need all layers of the society to actively participate, to educate themselves as to the issues, to engage in spirited discussion and demand accountability from our elected representatives. It’s not healthy for the leader or the follower to demand blind compliance.

And the infantile response that all authority is infringing on one’s freedoms is perhaps just as bad, if not worse. If in present day China, Turkey, Iran, North Korea and beyond we are seeing the danger of the tyrannical state, in America we are likewise seeing the equal danger of the toddler state, the ridiculous notion that someone with a two-year old emotional state and a 4th grade vocabulary is capable of preserving something as important as democracy. That citizens who insist on their right to ignorance and follow their fantasy that what they feel, or what they think they feel (which was really fed to them by Fox news and right-wing radio), is enough to be true.  This mentality is good for exactly no one.

So human beings, step up! We need some level of authority and hierarchy, but the healthiest is one that is wholly accountable for its decisions and a nation of citizens willing to do the work of holding them accountable. A system of checks and balances.

It’s not as sexy or as good TV as the extremist viewpoint, but that is exactly the point. The extremists are just hot air capturing media attention and consoling themselves that they’re right and the “other” is wrong. The real work is in measured conversation backed by both fact and feeling.  Let’s get to work, people! Let’s grow up.

(Feb. 10)

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