criticalvoices

On issues that matter …

When liberalism degenerates into elitism… November 15, 2016

Honestly, I think Americans need to just hit the pause button in their brain and take a deep breath. Like the past several months of campaign cacophony wasn’t enough for them, their brains are now having to deal with the reality of wrapping around the outcome of the Presidential election.

When 61,047,207 people vote for Hillary Clinton to be their President, there is bound to be heartache when the guy that only 60,375,961 people voted for becomes the President. It was heartening however, to see the outpouring of angst and frustration onto the streets of American cities by kids who, in this age of technological interconnectedness, perhaps find the conservative call for exclusive societies unacceptable.

Still, for all those who voted for Hillary Clinton, and those who voted against Donald Trump, and those who wrote in their vote for Harambe, here’s a piece of advice: Get over it. It’s not Trump’s fault that he won. Remember the movie ‘How to lose a guy in 10 days’? Well, Trump’s campaign objective seemed to be, ‘How to lose an election in 10 months’. But what is a guy to do when 60 plus million people fall in love with him despite himself?

Who said democracy was an easy way of life anyway? As difficult as it is for those who run it, it is even more difficult for the people to decide who they want running it. There are no perfect choices, nor are there perfect voters. And when it comes to electing a President, more often than not, we are only electing the presumptive best of the given and not necessarily the best that ought to be.

Scarily enough, an emerging reality of democracies the world over is that increasingly, winning candidates are being perceived as standing singularly for those who voted for them rather than as unifying representatives for all including their ideological opponents.

We saw something similar in the election of Narendra Modi two years ago. It’s undeniable the popularity Modi still enjoys among his electorate and general followers.

Unfortunately such popularity of individuals of redoubtable agendas always seems to fall outside the sanctimonious ambit of the so called liberal media making them myopic to what some people on the conservative right see.

Sometimes, I feel, intellectualization and even over-analyzation, kills objectivity. But more than that it is the arrogance of the intellectuals, especially the armchair variety, that clouds their view of the polarizing political phenomena, which ride inherent inequalities in society. Like for instance, in this opinion piece in The New York Times the other day, one Pankaj Mishra writes that Modi “appears to be an opportunistic manipulator of disaffection with little to offer apart from the pornography of power and a bogus fantasy of machismo.” Mishra sees Trump following that lead.

Opinionators like Mishra should know that gobbledygook pontification such as this is not read by people who support the likes of Trump and Modi. Worse, such verbose ideation insulates those who do read it, from ground realities.

My liberal bashing does not automatically put me in the company of the irrational. It is just that I hate the ironic degeneration of liberalism into elitism.  My ilk does not wear labels.

But Mishra’s ilk should know that human society is not a factory assembly line where all products are identical. And that in a democracy, everyone – including racists and conspiracy theorists – get to be heard.  They have the vote. They just have to wait their turn.

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

 

 

 

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Bullshit Artists August 10, 2016

Politics and truth have never been known to make for ideal bedfellows. In fact, to stretch the point, their happenstance would be incestuous to say the least.

To put that into the context of the current political campaigns in the US, independent fact checking websites like PolitiFact found that 27 percent of Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s statements are false, whereas nearly 70 percent of those of the Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump are patently false. Even in knee jerk reactions, Clinton’s falsities ranged at two percent while those of Trump’s were at 19 percent.

So just as there are no good terrorists and bad terrorists, but only terrorists, there are no good or bad politicians, only Bullshit Artists.

A few days ago, thanks to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, I found legitimacy in the term “Bullshit Artist”. Zakaria used it to characterize Trump, referring to the much ridiculed billionnaire’s capacity for lying through his teeth – lies that come more from absolute ignorance, machismo and pigheadedness than from a tendency to hide the truth. Trump simply does not know any better, that’s all. And hence a bullshit artist.

I myself could use the term Bullshit Artist to describe many an acquaintance among journalists, whom old school scribes used to euphemistically call ‘kite flyers’. But theorizing the larger sense of the term was Harry Frankfurt, an eminent moral philosopher and Princeton professor who talked about ‘Bullshit’ as an ignorant act of impunity, as against outright lying, which implies knowledge of the truth.

“Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about,” Frankfurt wrote in his 1986 essay, ‘On Bullshit’. “Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic.” While that sentence reads as though it was written yesterday specifically for Trump, the very opening statement of Frankfurt’s essay insinuates that we are all in on it, willfully or not. “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit,” Frankfurt had said.

So in all fairness to Trump, we can use bullshit to explain away Hillary Clinton and the reluctance of a sizeable number of American voters to trust her sincerity. Interestingly, Frankfurt’s concludes essay saying: “…. sincerity itself is bullshit.”

So what we are left with in this election cycle is a consolatory acceptance of the lesser evil that is Hillary Clinton, or in this context, tolerate the lightness of her bullshit.

I have my own take on bullshit when it comes to taking a ‘Hill’side view. I wish to state upfront I am apolitical, irreligious and a citizen of the world.  And though I know you can’t win arguments that have been judged and declared void even before you have made them, I will go ahead and talk anyway about Khizr Khan. Khan has become a darling of the liberal media since his speech at the Democratic National Convention in which he unequivocally challenged Trump’s inability to sacrifice anything.

Don’t we all know that electoral politics are all about drama and rhetoric? One can actually visualize a campaign strategist coming up with a trump (pun unintended) card speaker that is intended as a bait and challenge for the rival candidate to take on, and at the end of the day when everyone has gone home with the new President enthroned in the White House, writing a book about it. Khizr Khan is just one such strategy prop.

This father of the Pakistani-American soldier (respect) who died during combat in Iraq in 2004, was the ace up Hillary Clinton’s sleeve during the Democratic convention.

Forget Trump for a moment for missing the hyperbole of the immigrant+Muslim+slain soldier drama, and consider the view which sees Khizr Khan as a prop that was clichéd, if not ironical. My question to this honorable man with the Pakistani roots is whether he would stand at a public podium in the land of his origin and stab a finger at Islamic leaders for indirectly causing the death of his son who died fighting terror which is actively abetted by Pakistan – a country which also sheltered Osama bin Laden who set off the events leading up to the war in Iraq.

I don’t think so. Well, sorry Hill-siders, this particular liberal trick, even if true, was pure bullshit according to me.

Anyway, coming back to Trump, I am tempted to pick some more from Frankfurt’s essay because it is so darn appropriate. The eminent academic wrote: “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.” Frankfurt further wrote. “… the bullshitter is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are …  except when he can get away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

I have been hearing murmurs, but to consider that Trump may opt out of the race at this stage would be wishful – no, farfetched thinking.

In a country where political opinion is influenced by late night television comedians and comediennes it would come as no surprise to Americans if Donald Trump were to wake up tomorrow and say: Hey you suckers, I am out of this stupid race for President. I was only proving a point to Rosie O’Donnell. So the joke is on you …”

The joke would indeed be cruelly on all of us if Trump does stay and go on to win the Presidency. Because scarily enough, it would mean that we are living amongst Americans who still live like frogs in the well thinking of themselves as superior to the rest of the world. And that, someone needs to tell the Trumpeteers, is a whole load of bullshit.

Srirekha Chakravarty

 

 

 

 

 

Losers tell all July 30, 2016

Convention mania has gripped all those watching the American election circus across continents as much as across the United States.

Donald Trump had his dooms-day at the Conventions the week before and this week belonged to Hillary Clinton to bask in the glory of being the first American woman to be nominated to contest for the highest office in the country, and well, presumably in the world.

Okay, remember that keynote speech by then state senator Barack Obama at the 2004 DNC convention? Like many pundits, that night I too thought I was looking at a future President. And boy, were we right about that!

And earlier this week I thought I saw something similar happening at the DNC 2016 – Michelle Obama’s rousing speech that, I am sure, had everyone from Bill Clinton to Joe Biden to President Obama and even Hillary Clinton reworking their own speeches to match up if not better it.

Revisiting the historic moment of the young(er) Obama’s speech in Boston that summer, I thought I might as well start accepting a few truths of the present day election cycle that will soon become part of political history.

History as we all know is written by the winners. Don’t lynch me in the public square for saying this but in varying degrees I would give the benefit of the doubt to even such losers as Hitler. A cursory Google search throws up questions like: ‘How did Hitler really die?’ or ‘Did Hitler really die in that bunker?’ proving my point in the very ambiguity of the widely accepted ‘fact’ that Hitler committed suicide.

So coming back to today’s leading contenders for US Presidency, they have already made history for being the first ever woman and the first ever ‘outsider’ to have reached this close to the White House.

The many supporters of Trump will agree that if he loses, history may not be kind to this maverick billionaire who has bulldozed his way to the frontlines through sheer money power and more accurately, a false ego power.

He has been for years, and continues to be the butt of vicious liberal media jokes; therefore, win or lose, one can only imagine what it would be like for the Trumps in the years to come.

So for the record, I would grant it to this man for challenging status quos in a way that Hillary Clinton can never do. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be foolhardy if only to be able to say: “I don’t like your face” to whichever Chinese Premiere you are dealing with for pig-headedly keeping their currency undervalued.

And why fuss about Trump’s overtures to Russia? C’mon, everyone thought it was cute when in 1988 President Reagan put his arm around Gorbachev in Moscow’s Red Square and told a group of Russians nearby, “I’m glad we are standing here together like this.”

For better or worse – perhaps only worse – Trump will shake up the political and diplomatic world, and turn the world economy topsy-turvy. And if we don’t ask ourselves the questions: ‘At whose cost?’ or ‘For whose benefit?’ we might after all be able to let Trump have his spot in the annals of history

I don’t like this guy Trump. Never did. But hey, I won’t wait for the winners to tell all, I’ll be my own chronicler.

 

Srirekha Chakravarty