America– A Lost City Upon a Hill?


January 23, 2017

The America we lost, advantage Trump

by Kevin Baker

NO, I’m not over it.

On Election Day I felt as though I had awakened in America and gone to sleep in Ecuador, or maybe Belgium. Or Thailand, or Zambia, or any other perfectly nice country that endures the usual ups and downs of history as the years pass, headed toward no particular destiny.

It’s different here, or at least it was. America was always supposed to be something, as much a vision as a physical reality, from the moment that John Winthrop, evoking Jerusalem, urged the Massachusetts Bay Colony to “be as a city upon a hill.” To be an American writer meant being able to share that sense of purpose, those expectations, and to flatter yourself that you were helping to shape it. Nobody expects anything out of Belgium.

Image result for america city on a hill

America– A Lost City Upon a Hill?

More than any other country, I think, America has been a constant character in the work of its writers. Not only those writers who celebrate it ecstatically, like Walt Whitman, who made his life’s work one long ode to our young nation, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Toni Morrison, or E. L. Doctorow, who have picked more critically through its past. It applies as well to those who have scourged it, and exposed the worst of its contradictions and betrayals; a Richard Wright or a Ralph Ellison, or John Reed. It remained a vivid entity even in the work of those who have left it for one reason or another, Henry James or Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway, or John Dos Passos.

Their love for it, and their disappointments, all have the same roots, which are those expectations and those dreams. Even at our lowest, we believe with Langston Hughes’s wish to “let America be America again/The land that never yet has been, and yet must be”; with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s overworked but ever more necessary claim that the moral arc of the universe may be long but that here, at least, it bends toward justice. Even its sternest critics agreed: America was going places!

I know that it may sound naïve, even childish, to think that any nation has a special destiny. It’s the kind of thing that dictators and demagogues like to tell their people. I doubt if many of the other writers I know would admit they believe in such a big, vague concept as “American exceptionalism.” But we do, most of us. It’s inescapable, considering what we are: the first republic of the modern age, a nation of immigrants, haven to so many peoples from around the world. We have, like no other country, for better and for ill, dominated the modern world through both our hard power and our soft, our weapons but also our ideas.

I can tell you all of the worst things we have done. The annihilation of the peoples who lived here before we did, and how much of America was built on the backs of enslaved Africans. The things we have done to other nations weaker than ours, the death squads and the C.I.A. schemes, and all the squalid little wars we’ve waged to grab land or save face. The exploitation and the bigotry, and the withering greed, and how we let the vastness of this continent fool us into believing that no matter how big a mistake we make, we can always start over — that we can endlessly root up and tear down, and move unmindfully through the world.

I have written about many of these things, but that was in a greater cause, too. The absolute conviction, in the end, that I, too, was caught up in the great work; that I was helping us to get to some higher place and fulfill our promise.

Geoffrey Ward, the brilliant American historian and the writer of many of Ken Burns’s documentaries, told me with a sense of wonder, a few days after the election: “I just turned 76 and had naïvely assumed that issues I thought resolved when I was a young man — voting rights, abortion, the ongoing enrichment immigration provides our country — would remain resolved.”

Nothing is settled anymore in America, and it appears that so many of the gains we have fought so hard to win over the years are about to be rolled back by our new president and the party that has so cravenly backed him, even when it knows better. Obamacare, which millions of us — myself included — depend upon, is already under assault, and Medicare may not be far behind. Who knows what established rights the cadres of far-right justices who will now fill the federal benches for a generation may strike down?

Image result for america city on a hill

“I have lost the America I knew”–Kevin Baker

Yet when I say that I have lost the America I knew, I’m not talking about policy, or even fundamental rights, disorienting as their loss would be. I mean a greater, almost spiritual faith that I had in my fellow citizens and their better instincts, something that served as my north star in all I wrote and all I did.

When I watched the debates and the conventions this year, my thoughts kept going back to my parents, neither of whom lived to see this election. They would have been staggered by the sheer, pounding vulgarity of it all. They were both political moderates, who voted Republican as well as Democratic, and who like most of us never paid all that much attention to politics outside the few weeks before an election. But the phenomenon of Donald J. Trump — a man who says he has never asked God for forgiveness, who refers to the Eucharist with characteristic humility (“I drink my little wine, which is about the only wine I drink, and have my little cracker”), who mocks our military heroes, who lumbers about a stage proclaiming, “I alone can fix it!,” who dismissed a working man after the election with a tweet that read in part, “Spend more time working — less talking” — would have been incomprehensible to them. They would have thought themselves transported to some other time and country, maybe another dimension. As do I.

I have listened to all the blame foisted on the Clinton campaign for doing this or that wrong, or the media for not exposing Mr. Trump, or for giving him too much airtime. I don’t buy it. Hillary Clinton’s campaign wasn’t that bad, and Mr. Trump was exposed enough for any thinking adult to see exactly what he is.

Image result for I alone can fix it Trump

That Self-Confidence comes from Business Success

From assorted commentators I have heard that it is unfair or condescending to say that all Trump voters were racists, or sexists, or that they hated foreigners. All right. But if they were not, they were willing to accept an awful lot of racism and sexism and xenophobia in the deal they made with their champion, and demanded precious few particulars in return. Lately Mr. Trump has endorsed the comparison of his personal populist movement with Andrew Jackson’s, and it is true that there was much that was racist and ignorant at the heart of Jacksonian democracy. For their love, the followers of Old Hickory demanded the destruction of Native American civilization in the South, and the furthering of slavery westward. This cruel bargain won Jackson voters land, and thus the vote. What have those who embraced “Mr. I Alone Can Fix It” obtained, save for the vague, grandiose promise, renewed in his inaugural, that they will soon “start winning again, winning like never before”? Or — worse — Mr. Trump’s vow to end “political correctness” and make this, at least rhetorically, the same white man’s America it was in Jackson’s time?

I know that Mr. Trump was elected, in part, because too many people were still hurting in this economy, from the terrible disruptions of their lives and their communities over the last 25 years. I have been poor and desperate myself, and I know what that feels like. In their giddy rush to globalization and the paper economy, too many liberal — and conservative — leaders have made the same mistake that they made in Vietnam, when they tried to palm that misbegotten conflict off on the poor and the working class. They have forgotten — again — that this great nation will endure and will prosper only if we all prosper together.

Yet that is no excuse for what we did last November.

Throughout our history, Americans have encountered economic shocks much worse than anything we know today, and with many fewer resources at their disposal. American working people have agency, they are plenty educated, and in past crises they rejected the extremism that other nations turned to. Even in the Great Depression they did not succumb to the ideologies of Fascism and Communism sweeping the world. When the system seemed broken in the past, when the elites and the major parties seemed irretrievably corrupt and deaf to their appeals, their response was to build true democratic movements from the ground up, and to push them on to victory even if that took decades.

The populists after the Civil War, faced with the collapse into peonage of American farmers — then about half the population — built nationwide lecture and correspondence networks, and eventually won the reforms they needed, even though it took them more than 60 years. The first wave of feminists fought for more than 70 years to win their biggest demand; Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were dead by the time women got the vote. African-Americans battled ceaselessly, in every way they could, against their enslavement and Jim Crow, training their own lawyers to take their cases to the Supreme Court. The struggles for labor rights, gay rights, Hispanic rights, civil liberties, religious toleration, women’s control over their own bodies — all these battles and more took decades to win. They are the glory of our civilization.

Today’s passive, unhappy Americans sat on their couches and chose a strutting TV clown to save us.

What they have done is a desecration, a foolish and vindictive act of vandalism, by which they betrayed all the best and most valiant labors of our ancestors. We don’t want to accept this, because we cannot accept that the people, at least in the long run of things, can be wrong in our American democracy. But they can be wrong, just like any people, anywhere. And until we do accept this abject failure of both our system and ourselves, there is no hope for our redemption.

A couple of days after the election I watched on CNN as red-faced Russian apparatchiks in Moscow toasted one another on their great success. “Hurrah!” I thought. “No more American exceptionalism! We have joined up with the drunken idiot of history!” Once Russians, too, and especially Russian writers, were certain that there was a special destiny for the Russian soul. But a century of disastrous choices and their consequences seems to have disillusioned them. They have so much to teach us.

 

How to Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics


January 15, 2017

The most-watched made-for-TV movie in American history is “The Day After,” a 1983 portrayal of life in Kansas and Missouri in the days just before and after an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. If you’ve had even fleeting thoughts that Tuesday’s election could bring about the end of the world or the destruction of the country, you might want to find “The Day After” on YouTube, scroll to minute 53 and watch the next six minutes. Now that’s an apocalypse.

It’s an absurd comparison, of course, but the absurdity is helpful. It reminds us that no matter how bad things seem, we have a lot to be grateful for. The Soviet Union is gone, and life in America has gotten much better since the 1980s by most objective measures. Crime is way down, prosperity and longevity are way up, and doors are open much more widely for talented people from just about any demographic group. Yes, we have new problems, and the benefits haven’t been spread evenly, but if you look at the big picture, we are making astonishing progress.

Watching “The Day After” also might help Americans to tone down the apocalyptic language that so many have used about the presidential race. On the right, some speak of this as the “Flight 93 election,” meaning that America has been hijacked by treasonous leftists who are trying to crash the plane, so electing Donald Trump to rush the cockpit is the only sane choice. On the left, some think that a Trump victory would lead to a constitutional crisis followed by a military coup, fascism and dictatorship.

Nearly half the country will therefore wake up deeply disappointed on the morning of Nov. 9, and many members of the losing side will think that America is doomed. Those on the winning side will feel relieved, but many will be shocked and disgusted that nearly half of their fellow citizens voted for the moral equivalent of the devil. The disgust expressed by both sides in this election is particularly worrisome because disgust dehumanizes its targets. That is why it is usually fostered by the perpetrators of genocide—disgust makes it easier for ordinary citizens to kill their neighbors.

In short, the day after this election is likely to be darker and more foreboding than the day after just about any U.S. election since 1860. Is it possible for Americans to forgive, accept and carry on working and living together?

We think that it is. After all, civility doesn’t require consensus or the suspension of criticism. It is simply the ability to disagree productively with others while respecting their sincerity and decency. That can be hard to do when emotions run so high. But if we understand better the psychological causes of our current animosity, we can all take some simple steps to turn it down, free ourselves from hatred and make the next four years better for ourselves and the country. Three time-honored quotations can serve as guides.

“Me against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers.” —Bedouin saying

Human nature is tribal. We form teams easily, most likely because we have evolved for violent intergroup conflict. Our minds take to it so readily that we invent myths, games and sports—including war games like paintball—that let us enjoy the pleasures of intergroup conflict without the horrors of actual war.

The tribal mind is adept at changing alliances to face shifting threats, as the Bedouin saying indicates. We see such shifts after party primaries, when those who backed a losing candidate swing around to support the nominee. And we saw it happen after the 9/11 attacks, when the country came together to support the president and the military in the invasion of Afghanistan.

But with the exception of the few months after 9/11, cross-partisan animosity has been rising steadily since the late 1990s. This year, for the first time since Pew Research began asking in 1994, majorities in both parties expressed not just “unfavorable” views of the other party but “very unfavorable” views. Those ratings were generally below 20% throughout the 1990s. And more than 40% in each party now see the policies of the other party as being “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.” Those numbers are up by about 10 percentage points in both parties just since 2014.

So what will happen the next time there is a major terrorist attack? Will we come together again? Or will the attack become a partisan football within hours, as happened after the various lone-wolf attacks of the past year? Something is broken in American tribalism. It is now “my brothers and me against my cousins” all the time, even when we are threatened by strangers and even when there is no threat at all.

Democracy requires trust and cooperation as well as competition.

Democracy requires trust and cooperation as well as competition. A healthy democracy features flexible and shifting coalitions. We must find a way to see citizens on the other side as cousins who are sometimes opponents but who share most of our values and interests and are never our mortal enemies.

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”Jesus, in Matthew 7:3-5

Our tribal minds are equipped with a powerful tool: shameless and clueless hypocrisy. It is a general rule of psychology that “thinking is for doing”: We think with a particular purpose in mind, and often that purpose isn’t to find the truth but to defend ourselves or attack our opponents.

Psychologists call this process “motivated reasoning.” It is found whenever self-interest is in play. When the interests of a group are added to the mix, this sort of biased, god-awful reasoning becomes positively virtuous—it signals your loyalty to the team. This is why partisans find it so easy to dismiss scandalous revelations about their own candidate while focusing so intently on scandalous revelations about the other candidate.

Motivated reasoning has interacted with tribalism and new media technologies since the 1990s in unfortunate ways. Social media, hackers and Google searches now help us to find hundreds of specks in our opponents’ eyes, but no technology can force us to acknowledge the logs in our own.

“Nature has so formed us that a certain tie unites us all, but…this tie becomes stronger from proximity.” —Cicero, “On Friendship”

Humans are tribal, but tribalism can be transcended. It exists in tension with our extraordinary ability to develop bonds with other human beings. Romeo and Juliet fell in love. French, British and German soldiers came out of their trenches in World War I to exchange food, cigarettes and Christmas greetings.

The key, as Cicero observed, is proximity, and a great deal of modern research backs him up. Students are more likely to become friends with the student whose dorm room is one door away than with the student whose room is four doors away. People who have at least one friend from the other political party are less likely to hate the supporters of that party.

But tragically, Americans are losing their proximity to those on the other side and are spending more time in politically purified settings. Since the 1980s, Democrats have been packing into the cities while the rural areas and exurbs have been getting more Republican. Institutions that used to bring people together—such as churches—are now splitting apart over culture war issues such as gay marriage.

Ever more of our social life is spent online, in virtual communities or networks that are politically homogeneous. When we do rub up against the other side online, relative anonymity often leads to stunning levels of incivility, including racist and sexist slurs and threats of violence.

So are we doomed? Will the polarizing trends identified by Pew just keep going until the country splits in two? Maybe John Adams was right in 1814 when he wrote, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.”

But we have lasted 240 years so far, and both sides agree that America is worth fighting for. We just have to see that the fight isn’t always against each other; it is also a struggle to adapt our democracy and our habits for polarizing times and technologies.

Illustration: Luci Gutiérrez

Some of these adaptations will require changes to laws and institutions. Some will come from improving technology as we fine-tune social media to reward productive disagreement while filtering out trolling and intimidation.

And many of the changes must come from each of us, as individuals who have friends, co-workers and cousins who voted for the other side. How will we treat them as customers, employees, students and neighbors? What will we say to them at Thanksgiving dinner?

If you would like to let go of anger on Nov. 9 without letting go of your moral and political principles, here is some advice, adapted from ancient wisdom and modern research.

First, separate your feelings about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton from your feelings about their supporters. Political scientists report that since the 1980s, Americans have increasingly voted against the other side’s candidate, rather than voting enthusiastically for their own, and that is especially true this time. So don’t assume that most people on the other side like or even agree with their candidate on any particular issue. They may be voting out of fears and frustrations that you don’t understand, but if you knew their stories, you might well empathize with them.

Second, step back and think about your goals. In the long run, would you rather change people or hate them? If you actually want to persuade or otherwise influence people, you should know that it is nearly impossible to change people’s minds by arguing with them. When there is mutual antipathy, there is mutual motivated reasoning, defensiveness and hypocrisy.

But anything that opens the heart opens the mind as well, so do what you can to cultivate personal relationships with those on the other side. Spend time together, and let the proximity recommended by Cicero strengthen ties. Familiarity does not breed contempt. Research shows that as things or people become familiar, we like them more.

Emotions often drive reasoning, so as our hearts harden, our thinking also calcifies, and we become dogmatic. We are less able to think flexibly and address the social problems that we claim to care about. As John Stuart Mill wrote in 1859, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” So cultivating a few cross-partisan friendships will make you smarter as well as calmer, even if polarization grows worse.

And if you do find a way to have a real conversation with someone on the other side, approach it skillfully. One powerful opener is to point to a log in your own eye—to admit right up front that you or your side were wrong about something. Doing this at the start of a conversation signals that you aren’t in combat mode. If you are open, trusting and generous, your partner is likely to reciprocate.

Tom Lehane, left, a Trump supporter, has a disagreement with Clinton supporter Hila Minshen before a Trump rally on Sept. 9, 2016 in Pensacola, Fla.
Tom Lehane, left, a Trump supporter, has a disagreement with Clinton supporter Hila Minshen before a Trump rally on Sept. 9, 2016 in Pensacola, Fla. Photo: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

Another powerful depolarizing move is praise, as we saw in the second Clinton-Trump debate. After more than 90 minutes of antagonism, a member of the town-hall audience brought the evening to a close with this question: “Would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”

Mrs. Clinton began with weak praise by saying that she respects Mr. Trump’s children. But then she made it strong and generous by noting how “incredibly able” those children are and how devoted they are to their father, adding, “I think that says a lot about Donald.” Mr. Trump responded in kind: “I will say this about Hillary. She doesn’t quit, and she doesn’t give up. I respect that.”

That brief exchange was emotionally powerful—the only uplifting moment of the night for many viewers. Had it been the opening exchange, might the debate have been more elevated, more constructive?

This has been a frightening year for many Americans. Questions about the durability, legitimacy and wisdom of our democracy have been raised, both here and abroad. But the true test of our democracy—and our love of country—will come on the day after the election. Starting next Wednesday, each of us must decide what kind of person we want to be and what kind of relationship we want to have with our politically estranged cousins.

Dr. Haidt is a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, a fellow at the Martin Prosperity Institute and the author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Dr. Iyer is a social psychologist and data scientist at the website Ranker and the executive director of CivilPolitics.org.

Congratulations –Abang Johari named Sarawak’s 6th Chief Minister


January 13, 2017

Congratulations —Abang Johari named Sarawak’s 6th Chief Minister

 by Richard T.W @www.freemalaysiatoday.com
The Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu Deputy President and nine-term assemblyman had once served as former Chief Minister Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud’s political secretary.

Abang-Johari-Sarawak

Stand Up for All Sarawakians and Stop UMNO at the Gates

Abang Johari Openg has been appointed Sarawak’s 6th Chief Minister. He replaces the well-respected Adenan Satem, who passed away on Wednesday.

According to a tweet from Borneo Post Online, Abang Johari will be sworn in as the next Chief Minister of Sarawak at 4p.m today at the Astana. He was Deputy Chief Minister 2 under Adenan, and also Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu Deputy President.

Abang Johari, who has been in politics for over three decades, had been considered for the Chief Minister’s post in 2014 when Abdul Taib Mahmud stepped down.

The 68-year-old is a nine-term assemblyman for Satok, having first contested the seat in 1981.  Trained as an engineer, Abang Johari served as political secretary to Abdul Taib Mahmud when the latter was chief minister of Sarawak. He was appointed Assistant Minister of Regional and Social Development in March 1984, and three years later as State Agriculture and Community Development Minister.

Abang Johari has 10 siblings and hails from an illustrious Sarawakian family with has a long-standing history of public within the state. His father, Tun Abang Haji Openg, was the first Governor of Sarawak after Sarawak became independent from Great Britain on July 22, 1963 and when Malaysia was formed on September 16, 1963.

Abang Johari performed exceptionally well as the state BN campaign director for the Sarawak elections last May. He managed to defend all of PBB’s 40 seats. He was also instrumental in assisting the Sarawak United People’s Party recapture five seats from the DAP. Overall, Sarawak BN won 72 out of the 82 state seats. The original publicised target was 68 seats.

In Memory of a Sarawakian Warrior and Unifer


January 13, 2017

COMMENT: I share the sentiments expressed by Dr. Lim in his article. Truth be told, I did not have the opportunity to meet and know the late Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, but from my Sarawakian friends and others, I was aware that he was a fiercely Sarawak-centered (Sarawak for All Sarawakians) and a politically strong leader who could resist UMNO’s dominance when he held high office.

Image result for Farewell to Adenan Satem

His Excellency YAB Tun Taib Mahmud should be complimented for choosing Tan Sri Adenan as his successor. Throughout his political career, Governor Tun Taib was able to keep UMNO out of Sarawak and unlike Sabah’s Musa Aman, Tan  Sri Adenan too could confine UMNO to Peninsular Malaysia. Now I hope that Tun Taib can  appoint a successor who will put Sarawak first and prevent UMNO from establishing a foothold in his resource rich and prosperous state.–Din Merican.

In Memory of  a Sarawakian Warrior and Unifer

by Lim Teck Ghee

When Tan Sri Adenan Satem stepped into Tun Taib Mahmud’s shoes as Chief Minister of Sarawak, few expected him to be more than a stopgap for the emergence of more ambitious and pushy politicians in Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), the dominant party in the state.

The fact that Taib had not relinquished power but had moved into the position of Governor seemed to indicate that the state’s post- colonial “White Rajah” would be pulling the strings; and that Adenan would serve as a doormat leader.

Image result for iban soldierSarawak’s Most Decorated Soldier

Add to this the concern over Adenan’s health following his heart surgery in 2012 and it is not surprising that most analysts were predicting little or no change in the status quo with regard to the East Malaysian state in its relations with a UMNO dominated federal government, or the way in which the state’s interests have been ravaged by the kleptocratic rule of the previous state government.

As the nation (an Sarawak in particular) mourns his passing it is clear that what Adenan did with his new lease of life is nothing short of extraordinary. His achievements in his short span of three years as Chief Minister place him at the topmost rung of our nation’s leaders with even his most staunch political enemies hailing his governance reforms and regretting his untimely demise.

Adenan was much more than a Sarawak leader. He has set the bench mark and shown the way for the rest of the nation’s leaders on the true measure of leadership in at least four important ways.

In his own state, he embarked on a series of policy reforms from restrictions in timber concession licences to abandonment of the controversial Baram Dam project, recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate for admission in the state’s public universities and civil service and other sensible measures. All the states in the Peninsula, and in Sabah, can learn from Adenan’s reforms in the state which are based on the interests of the rakyat, accountable government and transparency.

Secondly, by moving quickly and decisively on the devolution of federal power to the state in accordance with the 1963 agreement, he helped to defuse pro-separatist sentiments which have been growing in the state.

Image result for Farewell to Adenan Satem

His reminder on various public occasions for the Federal Government – e.g: “We are not happy. I can tell you we are not happy, with the present arrangement… I told the Prime Minister himself, I do not want, in the coming General Election, to be seen defending the Federal Government if they do not concede, if they do not give us concessions on our requests” – will serve as a reference point for Sarawak-Putrajaya relations whichever government comes into power at the state and federal level in the next election.

Thirdly, by his actions he has shown that it is possible to uphold the legitimate interests of minority communities and to resist playing up to racial and religious concerns. His public pronouncements on the importance of inclusion and defence of so-called pendatang communities have undoubtedly shamed and silenced purveyors of the ketuanan doctrine previously emboldened by the absence of challenge by opportunistic politicians.

Finally, but not least of all in importance, is his reputation for non-corruptibility and refusal to use his office for personal gain and enrichment.

Adenan fought for justice and good governance. He fought for peace and unity . In doing so, he sacrificed his health and shortened a life span which could have been extended by a lot more years had he chosen to stay outside the political fray. .

The country’s politicians should honour this great Malaysian by ensuring that the battles he fought end with victory.

Unity in Diversity


January 9,2017

Unity in Diversity

By Dennis Ignatius

Unleashing our uniqueness as a multicultural nation

Image result for Malaysia

You can tell, I suppose, that elections are near when UMNO politicians start heaping praise upon our otherwise much-maligned citizens of Chinese origin.

Image result for zahid hamidi and gang

No less than Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in a speech delivered on his behalf on the occasion of the Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall’s Anniversary Dinner recently, praised Malaysian Chinese for their “bravery, hard work and true grit” and their ability to turn things around with minimum resources. He also expressed admiration for their “spirit to never say no to challenges” and opined that “the Chinese community will continue to be the group that will carry the nation forward.”

Flattery & Brickbats 

Zahid’s lavish praise, however, passed without much comment from Malaysian Chinese themselves with many simply dismissing it as little more than lip service. The obvious, if unspoken message, is that mere flattery cannot undo the years of vilification and racial intimidation that has become the hallmark of UMNO politics.

Image result for The Red Shirts in Petaling Street

UMNO’s Extremists in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur

It was not so long ago, for example, that UMNO-aligned red shirted bullies threatened to rain down mayhem upon Petaling Street. It was even more telling, for many Malaysian Chinese, that the red shirt leader was subsequently welcomed as something of a hero at the recent UMNO General Assembly. It only confirmed the perception of UMNO’s malice and hostility towards minority communities.

At the same assembly, UMNO stalwarts also demanded that the some of the miserably few positions that Chinese have in government and government-linked companies be taken away and given to UMNO members.

Worse still, the idea was posited that the Chinese pose an existential threat to the Malays. It might be just politics to UMNO but it demonizes a significant part of our populations simply on the basis of their race. It is not only dangerous but it goes against the very foundational principles of our nation. It is precisely this kind of mentality that is behind much of the chastisement of Malaysia’s minority communities as “pendatangs,” and as just so many unpatriotic and ungrateful interlopers.

Image result for The Red Shirts in Petaling Street

The response that shook UMNO–China’s subtle response to the treatment of their diaspora

It is simply mind-boggling that a dominant political party like UMNO would think that it can treat minority communities with such utter contempt and then expect to earn their allegiance and support at the polls with but a few blandishments.

A blessing to be appreciated

But, whether sincere or not, whether it was given grudgingly or otherwise, Zahid’s praise for the Malaysian Chinese community was well-deserved and long overdue. It may not be music to the ears of racists and bigots but the fact remains that Malaysia would be but a pale shadow of itself if not for the contributions of our citizens of Chinese origin.

They have been a huge blessing to us all and it is about time that they were respected and honoured for it.

If given half the chance to serve, if treated with genuine respect as fellow citizens rather than as interlopers and adversaries, the Chinese community, alongside Malaysia’s other communities, could well lift our nation to unparalleled greatness.

Instead of looking further afield to countries like China to boost our growth, we would do better to tap the acres of diamonds that our own minority communities represent.

Actions rather than words

If Zahid and UMNO want to genuinely show their appreciation for the contributions that Malaysian Chinese have made, they can start by being more supportive of the Chinese schools system.

Image result for china controls  malaysia

Najib depends on Malay support via a Pact with PAS–Hudud

After all, more than any other single factor, it is education that has transformed the Chinese community from a rag-tag bunch of indentured laborers, vegetable gardeners, petty traders, dulang-washers, rickshaw-pullers, nigh-soil carriers and terempoh-makers into a community that can now “carry the nation forward” as Zahid himself put it.

Besides, Chinese schools today are about the only bright spot in our otherwise dismal education system. Unsurprisingly, Chinese schools are the preferred choice of many Malaysian parents no matter their ethnic or religious background.

Those who make the argument that Chinese schools fail to foster racial unity and promote the national identity forget that Chinese schools are today far more multiracial than the so-called national type schools or, for that matter, religious schools.

Would that more Malaysians kids, particularly those from our floundering Indian community, enroll in Chinese schools.

It is a shame, therefore, that the Education Ministry remains so unsupportive of the Chinese schools system withholding even the meager RM50 million in maintenance that was allocated to Chinese schools last year, as was reported in the last few weeks.

As well, the Education Ministry’s refusal to recognize the Unified Examinations Certificate (UEC), something which Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem called “stupid,” makes no sense given that it is already accepted by Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Taiwan, Singapore, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States.

It is hard not to conclude, and certainly the perception persists, that the government’s whole approach to Chinese education is mired in racial prejudice more than anything else.

A museum of living history

Ways must also be found to breakdown the racism and prejudice that has become so ingrained in our society and correct the biased and jaundiced ethnic narratives that have been allowed to take root. Too little attention has been given to the contributions and the stories of heroism and hard work of earlier generations of Malaysians of all ethnicities.

To this end, consideration should be given to the establishment of a multicultural history museum, similar to the Canadian Museum of Immigration (Pier 21), that would record for posterity the history and the stories of all of Malaysia’s ethnic communities – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan, Bugis, Javanese, Arab, Thai and others – their origins, their culture, how they came to call Malaysia their home, their struggles, their hopes and dreams and their contributions to making Malaysia the remarkable nation it now is.

It could also be a living museum with digital boards for the descendants to trace their roots, remember their pioneering forefathers and add their own stories of life and citizenship in Malaysia.

It would certainly help all Malaysians to take pride in their history, culture and contributions while remembering that it took all our ethnic communities many long years of hard work, cooperation and sacrifice to make us what we are today, that we all have a stake in this nation for better or worse, and that if we stand together, we can make our nation the envy of all.

Unleashing our greatness as a nation

Instead of hollow gestures given grudgingly when elections are near, UMNO must decide, once and for all, which road it will take when it comes to dealing with Malaysia’s ethnic minorities – the high road to tolerance and respect for diversity that will allow all our ethnic communities to flower or the low road to bigotry that will drive them away and deprive the nation of the wealth, talent and experience that they have to offer.

UMNO can help to truly unleash the power, the strength and the uniqueness of our multiethnic polity or it can try to stifle it at every turn and rule over a diminished nation, a mockery of all that it could be.

Trump’s Unrealpolitik


January 7, 2017

Trump’s Unrealpolitik

by Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Center for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.–http://www.project-syndicate.org

Some in the United States have praised President-elect Donald Trump for his supposed realism. He will do what is right for America, they argue, without getting caught up in thorny moral dilemmas, or letting himself be carried away by some grand sense of responsibility for the rest of the world. By acting with the shrewd pragmatism of a businessman, he will make America stronger and more prosperous.

This view is, to be frank, delusional.

Image result for Greek historian Thucydides

It is certainly true that Trump will not be caught up in questions of morality. He is precisely what the Greek historian Thucydides defined as an immoral leader: one of “violent character” who “wins over the people by deceiving them” and by exploiting “their angry feelings and emotions.”

But immorality is neither desirable nor a necessary feature of realism. (Thucydides himself was an ethical realist.) And there is little to suggest that Trump has any of the other realist qualities that his supporters see. How could anyone expect the proudly unpredictable and deeply uninformed Trump to execute grand strategic designs, such as the Realpolitik recommended by Harvard’s Niall Ferguson, Henry Kissinger’s biographer, following the election?

Image result for Harvard’s Niall Ferguson on Realpolitik Quote

Ferguson, like Kissinger, believes that true Realpolitik under Trump should begin with an alliance among the US, China, and Russia, based on a mutual fear of Islamic extremism and a shared desire to exploit lesser powers to boost their own economies. These countries would agree to prevent Europe from attaining great-power status (by destroying the European Union), and to ensure that populist or authoritarian governments control the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members.

Image result for trump le pen putin

To this end, Trump could work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to help Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s anti-EU nationalist right, win April’s presidential election. Moreover, in order to consolidate a post-EU Anglo-Atlantic sphere, Trump could transform the North American Free-Trade Agreement into a North Atlantic arrangement, replacing Mexico with the United Kingdom. Finally, he could put pressure on NATO members to pay more for defense – a move that would surely undermine the security of the Baltic states and Ukraine.

Achieving these goals would require more than an ability to avoid moral impediments. Like all statecraft, it would require an aptitude for careful diplomatic engineering, respect for facts and truth, historical knowledge, and a capacity for cautious examination of complex situations when formulating (or revising) policies.

Yet Trump is the most anarchic, capricious, and inconsistent individual ever to occupy the White House, and all he has to help guide him is a cabinet full of billionaire deal-makers like him, preoccupied with calculable immediate interests. For them, casting off allies might seem like an easy way to streamline decision-making (and boost share prices).

But repudiating America’s role as a global beacon – and thus the idea of American exceptionalism – is a bad bet for the future. Scrapping free-trade deals with Asia and Latin America, for example, could provide a short-term gain for the US economy; but doing so would ultimately undercut the projection of American power there, paving the way for penetration by China.

Image result for China the Power in Asia

The US should be aiming to curtail China’s influence without incurring its wrath. Another lesson from Thucydides – reinforced by historical experience – is that rising, not established, powers tend to upset the international order.

Protecting that order requires the main global power to uphold the institutions that underpin it, in order to prevent revolutionary behavior by lesser powers. Yet Trump has criticized and disregarded international institutions to such an extent that it is now China that is defending global governance – including the Paris agreement on climate change and the nuclear deal with Iran – from a revolutionary US.

Worse, Trump has seemingly abandoned all caution with regard to China. On the diplomatic front, by speaking directly with the president of Taiwan after the election, he violated a protocol maintained for four decades, by Democratic and Republican presidents alike. On the economic front, he has leveled reckless (and plainly wrong) accusations that China is manipulating its currency to gain an unfair trade advantage.

Provoking China, doubting NATO, and threatening trade wars is nihilism, not strategy. At this point, Trump seems set to do on a global scale what former President George W. Bush did to the Middle East – intentionally destabilize the old order, and then fail to create a new one. The first step would be a deal with Putin on Syria – a move that, like Bush’s defeat of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, would amount to handing a victory to Iran.

This is not to say that none of the Realpolitik envisioned by Ferguson will come to fruition. But what elements of it do emerge will likely be driven more by Putin than by Trump – with dangerous outcomes. Already, Putin has begun work on dismantling the EU. After Le Pen was refused credit from French banks, Russian banks saved her campaign. And Russian state-sponsored propaganda is helping to drive former Soviet republics away from the EU.

Trump, a vocal Putin fan, is unlikely to redress the tilting balance of power as part of, let alone as a condition for, a diplomatic “reset” with Russia. What kind of a realist would not use a united Western alliance to limit a Russia that is trying to engineer a return to Cold War spheres of influence?

And, for that matter, what kind of a realist sends to Israel an Ambassador whose pro-settlement rhetoric threatens to inflame the entire Muslim world against the US? What is so realistic about a war of annihilation against the Islamic State that is not backed by a plan for engagement with the broader Middle East?

Trump might have some realistic instincts. But they will not be enough to ensure measured responses to even the slightest provocation, much less to underpin a sweeping and consistent strategy.