A NOTE FROM THIS SUBSCRIBER
The Economist (11 July 2020), attempted to figure out the reason why Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam had surprisingly succeeded in fighting off the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of infected cases and fatality rates have been extraordinarily low in these countries. It could have been because of degrees of authoritarianism in their systems of government which may have effectively helped push the population in the direction desired to contain the virus. Or it could have also been the Buddhist way of life which helps contribute to a healthier lifestyle, together with more open-space living in rural communities. Only small number of people in Thailand live in flats or apartments where they would be cooped up between four walls.
The Economist, however, did not have much to say about the Buddhist factor other than giving it an enticing headline and a mentioning of a Thai word 'Wai', a Thai (as well as Hindu) greeting with two enclosed palms, thus avoiding the western-style physical handshake. (It could not be called ‘Wai-five’ as suggested by The Economist since it uses two hands - ten fingers. A ‘Wai-ten’ will not be fashionable either. A plain ‘Wai’ would be just fine, thank you!)
The focus is more on various governments' effective measures and the population's willingness to comply with government directives. Their proximities to China, in terms of physical borders and flow of tourists, somehow keep the countries well informed and better prepared. As for Thailand, in spite of a 'sham democracy overseen by generals', The Economist attributes Thailand's success to 'the quality of its health care' that 'makes Thailand a popular destination for medical tourism', and that the Thai 'government was quick to set up a vigorous covid-fighting task-force'.
It's nice to hear good news about Thailand from The Economist once in a while. I'm sure those generals will be happy to allow the circulation of this current issue of The Economist in their 'sham democracy'.
By the way, The Economist Intelligence Unit categorizes Thailand in 2019 as a 'flawed democracy'. Now in 2020 it probably is downgraded to a 'flawed democracy in shamble'.
It's OK with me, as long as I get my weekly printed copy of The Economist on time!
12 July 2020
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▶️ THE ECONOMIST
In all my life I have never been identified by the color of my skin. I am only known by my name and my works. In Thailand, skin color does not matter. The thought of myself having some kind of color on my natural skin never entered my mind. Thai people are just like that - not skin-color conscious. Perhaps it is Buddhism. Buddhism preaches classless society long before Karl Marx. It has converted hundreds of thousands of Hindus fleeing their hierarchical Varna (color of skin) system for years since the days of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Dr. Ambedkar was the the first famous untouchable Chandala under-class Hindu who was converted into Buddhism. He was the president of India’s Constitutional Assembly, or the father of the Indian constitution. Ancient Indian Varna system later evolved and formed a more complex caste system, the social evil beyond control of the constitution in post-colonial India. The Indian constitution prohibits caste system and racial discrimination, but failed miserably in practice. Caste prejudices and racial discrimination continue on even today with no end in sight. To be rid of it, a good constitution could not help much. People resorted to measures of their own by changing names, speaking with new upper class accent, adopting high class social manner, converting to classless religion - such as Buddhism, getting higher education, embracing Marxist idea of classless society, moving out of the village, and even migrating abroad. Many found new and better lives in the UK, USA, many European countries, and Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia such as Thailand. Still, racial discrimination follows them like a shadow.
Chinese immigrants came to America long before sub-continental Indians. They helped build the great American railroads, but white Hollywood recognised them as the ‘Chinaman’ doing white men’s laundry. Following the days of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, many Asians of various ethnic origins from the vast continent of Asia flocked into the USA, chasing their American dreams. Modern-day Asian immigrants make up the complex racial demography in America. While Black Americans have been renamed ‘African Americans’, Chinese, - once conveniently called ‘Orientals’ - are , by the Act of Congress, to be called Asian Americans. Other immigrants, from India, the rest of Asia, and the Middle East, are also called Asian Americans. Japanese immigrants who, like the Chinese, had come to America early, suffered more humiliation than any others during the Second World War. Modern-day racism in America is more complex than any period of history. It’s not only out on the surface. It’s hidden deep in subconsciousness. It is systemic.
Life is hard and the living is unfulfilling for non-whites in America.
For a foreign non-white Asian visitors to the US, it’s like living a life of an Asian American, at least for a brief period of stay.
I ought to know. I am a Thai, an Asian who have visited the United States many times, and will continue to do so. It is a great country with great natural beauties.
“O Beautiful For Spacious Skies … ”,
I always hum along during my 15 visits to the US national parks, “America’s best idea”, according to Ken Burns.
In the United States I would automatically be branded 'a yellow-skin Oriental'. This is all wrong. Scientifically and culturally, that is. No human being has yellow skin. No-one has real white skin either. And I am not an Oriental. I am just a Thai, a citizen of a country called Thailand. As for 'Oriental', in my own context, it is just the name of a Japanese watch, a Thai airline, a first-class hotel in Bangkok frequented by Joseph Conrad during his Lord Jim's colonial days sojourn in 'the Orient'. In fact, by classic literary tradition, the term 'Orient' or 'Oriental' is beautifully romantic. 'Orient' is a French derivative from Latin, meaning "That region of the heavens in which the sun and other heavenly bodies rise, or the corresponding region of the world' (The Oxford English Dictionary). For white Europeans and Americans who live far away to the west of heaven where the sun goes down, they are 'Occidental'.
I have been observing racism in America since I was 18, attending a senior year at Park Hill High School, Kansas City, (Missouri, of course). I never sensed any kind of racial prejudice at Park Hill High, or anywhere else in Missouri. Life of an Oriental student in an American high school, in a former slave state, was all fun — just plain fun! I was inducted into the school’s National Honor Society, given a role in the school play, invited to give talks in broken English to local social clubs. My water color won a Gold Key Award from the Kansas City’s own Hallmarks card company, and went on to receive a merit award form the National Scholastic Arts Awards. My American host family looked after me and loved me like their own child. They are my second Mom and Dad, brother and sister, forever. There was no racism around me in Kansas City of 1967-67.
I spent another five years in Philadelphia in the 1970s attending the same Ivy League university as the man in the present White House. Frank Rizzo was then the Mayor of the 'City of Brotherly Love'. The Hmong refugees were a new addition to the already under-privileged class of blacks in West Philly. Clint Eastwood's Grand Torino was not stolen then. And "Doctor J - Julius Erving" who was not a real doctor, but somehow managed to heal all wounds in the Spectrum.
The Amish immigrants still said, ‘throw the cows over the fence some hays”.
After my years at the University of Pennsylvania I visited the United States many times, as a tourist, academic, journalist, and a parent visiting his son in a Boston music school.
What I had seen in Kansas City and Philadelphia then gradually transgressed into what I see today. My Park Hill High added new buildings, and students more racially mixed. I had a brief talk with them in class the last time I stopped by in 2004, during my on-the-road presidential election news report for Thai television. In Philadelphia, the Spectrum was demolished, Doctor J and the 76ers moved on after their 1983 NBA championship.
Recent police brutalities against African Americans started nation-wide fires of protests against systemic racism. Adding fuel to the fires is Donald Trump himself. Ignoring the plight of people in the mid of COVID-19 pandemic, Trump ran a campaign against the protesters and openly gave amoral support to the police and white conservatives through frequent interviews and campaign speeches. Mocking the new corona virus ‘Kung Flu’, an expression offensive to Asian Americans, Donald Trump keeps the fire blazing. His anti-minorities speeches and actions are nothing new. Only he kept doing it without shame, as if never wanted his supporters to forget the supremacy of white caucasian Americans.
It’s tough to be ethnic minorities in America. African Americans are the main target of systemic racism. Asian Americans - white, dark, brown and yellow - and Latinos, are next in line. And the line is long and winding. Asian Americans usually keep a low profile and mind their own business. It’s eastern Asian culture to keep the pressure to themselves. ‘Just keep calm and carry on’ as some people on the other side of the Atlantic would say. They had followed their elders’ traditional advise to just work hard, get good education, and success will come. But this advice is beginning to wear down on the new generation. Young Asian Americans now start to question their parents’ social and work ethics. Hard work is not a problem. But Asian Americans would have to work many times harder than white kids to get to an almost equal economic status. As for social equality, there is no hope as long as the ‘Kung Flu’ pandemic keeps spreading from that egoistic white man in the White House. Work harder, much, much harder, many times harder, and you will still be unlikely to achieve your dream. That is life of minorities in ”White America” today.
The skies are still spacious, though not so beautiful.
What I see today is a different America, a country under the not-so-good a governance by an uncultured, poorly educated, and a truly bad man in the White House. (And I am under constraint with my language.)
It's amazing how the world's greatest democracy can produce such disappointing result.
I am the product of a culture where skin colour is not noticed and races play no part in social discrimination. I do not pretend to understand racism in America, at least not enough to help solve the two-centuries-old social conflicts, but I take comfort in reading more, trying to understand, and sharing the pain with Americans I love. I'm certain a long-term and sustainable solution will be found.
The Greatest country on earth and leader of the free world will not fail humanity.
For the immediate future, the man responsible for the current crisis must be rid off and driven far away from the 'swamp' he has never attempted to clean up as promised. Instead, he made it more polluted. It is increasingly looking more like the kind of 'hole' he, not long ago, attributed to countries in Africa and the Caribbean.
As embarrassing as it is now to the world, America can still be rescued.
It doesn't need a second revolution, or another civil war.
It just needs a new election,
and that is coming this November to the polling stations near you,
MAKE THE UNITED STATES GREAT AGAIN.
SO THE WORLD CAN BREATH!
7 July 2020
Mount Rushmore National Memorial Visitor Center, Picture credit: © Harpers Ferry Centre, Historic Photo Collection, taken from the book 'The National Parks: America's Best Idea, An Illustrated History' by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010, p. 334
THE FOUR FACES ON MOUNT RUSHMORE
I have visited Mount Rushmore trice, the first two times in the summer while a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and the third 25 years apart when on a family driving tour of the US national parks in 2004. Like any curious foreign tourist, I just wanted to see interesting places along scenic road trips around the United States. In South Dakota tourists need to stop at the Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. To me, Mount Rushmore is just a monument of four US presidents carved out of the stony mountain top, and it was done without respect for the mountain and natural beauty of the surrounding Black Hills.
American history is full of stories of environmental destruction - cutting down trees, clearing lands for settlers, heavy logging industries, etc. But that was done in the name of economic development and human settlement, and modern America has redeemed themselves by championing environmental protection with innovative ideas such as the creation of national parks and large-scale reforesting. The sin of early environmental onslaught can be forgiven though not forgotten. But to carve four gigantic human faces out of a towering mountain top, and destroyed the sacred beauty of the mountain, is not to be forgiven nor forgotten, certainly not by the Oglala Sioux native American nation who own and worship the sacred Black Hills.
What about the faces of the four great white men on top of Mount Rushmore?
Beginning from left to right: George Washington, a slave-owner who led the great American revolution into victory; Thomas Jefferson, also slave-owner and a racist who wrote ‘all men are created equal’ in the Declaration of Independence; Theodore Roosevelt, the man who was no friend of native Americans in his early public career; furthest right is Abraham Lincoln, the man who won the civil war and emancipated slavery, united the country, and made it truly ‘the United States’ of today. These four men of history were not responsible for having their faces carved out leaving a big ugly scar on the mountain. They had died long before the Mount Rushmore National Memorial project started in 1927.
What about the native Americans of the Sioux Nation who own and worship their sacred mountain?
In their book 'The National Parks: America's best Idea, An Illustrated History'* Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns talks to Gerard Baker, a native American who was the first American Indian to be the superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Baker, who is of the Mandan-Hidatsas tribe, has this to say:
Question: And now you're the superintendent at Mount Rushmore. That would seem to represent a big change from those earlier times."
Answer: "I'm the first American Indian to be the superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and I was told, 'There's ('re?) not many Indians going to be there, because they have a different feeling about the place.' And so the first week I was there, I was out walking around, looking at the visitors and asking them questions, just viewing everything, and I saw an American Indian family, I was so excited, I went up there, shook hands with them, we had a very good discussion--who they were, where they were from--and then they asked me, 'what do you do here?'
And I said, 'Well I'm the superintendent.' And they all burst out laughing. They didn't believe me at all. They thought I worked in maintenance or they thought I was a groundkeeper or something. And I said, 'No, really, I am the superintendent.' And they all started laughing again. I actually had to take them back in my office and prove to them that actually, yes, I am an Indian and I am in charge of Mount Rushmore. And they were so proud of that fact.
And it opened their eyes, as well. We started talking about their daughter, who can come into the Park Service and who can be a ranger and who can work her way up and so forth."
Question: "What about Mount Rushmore and its unique place in the complicated story of America?"
Answer: "There were two places in my career that I told my family that I would never work. One of them was Little Big Horn and the other was Mount Rushmore. And I have been superintendent at both of them now. Coming to Mount Rushmore--it was very challenging to accept the job, because for Indian people it means the desecration of the sacred Black Hills; it means the losing of the Black Hills; a lot of negative things.
But I'm proud of the fact that I am the first American Indian to be superintendent there, telling the freedom that America has to offer and the democracy that we have in America. When I first came, I'd go out in the park and I would watch people. They would look at those four presidents and they would get teary-eyed. This place draws emotion. And it should. But we were only telling half the story.
We need to look at all the stories, not only talk about those four presidents and what they did as far as freedom is concerned. we also have to start talking about what happened to everybody. Mount Rushmore gives us that opportunity. We're promoting all cultures of America. That's what this place is. For goodness sake, this is Mount Rushmore. It's America.
I'm talking about all of America because that's what we represent. The parks don't belong to me. They don't belong to you. The parks belong to America. And what is America made up of? So in order to tell our story, we need to do a better job of getting the multitude of cultures into our story. We need national parks to have people--especially our kids--understand what America is. America's not sidewalks. America's not stores. America's not video games. America's not restaurants. We need national parks so people can go there and say, 'Ah, this is America.' "*
From the point of view of native Americans, Mount Rushmore is sacred land not to be desecrated, but it had been by those who defaced the sacred Black Hills and made it a monument of the four great white men who spoke with forked tongue. And today the sacred Black Hills is only a place for curiosity for tourists who have no time to probe deeper to the history of discontent America.
From the point of view of being a National Memorial which is part of the National Park Service, Mount Rushmore is a place specially for Americans of all colours and ethnicities to come and contemplate deeply into the heart of America, travel back in time into the early days of Crazy Horse, leader of the Oglala Sioux, and General George Armstrong Custer of the Seventh Cavalry, to search for the true spirit of the great vast land--from sea to shining sea--the big country that is home to all immigrants who came to make different histories of America, and in the process, induced suffering over the natives who had lived and tilled their lands long before the discovery of the so-called 'new world'.
In contemporary political context, Mount Rushmore is not to be the place to sow the seeds of disunity within the united states. It is not the place for political campaign against one another. Particularly, not on the 4th of July!
Since the completion of the project in 1941 Mount Rushmore has been a place to see and a must-tourist-stop for everyone. However, the full history of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills was never properly conveyed to students of history and general tourists alike.
Human being is a flawed species, and the four great men in American history are no exception. The four faces on Mount Rushmore have different stories to tell and passing-by visitors can not possibly know by just looking up the mountain and snapping a picture. They all have prominent roles, good and bad, in American history. But they do not need to show their sculptured faces on the sacred mountain. Their stories should be told in history books and discussed in classrooms and in public discourses.
4 July 2020
Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns,
The National Parks: America's best Idea, An Illustrated History,
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010, pp.58-59
I. THE TULSA SUPER SPREADER
On Saturday 20 June 2020 the Trump Campaign will hold a mass rally in an indoor arena to the capacity crowd of 19,000 at the Bank of Oklahoma (BOK) Center, downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is done at the time when the COVID-19 pandemic is still surging in the country, making the US the country worst hit in the world. Many states reopened too soon, risking a recurrence of the pandemic beyond control. To make the matter worse, many people claim their right and freedom to not wearing masks nor following guidelines issued by local and federal health authorities. Other than the Trump's supporters or "his base", these proud and arrogant people who cherish personal freedom and equality include the White House staff, the Trump Campaign organisation, and Donald Trump himself. They will be at the BOK Center in full force. Rally attendees will be given masks at the entrances, but are not likely to wear them. Trump himself will definitely not wear it as he feels it will make him look weak.
Scientific studies have long confirmed that wearing masks helps reduce, if not stop, the spreading of the deadly COVID-19, especially among people at large social gathering. People who feel normal and healthy may unknowingly have the virus. They are asymptomatic type of patient. Some may be pre-symptomatic, meaning that the virus symptom will not immediately show until after a few days. By not wearing masks these people can spread the virus to others nearby who may or may not wear masks. Wearing mask will help protect everyone. Unfortunately, the people in Tulsa attending the Trump rally will most likely spread the virus as well as contracting it themselves. There will be a large number of people getting the virus from the event and then return home, get sick, spread the virus to family members who will in turn get sick too. A number of people will be hospitalised, treated, recovered. Some will die if treatments are not successful.
The Trump Campaign understands full well the consequences of not abiding by the CDC social-distancing guidelines, therefore, requires all event attendees to sign a waiver relinquishing their right to sue the organiser for COVID-19 health-related damages.
Risk your life for him!
By WHO definition, this is a super spreader.
Some local business and civil groups in Tulsa unsuccessfully appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in a law suit to force the Trump Campaign's compliance with the CDC guidelines. This may spark a protest outside BOK Center on Saturday. One day before the Tulsa rally Donald Trump tweeted the following threat:
"Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!"
Harsh words and such profanity from the president of United States! He promised the use of force against the demonstrators who only want to exercise their First Amendment rights to peaceful demonstration: "the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances".
Trump has no stomach for freedom of expression, no love for the protesters, and open dislike for the peaceful demonstration successfully managed in Democratic cities like New York, Seattle, and Minneapolis. He promised harsh treatment against protesters in Tulsa.
When the looting starts, you know what will start too.
How low can a life be for that occupant of the White House!
The Washington Post reported on 20 June that as of Friday 19 June, Tulsa County had 2,070 COVID-19 cases and 65 deaths, and Oklahoma had at the total of 9,706 cases and 367 deaths. On the following day the paper reported that six members of Trump's advance team tested positive of COVID-19. On the eve of the Tulsa rally CNN summarised the following COVID-19 figures for Oklahoma:
● Tulsa County: at least 772 current active cases in Tulsa, and approximately 66 people have died.
● Oklahoma- statewide: at least 10,037 cases, 331 new cases 24 hours before the Tulsa event, and a total of 368 deaths.
Unavoidably, some of the 20,000 people at the Tulsa rally will get sick and some may die. Public health officials must trace to keep track of the people who attend the Trump rally. This can be done easily as all attendees had to pre-register for tickets into the BOK Center. If all event attendees' are traced we will know within three weeks who lives, who gets sick, and who dies from the Tulsa super spreader. Perhaps death can be prevented by tracing and prompt intervention. It will serve as a more forceful lesson for the general population, and an effective warning to those who do not believe in science.
Donald Trump will surely not get the virus because he is tested everyday. And his staff will not allow it to happen. He will probably live on for a few more years and die in old age. Everybody dies. It is the fact of life. A scientific fact.
I wonder if Donald Trump will die a happy man.
He probably will.
In his short life of 70 plus years on earth, he has done everything possible for himself.
He has succeeded in fooling half the population, his poorly-educated Americans, into electing him a president.
He has proved to the world that the greatest democracy on earth can be fooled into electing a real bad man.
The world may be laughing. I am not.
I CAN'T BREATHE!
TIME UPDATE on COVID-19 cases three weeks later in Oklahoma:
Three Weeks After Trump's Tulsa Rally, Oklahoma Reports Record High COVID-19 NumbersOklahoma health officials reported record number of COVID-19 cases in the state this week, three weeks after President Donald Trump held a controversial rally in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20.
On Saturday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) reported 687 new COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in the last 24 hours. It was the second highest increase only coming after Tuesday’s 858 confirmed cases, per the Oklahoman. As of Saturday afternoon ET, Oklahoma had at least 19,779 confirmed cases of the virus, according to OSDH.
According to a reporter for local news channel KOCO 5, the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases is nearly six times what it was in early April. Officials also reported five new COVID-19 related deaths on Saturday. There have been at least 421 confirmed deaths in total from the virus in the state, according to OSDH.
II. LIVE FROM TULSA, OKLAHOMA
20 June 2020 (US/CT) / 21 June 2020 (Morning Bangkok Time)
Watching CNN reporting live from Tulsa, Oklahoma, I feel scientifically disappointed and politically sad to see people who do not believe in science and politically blind filing into the Bank of Oklahoma Center (BOK) Center for an opportunity of a lifetime to see and hear their dearly beloved leader Donald Trump, who does not believe in science either. To them the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax. It'll go away like a miracle. In fact, it should have gone away three months ago when Trump said so. But the COVOD-19 is still around and with increasing intensity.
People who wear facial masks are Trump haters, said Trump himself. And here in the BOK Center almost all people do not wear masks. And Trump himself promised not to wear one either. For the great Donald Trump who avoided military draft by faking a bone spur, facing the virus with bear face is a sign of strength. Of course, the new corona virus will not face human face-to-face. They just fly in through the human breathing intake like a miracle. Once inside the body, the virus live well and multiply. They are deadly. They kill.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), worldwide as of 20 June 2020, COVID-19 already infected 8,525,042 people (2,172,212 in the US), killed 456,973 (118,205 in the US). The numbers keep rising.
I hope only hardcore Trump lovers will attend the Tulsa Trump campaign rally event. I hope the arena will not be filled to capacity of about 20,000. Only those who love him enough, are willing to fall sick and die for him, should attend the rally. From the way it looked on CNN two hours before the event the BOK Center remained half empty. That is good news for public health.
The Tulsa Trump campaign rally is an event of a life time for Trump's "poorly-educated Americans". It is an event of life, sickness, and death.
The people of Oklahoma must display their science literacy and follow scientific common sense, both health science and political science. They must prove to themselves that they are not Trump's 'poorly-educated' base, as Trump always sees in them.
I hope the people of Oklahoma will stay homes and cheer their president on TV. If you still love him, in sickness or health, for richer or poorer, you can vote for him comes November 2020.
Finally, comforting news. The crowd at the BOK Center was not at full capacity. Many sections saw empty seats. Local fire marshall reported the figure of 6,200 (ref.CNN). The Trump campaign disputed the number and gave their version at over 10,000, while the Washington Post's rough estimate is at 1/3 empty ( from 19,000 total capacity, about 12,000 showed up. and 7,000 missing. Donald Trump was disappointed and blamed it on the media report of the coming protests by, in Trump's own words, "thugs", "anarchists", "agitators","looters", and "lowlives". Trump's promise to deal with the protesters with measures different from those seen in New York, Seattle, and Minneapolis. Trump's harsh words implied a prediction of a bloody scene at the BOK Center. And no-one in their right minds would enjoy participating in such risky affairs. There were indeed some protesters in the vicinity but in moderate numbers. They were peaceful. No-ones tried to prevent Trump's supporters from entering the arena. No serious incidents was reported. It was all a normal and peaceful demonstration like those in New York, Seattle, and Minneapolis.
As in the 1970 movie "Suppose They Gave A War And Nobody Came", Trump gave a war and nobody came.
His war dance did not materialise. Tulsa did not want Trump's campaign event to be turned into a second Black Wall Street.
American voters are beginning to realise that their world-renown democracy is slipping away. And they want to do something about it. It is shameful to elect an ignorant bad man a leader of this great nation (on earth - they say). They obviously did not know that this media-popular and rich man from New York would turn out to be so embarrassingly disappointing, to them and in the eyes of the world. Their elected president has turned out to be so inefficient and a bad dream, a comedic character and pathological liar, who constantly displays unending ignorance and stupidity for all the world to see, and laugh at. He treats his supporters as mere poorly-educated subjects who can be leashed and manipulated at will.
It's time democracy in America deserves a better-educated population, politically that is.
In a true democracy a good constitution is not enough. The population must learn the essence of democracy and wisely choose political leaders and representatives who are at least equally well-educated in democracy, if not all the more so. Political leaders must respect wishes of the people. In short, they must respect the will of the people and ensure that the governments they run are 'of the people, by the people, and for the people'. If this basic principle of democracy, as aspired to by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, is not respected, jealously guarded, and vigorously pursued, there is no hope for a true democracy.
It's been 237 years since the Great American Revolution; 244 years since the Declaration of Independence; 185 years since the publication of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, an explanation of American democracy greatly admired all over Europe; and 155 years since the civil war. American history is an open book for all the world to read, let alone Americans themselves. The last chapter of the "Great American Experiment" in democracy should have been written and the great book finally closed, and be read and re-read as a political science classic long ago. But not quite. Democracy in America had come along fine until Donald Trump showed up and spoiled the party. The country once great is now struggling to hold on to the founders' idea while an ignorant bad man runs the country's core value down to the ground.
It is time American people learn to appreciate the value of true democracy again, if America ever want to be 'Great Again'. It is so simple and easy, to me, for America to be truly a great nation. It only needs to be truly a great democracy. And this can be done by just re-reading the constitution and follow each and every word in it.
I wish my country had such simple and powerful document to build society on. I read the US constitution many times, but I don't have a country to practice it with. Since the first experiment in western democracy in 1932 in my country, Thailand, we had used up 20 constitutions, so far. I had a hand writing one myself in 1997. My later generation have written 5 more, and no end in sight. Laying down a good foundation and infrastructure for democracy is one thing. But to successfully practice it is another. I used to look at development of democracy in my country with a sense of hopelessness and despair, and I still do. I don't want to look at the USA with the same sense of loss.
For I love America too much, the people of America must not disappoint me.
They must not disappoint the world.
America still have a good constitution. But it’s been taken for granted. The people and their politicians do not practice it enough.
Democracy is an educational process for each generation of population, in the US or anywhere else in the world. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2019 World democracy Index, there are only 22 full-democracy countries in the world, or about 5.7 of the world population.The rest are 54 flawed democracies, 37 hybrid regimes, and 54 authoritarian regimes. The United States is a flawed democracy ranking 25th after 24th Japan, and 23rd South Korea, in the World Democracy Index 2019. (Thailand ranks 68th and a flawed democracy).
The world's top 22 full democracies are in following order:
1.Norway, 2.Iceland, 3.Sweden, 4.New Zealand, 5.Finland, 6.Ireland, 7.Denmark, 8.Canada, 9.Australia, 10.Switzerland, 11.Netherlands, 12.Luxembourg, 13.Germany. 14.United Kingdom, 15.Uruguay, 16.Austria and Spain (equal scores). 18.Mauritius, 19.Costa Rica, 20.France, 21.Chile, and 22.Portugal.
The flawed democracy list starts with 23.South Korea (24 in 2016), 24.Japan (20 in 2016), 25.USA (21 in 2016),..68.Thailand (100/hybrid regime/in 2016),...ending with 75.Hong Kong and Singapore.
At the bottom-most is North Korea, ranking 167th under the category of authoritarian regime.
[Full 2019 Democracy Index]
In four short years of the Trump's administration, democracy in America slipped down 4 rankings from full to flawed democracy. Previously in 2008 under President George W. Bush, the US ranked 18th as full democracy. And in 2010, it scaled up one position to 17th full democracy under President Obama.
For the first time in the great American history, to borrow Donald Trump's speaks, American democracy was made "Not Great" like never before.
(This article should end here, but I can't help myself continuing...)
"Do you take responsibility for this?, I heard my self asking Donald Trump on my imaginary virtual Zoom interview from the remote jungle of Thailand.
And he answered: "No, I will not take responsible for it. Obama left me an empty shelf. He was not born in the US. He got the Nobel Prize, and I didn't. Why? The Nobel Prize is overrated. I am busy fighting this Kung Flu hoax from the fake news CNN and the failing New York Times. And I could run the West Point ramp had I wanted to. I can drink water from a glass without even using any hand. And (babble, babble, babble)......."
"Enough, Mr. President, cut the crabs!", I told him.*
21-22 June 2020
*Note: I once toured the White House as a journalist from Thailand over thirty years ago. I can still remember sitting in the small White House press room, visiting the nearby Lafayette Park, and St.John's Episcopal Church. In all I visited Washington, D.C. a few times. The memory is still vivid. My confidence for democracy in America never fades.
This slightly expanded piece, with a proper title, is based on my 14 June 2020 comment posted to the Washington Post 12 June 2020 OpEd: "When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs.I'm caught in a time loop where my white friends and acquaintances perform the same pieties over and over again." by Tre Johnson
I am 72, a citizen of Thailand. In all my life I have never been identified by the color of my skin.
I have been observing racism in America since I was 18 attending a senior year at Park Hill High School, Parkville, Missouri.
Fifty years on, I now see a different America under the Trump era where white supremacy starts coming out of the closet and racial tension is more like a cold civil war. Superficial changes have been introduced over the pre-Trump years to ease racial discrimination. The word 'Negro' had become an 'N word' and was replaced by the word 'black' and then 'colored' and then 'African American". The word 'Oriental' was outlawed by the Act of Congress banning its use in all official communication. So 'Oriental' is now the 'O Word' in America. 'Asian American', whatever and whoever that means, has become the 'New Yellow'.
Lady Antebellum recently announced a name change to "Lady L", saying that 'antebellum' is a period of slavery before the American Civil War. In original Latin, 'antebellum' literally means 'before war', any war, anywhere, in any colour. Quaker Oats which owns Aunt Jamima syrup and pancake-mix brand announced a planned rebranding of the popular products I so loved during my years in Mayor Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia. Like 'Darkie' tooth paste that was renamed 'Darlie' in 1989 by Colgate-Palmolive (though the Chinese character remains unchanged and still reads 'Darkie'), there will be a new name and a new face for the sweet Auntie. Aunt Jemima had her roots in a 19th-century blackface minstrel song, “Old Aunt Jemima,” widely performed in the southern slave states, antebellum and postbellum. Uncle Ben's Rice is also up for redesign.
Black syrup and black rice don't matter, I guess!
Across the ocean in the UK, the statute of Cecil Rhodes is also an outdated symbol of British colonialism being targeted. The governors of the Oxford University College voted on 18 June (2020) to remove Cecil Rhodes statute from the lawn of Oriel College. Rhodes estates' funding of Oxford and all international scholarships bearing his name will remain. Pres. Bill Clinton, Sen.Cory Booker, and singer-movie star Kris Kristofferson, are among many American Rhodes scholars given opportunities for graduate studies at Oxford.
Superficial changes on bits of racist memories will not help much. Racism in America needs nothing short of a socio-cultural revolution.
Erasing the memory of British colonialism needs more than just taking down Cecil Rhodes statute. Erasing the UK from the world map won't help either. History has been recorded and cannot be forgotten. It, however, can be understood by just reading, re-reading, and more reading.
I do not have a book club to join in Thailand but I read books from my own private collections to help myself better understand whatever puzzles me in the news.
For the current racial crisis in America, my first read is "The American Republic Since 1887", a 2007 Glencoe textbook my son once used in Walla Walla High School. This helps me understand the sense of history in the mind of youth in America today.
Laura Coates of CNN, while reporting from Minnesota, recommended Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" which I will read after I finish Hugh Brogan's "The Penguin History of the USA" (2001). I have read Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" a few times and plan to re-read de Tocqueville's idea on American prison reform in 1800s again. Of course, I enjoy Toni Morrison's "Love" almost every other Valentines' until now that I am a little too old for romance.
I read the journal of Foreign Affairs' "America’s Original Sin: Slavery and the Legacy of White Supremacy" By Annette Gordon-Reed January/February 2018. This Harvard law and history professor clearly explains why emancipation of slavey could not abolish white supremacy along with it. The great American experiment in democracy with freedom and equality at its heart declares that “all men are created equal,” with “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". The "Declaration of Independence" of 1776 was written by Thomas Jefferson, himself a slave owner. The original 13 colonies that agreed to joint the United States, to one degree or another, allowed slavery to continue. The American constitution, signed in 1787, ratified in 1788, and came into force in 1789, counted each enslaved person as three-fifths of a free person for the purpose of apportioning members of the House of Representatives.
The first decades of the Republic was built by slave owners by the names of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson. The civil war from 1861 to 1865 was all about slavery which fortunately ended in the defeat of the Confederates in the South. Slavery in America had been legally abolished by the 13th Amendment in 1865 but white supremacy was not exactly 'gone with the wind'. It is the whites who led, won, and lost the war against and for slavery. It is probably a nationalistic reason that propels the thought of tearing down statutes of the southern confederate generals and rid their names off some present-day military establishments, e.g., Fort Bragg, Fort Benning, Fort Hood, and Fort Lee.
But what about the slave owner General George Washington Monument on the Capitol Mall?
And what about his face along with that of another patriotic slave owner Thomas Jefferson on Mt.Rushmore? They are just inches away from the face of the great slave emancipator Abraham Lincoln!
The physical Civil War may have ended 155 years ago. But in the hearts and minds of Americans today it seems the War still rages on and with increasing intensity.
Professor Annette Gordon-Reed notes: "Abraham Lincoln understood that the central question for the United States after the Civil War was whether blacks could be fully incorporated into American society."
It appears now in 2020, after 244 years of independence, the American Experiment in democracy has failed to live up to the high praise of Alexis de Tocqueville. It disappointed the world where America had long been looked up to as the benchmark in democracy. Maybe the pursuit of happiness can be found somewhere else.
Even though I do not quite understand racism in America enough to help solve the two-centuries-old social conflicts, but I take comfort in reading, trying to understand, and sharing the pain. I am sure one day a solution will be found.
Life is so short and there are many more books to read if I ever will understand the real America.
15 June 2020
America’s Original Sin: Slavery and the Legacy of White Supremacy, by Annette Gordon-Reed, FOREIGN AFFAIRS, January/February 2018
"Opinions without knowledge and understanding are shameful and ugly" (Socrates)