Archives For US politics

That’s Democracy

March 13, 2017 — 2 Comments

Tanks rumbled past our house in the predawn haze. An armed soldier, visible only from the waist up, surveyed the road ahead from each turret. It was Thailand in 1986. A failed coup.

An army truck, the canvas flaps rolled up, slewed to a halt on the unpaved and muddy road at our neighbour’s locked gate. Armed soldiers burst past the terrified guard as he opened the gate. Screams reverberated around the compound and over the wall into ours. From my bedroom window I saw women, Cameroonians, slapped, pistol-whipped and man-handled into the truck. Money was exchanged and some were allowed to stay. It was Equatorial Guinea in 2004. A failed coup.

I have lived in countries where governments are corrupt. I have lived in despotic countries where, whether power has been taken violently or elections have been mired in irregularities, the leader has ‘a direct line to God’. I have never, thankfully, lived in a war-torn country.

Countries and cultures not my own have sometimes fascinated me, sometimes horrified me. But I have been able to compartmentalism the differences, without necessarily accepting them. In all the counties I have called home – twelve of them – I have prided myself on my ability to adapt to different environments, different political tenets, even when I might not have been entirely on board with those elected, freely. That’s okay. That’s democracy.

Relocating to America the first time in 1997, the year after Fox News came into being, I was struck by the intense political partisanship – there seemed to be no shades of grey, but there was still a civility. We lived in the suburbs, in a Republican stronghold and I learnt, mostly, to keep my opinions to myself. To respect the people around me who might not have had the same exposure to global cultures or customs, and therefore found it harder to understand those from different backgrounds. But I spoke differently and so, for the most part, I was accepted as a foreign liberal.

After a nearly three-year stint back in Africa, we returned to the United States and moved to a more flexible part of Houston – Downtown. In 2010 we shed our resident alien status to become US citizens. Texas has had a Republican governor the entire time I have lived here. There have though been both Republican and Democratic presidents. Some I have liked, and agreed with on both sides of the political spectrum. Some I have not. That’s okay. That’s democracy.

But the tenor has changed.

Until the week before the presidential election in 2016, I believed the American people would see through the bombast, the lies and complete lack of humility, and would reject the misogny and coarseness of a man attempting to become leader of the free world.
I was wrong. That’s okay. That’s democracy.

After the initial utter dismay, and after a dear friend pointed out I was in danger of becoming one of those people I despise – an intractable woman, I stopped myself swinging from stunned torpor to hysterical rantings, and prepared to give the new president the benefit of the doubt.

52 long days later wherein we have seen a rash of crass tweets, the clumsy roll-out of an ill-conceived immigration ban, a pathetic attempt to appease those wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act – an act everyone on both sides of the political divide agrees needs repair, the craven signing of the anti-abortion executive order, a lack of cohesive governance and the blatant mistrust of the security services, I say, in good Anglo-Saxon English, sod that. There are citizens who feel they have been given free reign on their behaviour. Who shout racial epithets before murdering an innocent Indian sitting at a bar. Whose Confederate flags flutter freely on the backroads. Who have the confidence to push through with seeming impunity laws against the LGBT community.

People in America are not mysteriously disappearing, never to be seen again, but there appears to be little room for dialogue or diplomacy. Any president who hamstrings the people working for him is a person only wishing to surround himself with sycophants. With serfs so wary of their own position they are not prepared to question the master. Those who do, are dismissed – Sally Yates and on Friday, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. An independent judiciary is obviously not high on our president’s list.

Neither is draining the swamp – that much touted praise. Washington is rich with millionaires new to government – with people singularly unable to understand, or who have forgotten, how a family struggles to put food on the table, struggles to get adequate healthcare, struggles with education. Washington is drowning in a mire of unelected nepotism – what was called in Papua New Guinea – the wantok system. That is not democracy.

There might not be tanks rolling past my front door, or thugs in uniform pistol-whipping my neighbours, but the current political climate in the United States is divisive, is unpleasant, is unwelcoming. We are a nation much of the world looks at with amazement, and fear, for all the wrong reasons.

Yet, We the People, elected this president so I guess it is democracy. And yes, in 52 days I have become that intractable woman.

Which Way Do White Men Swing?

September 14, 2016 — 5 Comments

In case you hadn’t heard, the United States is nearing the end of a presidential race. It has been marred by rudeness and lies – far more, it would seem, than most elections. The vitriol spat across our screens comes mainly from a bumptious man intent on denigrating large swathes of the population. Immigrants. Muslims. Women.

Much emphasis has been put on the Democratic nominee being a woman. Somewhat surprising in the enlightened times of 2016. America, accepted by most as the leader of the free world, is dismally behind the arc with regard equality – and not just of the sexes.

Lyse Doucet, the BBC journalist, suggested recently the United States is a “binary country” – a phrase I wish I’d come up with. We are either Republican or Democrat. Man or woman. Gay or straight. Black or white. Pro or anti abortion. Protestant or Muslim. Most of us, though, fall into that vast vat of grey. We have our beliefs but are happy to allow others to have theirs. We are busy ‘getting-on-with-life-the-best-we-can’, and are not particularly vehement about one thing or another until a subject becomes personal.

I was fortunate to be born to a strong woman and a father who considered girls more than vassals, and at a time long after others had fought for the right to vote. The Pill was available, and, on the whole, greater encouragement was being given to non-traditional roles for women. In short, I have not had to fight for my basic rights, something for which I am very grateful.

But I am getting tired of hearing about glass ceilings. America is so far behind the trail with regard women in power in politics, it is risible. In modern times, lets say from 1960, there have been 58 countries with a female leader – and some of those countries have elected more than one. From developing to developed countries. From patriarchal to matriarchal.

These women have had to be tough – sugar and spice, and all things nice – do not win elections. Which is why I’m tired of seeing comments about Hillary Clinton’s likeability, her pantsuits, her hairstyle, and now her health. Apart from the rather mocking tones of reporters when wannabe presidential hopeful, Rick Perry, took to wearing heavy-rimmed glasses, I can’t remember anyone discussing Romney’s wardrobe or Obama’s hairstyle. Though comments were made about their aloofness.

There is an invidious manner of questioning – the dog at a bone kind – when questions are fired at Clinton, and yet, when the Republican nominee is called out on a proven lie, and the question is answered with the reiteration of that lie, the matter is let rest. One could use the dog analogy again – let sleeping dogs lie. Oops, there’s that word again. Lie.

In the land where freedom of speech is sacrosanct, election buttons and posters spout derogatory filth – Trump that Bitch – kfc special, 2 fat thighs, 2 small breasts, left wing – Life’s a Bitch, Don’t Vote For One – and so on. One wonders what it is that allows people to think this kind of language is acceptable? For anyone to use, let alone our children to see.

There is a lot needing to be fixed in this country (as in most countries) – blame for delays on some issues can be penned firmly in the Congress column – but America is not going to the dogs (when is an analogy overused?) regardless of pronouncements of doom from Mr Trump.

Despite antipathy to the Republican nominee, and for some archaic reason, 52% of white men (Public Religion Research Institute) – a large swing section of the electorate – hold “very unfavorable” views on electing a female president.

I found it hard to believe but spending a delightful hour over coffee with an erudite and forward-thinking man, born and bred in Texas, he confirmed the standpoint, telling me, “Many peers, some of them friends, most highly educated and who hold, or held, high-powered positions, cannot bring themselves to vote for a woman.” And yet this same element of the population feel comfortable when women are in a supporting role, conforming to traditional gender positions – healthcare issues, standing by her man – even as secretaries of state! Neither did these men vote for a black man.

What we really need is a black woman running for president. And winning. Only then would the glass ceiling be well and truly shattered. Only then could America be considered a country of equality – inclusive and not binary.

The Voting Process

February 24, 2016 — Leave a comment

In November 2002, at a reception in a small despotic West African country, I met an American purportedly in the country to advise the president on running true and fair presidential elections, to be held a couple of weeks hence. I was told the president had been strongly urged not to claim a win of over 87% of the vote. His suggestion was however ignored. The PDGE (Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial) won by a resounding 97.1%. The next presidential elections held in 2009 were won by the same party with a slightly smaller margin of 95.36%.

Now the cynical among us may consider those elections rigged. President Teodor Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and his family have after all been in power since October 12, 1982, and Equatorial Guinea is not a country known for her openness, freedom of the press, or human rights.

Having lived in a number of Continue Reading…