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Biden-Harris win, Trump in denial, America left hydra-headed in transition!

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by Rajan Philips

In the last week of October, President Trump and the traditional Halloween pumpkin inspired the adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ fictional dwarf to create a new political meme – Trumpkin: “orange on the outside, hollow on the inside, and thrown out in November”. The November 3 US presidential election has come and gone. Americans voted in record numbers in spite of the coronavirus, and did throw Trumpkin out. But the big yellow head has got stuck in the nation’s garbage chute. It is refusing to budge, and political wags will have to come up with a different meme for Thanksgiving – a two-headed turkey? – to caricature their nation’s State (of affairs) after its so-called consequential presidential election. ‘Some election, some consequence,’ Sir Winston would have growled. America’s political detractors around the world are delighted. This is their LOL moment of schadenfreude as they portray the world’s oldest constitutional democracy as its newest banana republic. Seriously, not quite. But the old American fact and the new Trumpkin facial can cohabit handsomely in the universe of alternative facts that Trump has created for his Republican followers. He has quite a flock of them.

There are two parts to the results of the 2020 American Presidential and Congress elections. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have made history as the oldest President elect and the first female-and-person-of-colour Vice-President elect, while amassing a vote tally that will likely reach a record high 80 million by the time every vote is counted. The defeat of Trump, the incumbent President, is in itself historic, as Trump is the first President in the 21st century to be defeated after a single term in office. There have been eight before, four each in the two preceding centuries.

 

Washington Gridlock

The second part is that Trump was able to increase his vote tally from 63 million in 2016 to a potential 73 million in the final count in 2020, the largest by a sitting, and losing, President. Even though Biden achieved a great and convincing victory, winning both the popular vote by a much larger margin than Hillary Clinton in 2016, and the Electoral College Vote likely by the same margin as Trump did in 2016, it is not at all a convincing repudiation of the politics of Trump, or, as it has now come into vogue, of ‘Trumpism.’ Trump’s final vote tally is a shockingly powerful demonstration of the bedrock of resonance in the American social formation that a phenomenon like Trumpism can effortlessly tap into. The surge in the Trump vote helped the Republican Party to gain seats in the House of Representatives (although Democrats will keep their House majority), and to ward off the Democratic challenge for majority in the Senate.

There are still two pending Senate races, both in Georgia and scheduled for January 5, 2021. The Democrats must win both to tie their Senate tally with the Republicans at 50-50, which would give them the majority with Vice President Kamala Harris having the deciding vote as president of the Senate. If the Republicans win even one of the two races, they will retain their majority and control the Senate for at least till the next mid-term elections in 2022. Gridlock in Washington will continue. Joe Biden will not be able to implement all or any of his aggressive legislative agenda unless he is able to draw from his long senatorial experience and persuade some of the Republican Senators who are critical of Trump to vote with the Democrats on critical issues.

So far, fewer than dozen out of fifty Republican Senators have publicly acknowledged Biden’s victory and congratulated him. A majority of them will not publicly do so (a number of them are known to have sent felicitations privately through their Democratic colleagues) for fear of angering Trump and alienating the Trump Nation of voters whose support they need for their future electoral survival. The Republican Senate leadership is publicly standing by Trump for now – at least until the two Senate races in Georgia are over. They want to keep their petulant President engaged and his vote base in Georgia enthused to avoid Republican disenchantment in Georgia and a drop in their vote turnout on January 5. That might just happen in spite of all the Republican machinations. The Democrats clearly have their tails up, and the political wind behind them. Yet, it is a historically uphill task to win two Senate seats in a southern State at the same time.

Whatever the outcome, the Georgian Senate elections on January 5 will mark the formal beginning, if it did not begin already, of the end of Donald Trump’s first and only term as American President. If the Republicans win, they will cajole Trump to leave office gracefully, while enticing him with the prospect of rerunning for a second term in 2024. On the other hand, if the Democrats win both Senate seats in Georgia, it is all over – game, set and match, for Trump and the Republicans until the next time.

 

Trump and Trumpism

Until January 5, Trump is likely dig deeper into his petulance with irrational executive orders, firing and hiring, and all manner of legal shenanigans to upend Biden’s victory. Trump’s legal challenges are not seriously expected to succeed at any level in any of the courts. But they can and will have the effect of delegitimizing Biden’s victory among Trump’s supporters. Add to that all the confusion and disruption Trump is already creating using his executive powers, America is in for a rough period of transition in the midst of a raging pandemic. It is here that the dialectic between Trump and Trumpism come into play.

Jeff Goodwin, the New York University sociologist, has described Trumpism as a “contradictory, unstable amalgam” of social conservatism, neoliberal capitalism, economic nationalism, anti-immigrant nativism, and White nationalism. There is nothing new here, nor were any of these created by Trump. Pre-Trump, the Bush era Republican ideologues privileged social conservatism and neoliberal capitalism, while downplaying, even genuinely eschewing, the other ingredients of economic nationalism, anti-immigrant nativism, and White nationalism.

Then came the Tea Party, and with or without the backlash incentive of Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American President, forced the fusion of all five ingredients. But there was no one in the Republican Party to raise this fusion to the national level as a viable presidential platform. Until Trump came along in 2016. His perverse genius for marketing and his personal animus towards Obama found common cause with all the items of the Tea Party agenda, that other Republican presidential aspirants were simply too squeamish to touch all at once. The Trump Nation loved their Messiah’s crass candour, intimidating insults, and reckless lies and boasts. Trump won the election in 2016 against his own expectations and those of everyone in the Republican Party.

The marriage of convenience worked, and might have continued for four more years, but for Trump’s inept and unempathetic handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. But even the pandemic could not stop Trump from being able to fool 10 million more people in 2020 than he fooled in 2016. The 73 million votes he was able to amass provides a solid base to challenge the new Biden-Harris Administration and launch a comeback in two years for the 2022 midterm elections, and in four years for the next presidential election. However, if Trump and the Republican overplay their grieving hand, that will likely turn off a good majority of the people who voted for Trump but who are not part of the Trump Nation.

Another trouble for the Republicans is that Trump is not serious about their future or the future of Trumpism itself. He is not committed to the future of the Republican Party or any aspect of Trumpism either by conviction or any kind of persuasion. He might just pick up his wallet and leave politics altogether, or may be constrained to stay in politics as a way to forestall state and federal cases that he is likely to face when he is no longer president. Whether Trump stays in politics, or someone else emerges to take his place, the social presuppositions of Trumpism will remain alive and cannot be wished away in the afterglow of Biden-Harris victory.

 

Biden-Harris Victory and Challenges

To emphasize the significance of Trumpism is not to detract from the greatness of Biden-Harris victory. The Biden-Harris hyphenation would appear to be becoming the new normal, and it was symbolically asserted when the honour was given to Kamala Harris as Vice President elect to address the nation first and introduce Joe Biden as President elect to deliver his address. This has not happened before and it will be interesting to see if there will be two inaugural speeches in January, if it would be possible at all to have a non-virtual inauguration given the pandemic and Trump’s transition tantrums. Addressing the nation for the first time as Vice President elect, Kamala Harris rose to the occasion splendidly and captured the history of the moment, both symbolically – wearing a suffrage white pantsuit (a nod to Hillary Clinton), and eloquently – congratulating Joe Biden for his ‘audacity’ (a nod to Barack Obama) in selecting a woman of colour as his running mate.

The election of Barack Obama as President in 2008 and 2012, the elevation of Kamala Harris as Vice President in 2020, and the Trump presidency in between speak to the deep tensions in the very soul of America – between the persistence of systemic misogyny and racism, on the one hand, and ever widening possibilities for inclusion and diversity, on the other. Given its power in the world and its foreign policy misadventures, America is an easy target for self-righteous condemnation by others. But few other countries in the world offer official space and opportunity for equality and diversity. In fact, in many countries, big and small, equality in space and opportunity are denied by customs, conventions and even constitutions.

Commentators have swung left and right to find presidential precedents that Joe Biden could draw from as he battles his way through his time in office – from Franklin Roosevelt to Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. But Joe Biden’s unique political challenge is going to be in balancing the contending forces inside the Democratic Party. Already, the so called moderates are clamouring that the young progressives cost the Party a much bigger victory than what has been achieved. The accusation is a bit rich because conventional moderation would have dampened enthusiasm and turnout among the young and minority voters. Without progressive enthusiasm, eighty million voters would not have come out to vote for the Democrats, and in a way they may also have ended up provoking the extraordinarily large Republican turnout.

The new Administration has its work cut out, and has offered an agenda that is both balanced and ambitious not only to address the many crises facing America, but also to satisfy the competing constituencies of moderates and progressives within the Democratic Party. There is no shortage of crises and challenges – from Covid-19, to jobs and the economy, climate, government reform, health care, racial justice, immigration, taxes, infrastructure, and foreign policy – the list is long and daunting. The easy part on every one of them would be to stop doing whatever Trump was doing. Systematically ending many of Trump’s ill-advised and ill-planned initiatives would in itself be progress.



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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