November 07, 2004
By Raffique Shah
THROUGHOUT history, leaders, from warlords and emperors of ancient times, through monarchs, dictators and democratically elected presidents and prime ministers in modern times, have preyed and played on people's fears. Whether it was witchcraft that saw the French masses cheer as Joan of Arc was put to death by fire, Christian crusaders and Islamic conquerors putting infidels to the sword, or today's sequel of this unfinished war between the bigots in these two religions, fear was always the deciding factor. And so it was again last Tuesday when Americans went to the polls in their tens of millions. Fear of militant Islam, of rising homosexuality, of terrorism aimed at Americans, drove more electors into George Bush's seemingly safe arms, giving him another four years in office.
It's not that Bush now has the absolute mandate he claims to have secured. Just about 60 per cent of those eligible to vote turned out, which suggests that at least 30 per cent of Americans want nothing to do with either the Republicans or Democrats. The numbers also suggest that both Bush and John Kerry managed to each muster around 30 per cent support among those eligible to vote. That is no mandate to do what you will to your own people, or to mash up the world. But in the curious way that Western democracy works, minority leaders are constitutionally empowered to impose their will on the majority of the populace. We see it here in Trinidad and Tobago, where, ever since we have enjoyed Westminster style democracy, no party has ever won more than 50 per cent of possible votes (as distinct from the votes cast).
What the Bush campaign caravan did to win its leader another term in office was very simple. It galvanised the evangelical right almost to the point of hysteria, bringing an additional two million of them out to vote. Overall, 60 per cent of weekly church goers voted for Bush They want to remove the secularism that was enshrined in the Constitution by the nation's founding fathers, and to revert to religion and the state acting in concert. It played on the fears of most Christians, especially Catholics, on the issue of "choice", which was reduced to the fear of abortion becoming universal. It generated anger at state legislatures that dared to allow same-sex marriages, which resulted in many of those "legal marriages" now being undone by referendum. Gun owners, 40 per cent of all voters, who form a strong lobby to carry weapons much in the vein of the "Wild West", sought to protect their turf through Bush: fear, again.
The elections statistics tell a sad story of a nation in denial, a people prepared to give up their most cherished rights and freedoms on the say-so of a president and an administration that have lied to them, taken them into a quagmire from which they may never come out unscathed. Budget deficits are higher than in many countries that are under World Bank strictures.
The national debt has risen to its highest level ever. Personal debt is also in the stratosphere. Government revenue this year is estimated to be US$100 billion less than what it was when Bush first stole his way into the White House. On the other hand, expenditure is expected to be $400 billion higher. Social issues like education, jobs, health care, taxation-all of which negatively affected the average American under Bush-failed to have an impact on how people voted. What mattered to them were the so-called moral values hammered into their heads by filthy rich preachers, many of whom also happen to be filthy in their financial dealings, and in breaching the very values they preach when it comes to sexual abuse of women and little boys. And fear, fear of people America and the developed world have invaded, colonised, pillaged, raped, mass-murdered, done every form of wickedness, but who must always turn the other cheek, never hit back. Which is why I wrote a few weeks before the elections: whereas I once respected the people of that country, not their governments and institutions of terror, today I'm not sure.
In the end, though, people get the government they deserve. More than that, one must respect their choice of candidate for the presidency. We outsiders have no say in their internal politics, as it should be. They have to live with Bush and his policies, for better or for worse.
Obviously buoyed by the significant victory over Kerry, the President's men are talking big: "Four more years," is their cry. They would do well, though, to remember that when Richard Nixon ran for his second term in 1972, he won every state but one. His margin of victory was much bigger than Bush's, as was the popular vote he garnered. But he did not enjoy four years in the White House. His dishonest ways led to him being forced to resign in disgrace. Bush and his gang who currently run the country are little different to Nixon in this regard.
Another pertinent point: now that the world is asked to accept Bush, however much we may dislike him and his policies, do the same principles apply to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela? It is well established that the US was behind several plots to remove the charismatic ex-paratrooper, all of which have so far failed. But will America accept the will of the Venezuelan people, the popularity of the Venezuelan President? Two weeks ago, as if to underscore his landslide win in the referendum over his presidency, Chavez's candidates won elections in 22 of 24 municipal districts. Will he now be allowed to govern in peace, or will the Bush administration move to subvert his authority at every turn? Is it that the popular vote counts in America, but it does not in Venezuela?
But I need to return to the "fear factor" that has permeated politics in most countries, and which could be detrimental to the very tenets of democracy. In these times, with crime being an international scourge, it is easy for any two-by-two crook to convince the masses that he can deliver them from all evil. Sensible people know that crime needs to be tackled in a systematic, multi-pronged manner. There is no magic wand one can wave to eliminate it.
Yet, a people who feel cornered could well fall for such rhetoric. And that will sit well with politicians who have nothing of substance to offer the nation. Critical issues are ignored and people's