Curtain Raiser

No Country for Indecent Rulers, Colltalers

Americans, who still abide by some of the ideals and aspirations of the Founding Fathers, seem a bit out of luck lately. For as the current U.S. president has sponsored and ridden on a disturbing anti-democratic backlash wave, the rest of the world is no place for solace either.
Some even decry the fact that, unlike U.S past leaders, Trump is not even in the same league as Putin, Xi Jinping, and Bin Salman. The rulers of Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia are the present-day versions of the Big Brother, Dearest Leaders holding the world by its strings.
So much for the malodorous jingoism of ‘making America great again.’ The U.S. may be finally downgraded from its top dog geopolitical spot not by humanistic concerns or its morally abhorrent foreign policies, but for the president’s pure incompetence at being, well, president.
It’s not clear whether his toddler-like tantrums, inability to grasp basic concepts of government, or mean-spirited Twitter and diatribes, will ever move down the needle of his supporting basis. But to Americans who still think for themselves, and the world, this cat is out of the bag.
Domestically, the country is thrown into such a death spiral of racism, social inequality, human rights violations, and a dismantling of environmental standards so extreme, that if it doesn’t drive record numbers of protesting votes at the November polls, then nothing else will.
But it’s been Trump’s displays of immaturity and lack of statesman skills at the world stage what’s really relegated the U.S. to second-fiddle position in global affairs. Hadn’t been by the feared firepower of our weaponry, his embarrassing meetings with E.U. and NATO leaders, and specially, North Korean Kim Jong Un and Putin, would’ve already deemed us as irrelevant as just another oversized banana republic.
Even among the weariest of Cold War remnants, there’s an almost universal consensus that Russia is indeed messing around with American politics, has control over the president, and is deeply invested in keeping him at the White House. Which means that if his base remains oblivious to his wrecking havoc of their own

social welfare, and shows up in mass to vote, Trump’s Republican Party will stay on in power.
If that happens, even if the Robert Muller probe reveals irrefutable proof of his treason and colluding with a foreign power to harm the U.S., or proverbially, footage of Trump actually shooting someone on 6th Ave surfaces, America will turn into a totalitarian regime, bar none.
But all bets are off if most Americans have their say, and back it up with the power of their vote for keeping the U.S. the functional democracy that’s been for almost 300 years. Time may be running out, and there’s much to be done yet, but we must remain hopeful.
For, as mentioned before, don’t expect the Saudis sanguinary royalty to come to rescue what they may consider a distraction: human rights. Even more if it’s about the U.S., official weapons and logistics-provider of their ongoing obliteration of Yemen. On the contrary, the crown prince will be glad to restore Saudi Arabia, and its environmental-destroying oil economy, back to the dominant role it played in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, China is doing what it’s always done and still does it best for millennia: subtly, influencing the world by the power of his trade tradition. The world’s largest economy since maybe not coincidentally Trump got elected, it has the edge to defeat and humiliate the U.S. if the president insists on a trade war he understands nothing about. It’ll win on the sheer power of its size, pragmatism and single-mind drive.
It’s hard to be encouraged by what’s happening with nations formally under the Soviet Union bloc. Take Turkey, for instance. The country that’s border with three worlds, and religions, and at least as many cultures, rather than protecting its gift for coexistence in harmony, has instead become Erodgan’s own shooting gallery. Like the Trump administration, is going after press and opposition with a dictator’s gusto.
Not far behind, are the ‘inspiring’ cases of Hungary’s Orbán, Poland’s Kaczynski, and Ukraine’s Kremlin-handpicked Poroshenko. They’re re-enacters of a depiction of democracy, a game of appearances where coups and non-stop reelection campaigns play out with the regularly they’ve always been, but mostly sans tanks on the streets. Again, free press and political opposition are vilified as ‘enemies of the people.’
Can’t look too wishful to Asia and the Middle East either, for more reasons than the already saturated corollary of miseries plaguing those regions for centuries. But Israeli P.M. Netanyahu is on a class of his own, and not only because of his unrestricted support by some of America’s most politically conservative segments. He makes the grade by his particularly cruel and tragic repression of the Palestinians.
As baffling as it’s always been to wonder how such a well-educated urban demographics was so completely fooled into believing that the eventual annexation of Gaza and oust of every Arab from Israel is good for them, or even feasible, it’s their leader that blows anyone’s mind.
His relatively unchallenged grip on power, influence on the country’s life, and thoroughly drive to enforce a belligerent self-preserving agenda verges on obsession. As the world witness the Palestine chocking to death inside a sealed bubble, he no longer bothers to even offering a rationale to such a travesty of the very founding of the State of Israel. And he is, of course, a staunch Trump supporter.
We have lost count of all the strongmen the president has officially praised halfway through his term, and the bloody-soaked Duterte of the Philippines is but a confirmation nudge of his sympathies for rulers who use democracy as a front for a discretionary and corrupt regime.
The would-bes are all over, in Europe and South America, but it’s time to list those on this side of the fence. And the hard-to-swallow reality is, none stands out so far, which makes anyone even more despondent about the future. Perhaps the strongest figure to stand up to this extreme rightwing wave of regression is Germany’s Angela Merkel, one of the longest standing democratic leaders still at full power.
And the fact is, despite her undoubtedly correct stances on civil rights, refugees, and the environment, she’s far from being a galvanizing, crowd-arresting figure. For all her firm assertions of democratic values, few could pinpoint any shinning example of her talents as a leader.
Below her but still on the same corner are Canada’s Trudeau and France’s Macron, both as young and good looking as politically mediocre.
By now, most of the excitement of having a Canadian member of the country’s political royalty as a leader has gone the way of the Sinixt people. His insistence on pipelines and a fossil-fueled economy, along his disregard for native tribes, disavow his rosy campaign promises.
And then we have the loyal, utterly democratic push from Scandinavian countries, all 30 million people of them. Thanks but we need more.
Thus, just like the century-old struggles for labor and voting rights, and renewed 1960s battles for women, racial, and sexual rights, all of which by the way, are being seriously challenged, is again up to Americans to rise and carry on the torch of tolerance and political equality. And make no mistake: this is what Putin, Salman, and Jinping, already expect, even though none of them would be caught dead admitting it.
It’s been said, this current crop of world leaders is actively engaged in turning back the clock on democratic representation, dialing down the urgency of the climate change fight, and determined to crush dissent. This is not about conspiracy but measured reality gathered by the level of control they exercise over the world, and how wide is the gap between the powerful, the wealthy, and corporations, and everyone else.
Sometimes, it takes a moment of national grief over a beloved artist to remind us why tyrants fear so much values of compassion and humanity, which lead some of us to lives of true relevance. Last week when the great Aretha Franklin left us, we suddenly realized once again how much better a place she left us. Honoring her means keeping those values at arm’s length. Rest assured, Aretha, we’ll keep at it. WC

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