NY Times Book Review: Can the 45th President of the United States be impeached?

March 17, 2018

NYTimes Book Review: Can the 45th President of the United States be impeached?

by Andrew Sullivan

A Citizen’s Guide
By Cass R. Sunstein
199 pp. Harvard University. Paper, $7.95.

Authoritarianism in America
Edited by Cass R. Sunstein
481 pp. Dey St./Morrow. Paper, $17.99.

It’s really hard to impeach a President.

The founders included the provision, from the very start, as the weakest, “break the glass in case of emergency” mechanism for reining in an out-of-control executive. He was already subject to a four-year term, so he would remain answerable to the people, and to two other branches of government, which could box him in constitutionally. But the founders’ fear of creeping monarchism — the very reason for their revolution — and their deep realism about human nature led them to a provision, rooted in English constitutional precedent, whereby a rogue President could be removed from office by the legislature during his term as well. At the same time, it’s clear they also wanted a strong executive, not serving at the whim of Congress, or subject, like a Prime Minister, to a parliamentary vote of “no confidence.” He was an equal branch of government, with his own prerogatives, empowered, in Hamilton’s words, to conduct his office with “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch.” He stood very much on his own feet.

“…if he was to start acting like an idiot, he could not be impeached. If he was psychologically disturbed but not mentally incapacitated, ditto. If he pursued ruinous policies, or faced enormous unpopularity, or said unspeakably reckless things, he could not be impeached. If he committed a whole slew of crimes in his personal capacity, he’d be answerable to public opinion and regular justice, but not subject to losing his job. If his judgment was unstable, his personal behavior appalling or if he were to make the United States a laughingstock in the opinion of mankind, the impeachment provision did not apply.”–Andrew Sullivan

And so the impeachment power was both strong and weak. Strong as it hovered as the ultimate sanction for any President who might push his luck, but weak insofar as it was deliberately limited to the offense of subverting the Constitution itself or betraying the United States in foreign affairs: the famously grave and yet vague Anglo-American terminology of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which included “great and dangerous offenses.” These were essentially serious political crimes, which was why they had to be dealt with in the political arena rather than the courts. They amounted to one core idea: If the President was to start acting like a king, he could be dispatched.

But if he was to start acting like an idiot, he could not be impeached. If he was psychologically disturbed but not mentally incapacitated, ditto. If he pursued ruinous policies, or faced enormous unpopularity, or said unspeakably reckless things, he could not be impeached. If he committed a whole slew of crimes in his personal capacity, he’d be answerable to public opinion and regular justice, but not subject to losing his job. If his judgment was unstable, his personal behavior appalling or if he were to make the United States a laughingstock in the opinion of mankind, the impeachment provision did not apply.

Image result for Impeachment of john Tyler

And even then, the bar for impeachment was very high, as Cass R. Sunstein’s elegant new monograph, “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide,” explains: Both House and Senate would have to be involved and in favor; and conviction would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate, ensuring that a clear national consensus was necessary if a president was to be judged to be gravely violating his oath of office, or betraying the country. This is why in well over two centuries the impeachment power has been invoked against sitting Presidents only four times, and never actually pursued to conviction. The attempted impeachment of John Tyler in 1842 was rightly rejected by the House of Representatives by a margin of 127-83 (he was guilty of innovating the use of the veto on policy grounds alone), and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868 (on the preposterous grounds that he had no right to appoint his own secretary of war) was turned back by a single vote in the Senate. The impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton in 1998 because of a civil sexual harassment suit squeaked through the House on partisan lines, 221-212, but failed in the Senate, with conviction on the least ludicrous obstruction of justice charge reaching only 50 votes out of a needed 67.

Image result for Impeachment of Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon resigned before a vote in the full House could be taken. Sunstein assesses his articles of impeachment thus: not impeachable for evading taxes (too personal a crime); probably impeachable for resisting a congressional subpoena (but a President could potentially make a legitimate, if dubious, claim about executive privilege); definitely impeachable for covering up an impeachable offense (abusing the powers of the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the Department of Justice to conceal evidence of an attempt to subvert an election by burglarizing the Democratic National Committee).

Where does this leave us with respect to Donald Trump? Sunstein smartly doesn’t answer the question directly — instead teasing out various hypotheticals with some similarities to our current concerns. Here are a few: directing the Justice Department to prosecute someone for political reasons; pledging in advance to pardon anyone in law enforcement who commits a crime; using the F.B.I. or C.I.A. to get evidence of criminality against a political opponent; egregiously defaulting on his core presidential responsibilities; secretly bribing others in a direct quid pro quo or similarly receiving bribes; and secretly cooperating with a foreign power to promulgate false information against a political opponent. Sunstein thinks each of these is an impeachable offense — as they almost certainly are.

With Trump, these analogies are tantalizingly close but probably not close enough. Firing an F.B.I. Director for an investigation into a President’s campaign, for example, is deeply suspicious, but technically kosher, since the F.B.I. Director serves at the president’s pleasure. Campaigning to “lock her up” and initiating a new Justice Department investigation into possible illegality by Hillary Clinton likewise could be described, in a pinch, as mere excessive campaign rhetoric or a genuine pursuit of justice. Spending hours watching cable television, refusing to read his daily intelligence briefing, disrupting negotiations with Congress by constantly shifting positions and dictating policy by declarative tweets are all clearly outside what the founders would regard as good executive leadership, but they are too subjective to be a reliable basis for impeachment. Pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio for violating the Constitution could be defended, however dubiously, as merely an act of compassion for an old man. Failing to abide by clear ethical rules by refusing to divest all business projects is an egregious outrage, but not provable bribery. Venting at an attorney general for recusing himself from a case in which he was involved (but not actually firing him) doesn’t make the cut either.

What about passively cooperating with a foreign power to subvert an American election and then, after clear proof of such interference, refusing to counter that foreign power’s intent to disrupt the next election too? If a President unwittingly benefited from a foreign foe’s meddling (“no collusion!”), and he’s merely guilty of failing to do enough to counter that power’s continuing assault on the American democratic process, he’s in the clear. But if he is actively neglecting a defense of this country’s electoral integrity because he believes the Kremlin helped him win an election in the past, and will almost certainly help him and his party in the near future, then impeachment is a no-brainer. If he knew of the meddling at the time and encouraged it, ditto. In those cases, you have a combination of treason and defaulting on the core responsibilities of his office — at the center of the founders’ concerns (especially being too close to a foreign government). The trouble here is that we have, so far, no proof of anything but a willingness to collude with a foreign power’s interference; and no clear evidence at all of the President’s personal involvement with foreign actors.

Yet even if that evidence were incontrovertible (and that could still emerge in Mueller’s investigation), impeachment remains a political decision. Which means that unless we experience some kind of unprecedented sea change in the pathological tribalism that now defines our politics, impeachment is a dead letter. What makes Trump immune is that he is not a President within the context of a healthy republican government. He is a cult leader of a movement that has taken over a political party — and he specifically campaigned on a platform of one-man rule. This fact permeates “Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America,” a collection of essays by a number of writers that has been edited by Sunstein, which concludes, if you read between the lines, that “it” already has.

Image result for donald trump impeachmentThe 45th POTUS Donald J. Trump: “I am the only one who matters.”

No, Trump is not about to initiate a coup, or suspend elections or become a dictator. The more likely model for American authoritarianism is that of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey or the Fidesz party in Hungary. The dismemberment of a public discourse centered on objective truth is a key first step, fomented by unceasing dissemination of outright lies from the very top, metabolized by tribal social media, ever more extreme talk radio and what is essentially a state propaganda channel, Fox News. The neutering of the courts is the second step — and Trump is well on his way to (constitutionally) establishing a federal judiciary whose most important feature will be reliable assent to executive power. Congress itself has far less approval than Trump; its inability to do anything but further bankrupt the country, enrich the oligarchy and sabotage many Americans’ health care leaves an aching void filled by … a President who repeatedly insists that “I am the only one who matters.”

I don’t think Trump has a conscious intent to vandalize liberal democracy — he doesn’t even understand what it is. Rather, his twisted, compulsive insecurity requires him to use his office to attack, delegitimize and weaken every democratic institution that may occasionally operate outside his own delusional narcissism. He cannot help this. His tweets are a function of spasms, not plots. But the wreckage after only one year is extraordinary. The F.B.I. is now widely discredited; the C.I.A. is held in contempt; judges, according to the president, are driven by prejudice and partisanship (when they disagree with him); the media produce fake news; Congress is useless (including both Republicans and Democrats); alliances are essentially rip-offs; the State Department — along with the whole idea of a neutral Civil Service — is unnecessary. And the possibility of reasoned deliberation at the heart of democratic life has been obliterated by the white-hot racial and cultural hatreds that Trump was able to exploit to get elected and that he constantly fuels.

The Democrats find themselves in opposition a little like Marco Rubio in the primaries. Take the high road and you are irrelevant; take the low road and you cannot compete with the biggest bully and liar on the block. The result is that an unimpeachable President is slowly constructing the kind of authoritarian state that America was actually founded to overthrow.

There is nothing in the Constitution’s formal operation that can prevent this. Impeachment certainly cannot. As long as one major political party endorses it, and a solid plurality of Americans support such an authoritarian slide, it is unstoppable. The founders knew that without a virtuous citizenry, the Constitution was a mere piece of paper and, in Madison’s words, “no theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.” Franklin was blunter in forecasting the moment we are now in: He believed that the American experiment in self-government “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” You can impeach a President, but you can’t, alas, impeach the people. They voted for the kind of monarchy the American republic was designed, above all else, to resist; and they have gotten one.

Trump Gun Culture

March 13, 2018

Trump Gun Culture

 by Mike Minehan*

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Don’t hold your breath that President Trump will restrict gun ownership in the USA in the wake of the killing of 17 students in Parkland, Florida. And banning the semi-automatic assault weapons that are the weapon of choice in mass shootings? Forget about it.

President Trump supports the National Rifle Association, and the NRA is vehemently opposed to a ban on assault weapons. Apart from some initial vacillations on gun control, Trump’s tweets say it all: “What many people don’t understand is that the folks who work so far at the NRA are Great People and Great American Patriots. They love our country and will do the right thing.”

Oh yes, and Trump is hardly impartial – he has a concealed carry permit for the two handguns that he owns. Although as revealed by the web magazine, Politico, Trump said he didn’t talk about his guns before talking about them.


Trump’s solution to preventing more school massacres is, yes, it’s more guns. Arm and train the teachers, he says, But the biggest problem, of course, is the USA gun culture itself and the ease of obtaining weapons.

Other people are proposing other solutions. These proposals include bullet proof backpacks and even bullet proof school clothing.It’s an amazing culture where kids going to school need to think about taking more than just their books and their lunch.

Presumably a backpack that stops bullets from assault weapons will be next. Although a simpler solution could be to carry rubber door wedges to prevent a gunman from opening school doors. But then the doors would need to be bullet proof, too.

Many schools in America also run regular drills to train children what to do when a shooter enters their building. But while the shootings continue, and the death toll rises, the main problem itself shows no signs of going away. This problem is the easy access to guns in the USA, even military grade assault weapons, and the right of just about anyuone to own them.

Watch out American school kids. So far, in 2018 alone, there have been 9 school shootings in the USA. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention report that shootings killed or injured at least 19 children each day between 2002-2014, with boys, teenagers and blacks most at risk.

So when will another deranged, disgruntled former pupil be stalking the next school corridor with an assault weapon he bought legally?

Trump will soon be gifted another pistol for his collection – a 24-carat gold inlaid and elaborately engraved Colt .45. This pistol is hand-crafted and has “Donald J. Trump” engraved in large letters on one side, and “45th President of the United States of America” on the other. .45, 45th President, get it?

If I were a betting man, well, I wouldn’t bet against Trump enthusiastically accepting this gun. The Man with the Golden Gun. It’s all so, so, American. It’s so Trump.

  • Dr. Mike Mineham is Dean, School of Graduate Studies, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. The views expressed in this article are strictly his own.


Living in a Time of Deception: Look Back on Malayan History


February 26, 2018

Living in a Time of Deception: Look Back on Malayan History

by Maryam Lee @www.malaysiakini.com

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COMMENT | “So colonialism is about how brown people suffered and died for the ambitions of white men?”

I asked him. Dr Poh Soo Kai replied, “Not necessarily, it’s not about the skin colour, you see. The Japanese were not white, they also colonised us.”

Colonialism is an attitude, it is a way of thinking. It is the imperial mentality that people under imperialism deserve to be subjugated simply because they are not born of the “superior” race.

I spent a lot of time in early February listening to stories of transnational activism, before and after the Japanese occupation in South-east Asia, from the man himself, Dr Poh Soo Kai. Socialist activist, political prisoner, now the author of “Singapore: Living in a Time of Deception”.

His book has been translated to Indonesian by one of the local publishers, Ultimus, and the launching of the book was done in one of my favourite cities of culture and activism, Yogyakarta.

Poh shared many stories. When we went to the beach for lunch, Poh told stories of what Soekarno did to the communists in Indonesia (Madium 1948), and how the communists supported Soekarno anyway, when he nationalised Indonesian assets to piss off the Dutch.

And then stories of Malayan communists. Led by Loi Teck, who was a Vietnamese, the communists brokered an agreement with the British in return for recognition of the Malayan Communist Party in the new parliamentary democracy Malaya was supposed to adopt upon independence.

When the British left, the Malayan communists had fought the Japanese to gain independence. When the war was over, there was a dilemma, whether or not to continue the fight, since the British came back to secure Malaya again.

The British made an agreement with Loi Teck, under which they recognised the MCP for a ceasefire of the arms struggle that would resist the British’s return.

Ahmad Boestamam and other members of the Persatuan Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM), the anti-colonial party set up after the Japanese occupation, refused to lay down arms and wanted to continue the arms struggle for independence.

Unfortunately, PKMM could not fight without the communists. So when they laid down arms, as per Loi Teck’s instructions, the left had no choice but to discontinue the arms struggle.

Shortly after surrendering their arms, Loi Teck disappeared with MCP’s money. They looked for him, but according to Chin Peng (on right in photo), the Thai communists found and killed him because he resisted arrest. It was later known that Loi Teck was a double agent that had double-crossed his own comrades for his own personal gains.

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British needed the distraction

Why the British had been so “nice” to the communists in Malaya was because they had to hold down the ports in Indonesia for the Dutch. The British Indian Army was sent all over Indonesia where there were uprisings, largely to Surabaya and Bandung, before the Dutch were strong enough to come back.

In the meantime, the British, who were not strong enough to fight the Malayan communists, had to convince MCP to lay down arms, via Loi Teck. The British needed this distraction so that Malayan communists could not succeed in gaining independence for Malaya, and for the British troops to come back from Indonesia.

When the war was over, the Dutch got hold of Indonesia, British troops were called back to suppress Malaya, and that was when all unions and left-wing organisations were banned and many of their leaders killed.

The promises the British made to MCP via Loi Teck to recognise the communists never materialised. As a matter of fact, with the newfound strength of the British army, they defeated the communists into exile.

“You see, Maryam, the cruel thing about colonialism is how brown people kill other brown people for those with pale skin and blue eyes,” Juliet said. Juliet is also a friend who had accompanied us in Yogyakarta.

“They made us fight each other, kill each other, and not even for the benefit of our own countries, but for the benefit of the imperialist countries,” her interjection served as a reminder of the unnecessary evils of colonialism, from which we only broke free not too long ago.

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Some of the people who lived through British and Japanese occupations in Malaya are still living. And they tell their stories in their memoirs to be compared to the “official” history written by those who had won, at least on the side of history.

Colonialism may be a recent past, but unfortunately, it lives as a distant memory. Poh’s stories must continue to be told and recorded to do justice to our post-colonial discourse. For historians, or those who record history, have the power to tell truth to power in a time full of deception.

MARYAM LEE is a writer with a chronic tendency to get into trouble. What she lacks in spelling when writing in English is made up for with her many writings in Bahasa Malaysia. She believes in conversations as the most valuable yet underrated cause of social change. She wants people to recognise silences and give them a voice, as she tries to bring people together through words.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire (What the British did to India)

February 6, 2018

Book Review Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire (What the British did to India)

Reviewed by Cyril Pereira


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The backstory is the Oxford Union Debate of July 2015, on whether Britain should pay reparations to its former colonies. Shashi Tharoor’s team won handily, arguing that Britain should. The YouTube segment of his speech went viral, downloaded a stunning three million times. Hence the book Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India, published in 2017.

Asia Society Talk

Tharoor took the lectern at the Asia Society in Hong Kong on Dec. 2, not fully recovered from mobilizing relief in Kerala forr victims of Cyclone Ockhi. Beset by coughing fits, his practiced recitation of the ruination of India by the East India Company and the British Crown was matter-of-fact. He spoke without notes.

The result is a bitter indictment of colonialism and an argument that the UK gained far more from India than India ever gained from colonialism. Narratives of British rule in India, he said, rarely dwell on the rapacity of the 80-90 percent tax levied on farmers, the substitution of food crops by opium for export to China, the massacre of 1,800 unarmed civilians by General Dyer in Amritsar, or the systematic wrecking of then world-class native steel, ship-building and textile industries.

Choking Local Industry

Indian swords were forged from a special high-carbon crucible technique developed in south India in the 3d Century BC. Seaborne trade with the Middle East exported this knowledge, where it gained fame as the “Damascus Sword.” British troops were known to retrieve the superior sabers of the Indian warriors they shot in battle, Tharoor writes.

The Raj closed India’s iron and steel furnaces on the grounds that they constituted a threat of armed native revolt, Tharoor said. The techniques and the knowhow flowed into British steelmaking which boosted the Industrial Revolution. There is a repetitive pattern of appropriation of Indian techniques, while suppressing the local crafts and trade.

The textile cottage industry spun fine fabrics which were the rage even of the fashionable ladies of the ancient Roman Empire. As the industrial looms began to roll in England, Indian hand looms were smashed and in one tragic case, the thumbs of the master weavers were sliced off – recorded by a Dutch observer. Indians had to purchase Lancaster cloth imported tax free, while stiff tariffs were imposed on Indian textiles.

Indian teak and the tar derived from burning it, along with jointing techniques, outlasted European ships constructed from oak by at least five times seaworthy life, the former diplomat charges. Alexander the Great commissioned Indian ships to ferry his retreating army to Greece. Ma Huan, interpreter on Ming Admiral Zheng He’s voyages of the 15th Century, studied boat construction in Bengal. Historically, Indian shipbuilding was globally recognized.

In 1675, the East India Company built a shipyard in Bombay to use Indian teak. The British Navy commissioned hundreds of ships for its fleet. Indian ships, Indian loot, Bengal saltpeter (gunpowder), piracy, the slave trade from Africa, opium dealing in China, and the sugar canes of the Caribbean, enabled Britain to rule the waves.

When the industrial era of steamships began, punitive tariffs were imposed on Indian shipbuilding. Investment in modern development was blocked by British shipbuilders and the colonial government. The shipbuilding industry was forcibly strangled too. Eliminating competition to monopolize trade was standard colonial policy.

It is sometimes suggested that India would have fallen behind anyway, even without the destructive British policies, overtaken by the industrial revolution. To that, Tharoor asked: Why do you think Indian merchants experienced in international trade of textiles, steel and shipbuilding, wouldn’t invest in and adopt modern techniques from anywhere?

Rich Archives

The compulsive shopkeeper habit of the British, afforded a ready reference of dates, events, imports and exports. About 300 source documents are annotated in the book. “The task of validation was straightforward as the British maintained detailed records of policy, trade statistics, and parliamentary debates,” Tharoor said.

When the East India Company arrived in the 1600s, India’s global GDP share was 25 percent while Britain’s stood at 1.8 percent. Over 350 years of the Company and 200 years of the British Raj, Indian revenues financed the Industrial Revolution and critical maritime supremacy. By the middle of the 20th Century, the British GDP share had risen to 10 percent while India’s shrank to 3 percent.

Image result for Robert Clive of IndiaSir Robert Clive of India


Tharoor dismisses the hagiography and apologia of historians like Niall Ferguson (2003), Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World; Lawrence James (1997), Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India; and Andrew Roberts (2006), A History of the English Speaking Peoples since 1900. He exposes the  vile larcency of colonial rule.

Alex von Tunzelmann’s 2007 book Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, has this passage: “In the beginning, there were two nations. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swath of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England.”

Vexed Legacy?

There are widely held positive appraisals of the legacies of British rule: the railway network, the civil service, the rule of law and a free press. Tharoor concedes these with ambivalence. Through his lens, these were incidental residuals of the Raj imperative to stamp efficient colonial rule – not gifts from a benevolent monarch.

Railway investors were guaranteed a minimum 5 percent return by the Indian taxpayer. In its first two decades, each mile of Indian rail cost nine times that of the UK & the United States. Public exposure of that scam lowered the cost to five times. The railways extracted raw material from the hinterland, and deployed soldiers inland to maintain order.

The civil service was a classic formula of British ingenuity: the clerical bookkeeping, stock tally and labor supervision were left to English-educated Indians, while policy direction and enforcement rested with British sahibs. The education system, supplemented by mission schools, supplied local recruits for the administration.

Image result for The Indian Civil Service

Law and order was imposed to further East India Company operations and for the greater glory of the British Raj. Laws were framed to ensure compliance to rules and regulations for opium cultivation, plantation management, land tax collection and to enforce subservience of all subjects to the British Crown. It was a tool of colonial oppression.

The press (in English) grew in the port cities as commercial information vehicles to facilitate trade. When indigenous newspapers sprouted in response to rising nationalism after WWI, repressive sedition laws were used to detain editors and ban publications. Pro-establishment English press flourished. Press licensing tightened media control.

‘Let them starve’

Image result for winston churchill and Mahatma Gandhi book

On the historic scale of mass murderers, where Stalin ranks at 20 million, Mao at 15 million and Hitler at 6 million. Tharoor reckons British colonial rule killed 35 million Indians over recurring famines. He is particularly scathing of Winston Churchill, who misappropriated food grain during the infamous Bengal famine of 1943, causing five million deaths. Churchill scribbled in the margin of his cabinet papers, “Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?”

Tharoor attributes such callousness to three factors: the ‘free trade’ principle, the Malthusian sustainable-population theory, and the rigid colonial practice of disallowing humanitarian assistance as fiscal prudence. Mercy shown could be misinterpreted as weakness, and such indulgence would make the natives lazy anyway.

Tharoor, a former UN Under-Secretary General, author of four fiction and 12 non-fiction books, Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, roasts British colonial rule to counter the contrived amnesia and disinformation, about what the experience really meant for India and Indians.

Should Britain pay reparations? Tharoor suggests, tongue-in-cheek, a token One British pound sterling per year over the next two hundred years, plus an apology. He urges colonial history be taught in British schools honestly. Colonialists vamp noble narratives about their mission, mostly fake.

Cyril Pereira is a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel

Tribute to Kedah’s Greatest Son and Malaysia’s Statesman–Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra

February 4, 2017

Tribute to Kedah’s Greatest Son and Statesman–Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, Father of Independence of Malaysia

Image result for portrait of tunku abdul rahman
by Wan Saiful Wan Jan @www.thestar.com.my

NEXT week, on February 8, will be the 115th birthday of Malaysia’s First Prime Minister and Father of Independence, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.

Tunku was the seventh son of Kedah’s Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah. Tunku’s mother is Che Menjalara, the daughter of Luang Naraborirak from Thailand.

He was educated in Alor Setar, Bangkok and Penang, before graduating from Cambridge University at St Catharine’s College in 1925. He then completed his legal training in 1949.

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Tunku’s Alma Mater, St Catharine’s College, Cambridge

He successfully led the series of negotiations that resulted in our independence from Britain. For that, he will forever be known as our Bapa Kemerdekaan (Father of Independence).

On August 31, 1957, Tunku read out the Proclamation of Independence. The proclamation was the basis and the principles behind the founding of our nation.

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In the proclamation, Tunku said our nation shall “be for ever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations”. Liberty and justice – these are the principles that must guide our actions and policies.

In 1963, Tunku brought four entities – Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya – into one, to form Malaysia. Rightfully, that made him our Bapa Malaysia too.

On the day that Malaysia was formed, rather than reading out a different statement, he opted for the same proclamation, turning what was once called the Proclamation of Independence into the Proclamation of Malaysia.

Of course, as Prime Minister, he made his fair share of mistakes. There were actions of his that many of us today would consider as far short of the ideal. But on balance, many Malaysians today are longing for the environment fostered by Tunku’s administration.

He turned the principles of liberty and justice into actual policies, all aimed at ensuring the welfare and happiness of the people. He was determined to ensure every single citizen of the country enjoys liberty and justice equally, regardless of race and religion.

One thing for sure, his vision of how to unite the country was the correct one. He did not put one group above the other because he knew very well that a happy country can only exist if its citizens were equals.

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Sadly, this vision of equal treatment disappeared soon after Tunku’s departure from office. Until today, we are still affected by the consequences from divisive ethnic-based social engineering.

When Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin Tuanku Muhriz, Wan Mohd Firdaus Wan Mohd Fuaad, and I decided to start the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), we made a conscious decision to dedicate our work to injecting Tunku’s ideals into all facets of public policy.

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We launched Ideas on February 8, 2010, at an event that was also designed to celebrate Tunku’s birthday. Therefore, next week will also be Ideas’ eighth anniversary.

The last eight years has been challenging but fulfilling. The nature of an independent think tank is not widely understood in Malaysia, where labels of either being pro-government or pro-opposition are thrown around too easily.

When we say that we believe in principles rather than partisanship, many people become confused because we do not fall within their traditional labels.

The culture of “only bad news can become news” does not help either. Our criticisms get picked up by the media more frequently than our praises.

I have now become used to politicians and policymakers from both sides saying that we only criticise them and that we never give them credit. This wrong perception can only be expected because when we give credit when it is due, it is hardly covered.

As far as challenges go, last year was by far the most challenging one. We were very close to shutting down in August because of a major cashflow crisis after two large funders suddenly pulled out.

I had to go cap in hand to various people begging for money to keep us alive. Thanks to two donors, one from Britain and another from Johor Baru, we got through the crisis.

Moving forward, our quest to translate Tunku’s vision into policy proposals will continue. In an increasingly divided Malaysia, we will stay true to his unifying vision.

There are far too many people who, in private, complain like mad but refuse to speak up publicly even though they know they can change the country’s course towards the better. I promised my team at Ideas that we will never become like that. Hopefully history will show that I keep my word.

Meanwhile, let us spend the few days ahead remembering Tunku for the great Malaysian that he was and for his vision of liberty and justice. May his ideals of liberty and justice live forever. Alfatihah.

  • Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Best-Selling Author Tells GW Students to Reflect and Contemplate

January 30, 2018

Best-Selling Author Tells GW Students to Reflect and Contemplate

Dr.William Deresiewicz said students should learn to think before trying to change the world.




Author William Deresiewicz urged students to reflect and think before committing to improving the world. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)


By B.L. Wilson

At elite private colleges, the social cost of dissent is high and progressive consensus tight, according to William Deresiewicz, author of the best-selling book, “Excellent Sheep,” comparing universities to what sociologists call “total institutions” such as monasteries, prisons, mental institutions and the military.

This is notwithstanding the desire of students at colleges like George Washington University to have an impact and make the world a better place.

“Your generation is to be commended for this new spirit that is broad among America’s youth,” Dr. Deresiewicz said, “a zeal for activism and social justice that hasn’t been seen since the 1970s.”

Dr. Deresiewicz told students that “reflection, contemplation, analysis, study – in a word thought” should precede their commitment to making the world a better place.

Image result for the george washington university mount vernon campusMount Vernon, located in Fairfax County, Virginia, was the plantation home of George Washington, the First President of the United States. The property alongside the Potomac River was first owned by Washington’s great-grandfather back in 1674, who became a successful tobacco planter through the help of slave labor and indentured servants. Young George Washington came into possession of the estate in 1754, when he was about 23 years old, but he didn’t become the property’s sole owner until 1761. The estate served as the centerpiece of Washington’s military and political life,and the site stands as a powerful symbol regarding the birth of the American nation.
Image result for Din merican at Mount Vernon

Introducing the author to students and faculty crowded into Ames Hall on the George Washington University Mount Vernon Campus, Maria Frawley, executive director of the University Honors Program and professor of English, said, part of his book’s subtitle, “The Way to a Meaningful Life” is what appealed to her. “It is what all of us educators and students care most about,” she said.

Recent tensions on college campuses between freedom and equality and the struggle over restrictions on offensive speech, Dr. Deresiewicz said, prompted him to come up with a response.

He contended that the homogeneity of student populations at elite college campuses who often are from liberal upper and middle classes, multiracial, but predominantly white accounts for a progressive dogma of opinion that almost approaches religious dogma.

“Secularism is taken for granted. Environmentalism is a sacred cause. Issues of identity – principally the holy trinity of race, gender and sexuality – occupy the center of the discourse,” Dr. Deresiewicz said. “The assumption, on the left, is that we are already in full possession of the moral truth.

“The central purpose of a real education, as in liberal arts education,” he said, “is to liberate us from what Plato called doxa or opinion by teaching us to recognize it, to question it and to think our way around it.”

A liberal arts education includes not only disciplines such as the humanities, English, history, philosophy but also the sciences in which the pursuit of knowledge is conducted for its own sake, he said.

You read King Lear not to master it, he suggested. “You read King Lear for what it does to you, for the way it changes you,” he said, “and hopefully that experience enhances your mind’s capacity for experience, and the ability to learn from it.”

Bringing the talk back to where he began, Dr. Deresiewicz said the humanities lead to reflection on the big questions that are persistent questions because no one has the answers. “The heart of reflection is self-reflection,” he said. “The essence of knowledge is self-knowledge.”

Reflection, he said, can help students achieve wisdom, an application of knowledge often associated with age. “For all the desire to change the world,” he said, “it will likely take a long time to have the real power to do so.”

Asked where he would draw the line in making students uncomfortable, Dr. Deresiewicz said even though right wing groups are often deliberately provocative, he agreed with a University of Chicago dean that colleges should provide no spaces safe from debate and uncomfortable discussions.

Allen Wang, a GW freshman and an international business major, said, “Students come to GW because it is very powerful in specific tracts such as international affairs and public health. But the talk was extremely topical and eye-opening and, more importantly, inspiring because of the spirit Dr. Deresiewicz tried to communicate about academic uncertainty and the truth.”