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Thursday, 26 November 2020

Reason for alarm

There is much at stake if the idea of 'American exceptionalism' is dissolving

Lubna Abdel-Aziz , Saturday 21 Nov 2020
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It is a sorry spectacle watching the political scandals of the US. Where is the leader of the most powerful country in the world?

As we watched in dismay the fraudulent presidential elections unfold we could almost feel the power of America slowly diminishing. This has a significant bearing, not only locally but in international affairs as well. It translates into a disassembling of Western dominance.

There is much at stake if the idea of “American exceptionalism”, is dissolving.

However, let us not hasten to announce its demise as did the partisan corporate press of the US, rushing prematurely to declare the winner of the Presidential race. It is not their responsibility nor their right.

If the US global standing has plummeted, it is because it is no longer the US we know. Once the bastion of democracy, it has abandoned the principles that made it the greatest democracy on earth.

For centuries it has embraced people from around the globe, offering them freedom, justice, equality and hope. The lady with the torch, their Statue of Liberty, cried: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me”. And they came, and they came, from every corner of the globe. With their toil, sweat and hard work, they built a great country, massive, imposing and strong.

But they were still a colony, to the mighty British Empire.

Soon they were to learn about democracy, from the writings of the French philosophers, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and others. These thoughts blended with their aspirations. They fought their British rulers and beat the French at declaring their country a republic in 1776. The French transformed their monarchy to a republic in 1789, but it was their ideas and others before them as British philosopher Edmund Burke, who inspired the American freedom fighters.

The constitution is regarded as the exemplar in eloquence and ideas, calling for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

There are about 20 forms of governance such as monarchy, anarchy, oligarchy, bureaucracy, theocracy, and communism, capitalism, socialism, totalitarianism, colonialism and all the isms you can think of.

Why a democracy? The word first popped up in ancient Greece, (aristos: excellent, krato: power), the Greek concept of offsetting the absolute power of a monarchy. Churchill said “democracy is the worst form of government” and he was right. But he went on to add, “except for all the rest”, and he was right. Half of the world’s nations self-identify as democracies.

In a democracy people are given the right to choose their leadership: one man, one vote. Its primary goal is governing through fair representation. No single entity can exercise uncontrolled or unchecked authority.

Often we are confused between a democracy and a republic. The United States is a republic following the ideas and ideals of democracy, therefore it is both. A republic is a form of government whereas a democracy is an ideology that shapes how a government is run.

Have we failed to mention socialism?

It is akin to communism but more malleable. It has existed in many forms with various degrees of strictness throughout history and around the world. It provides encompassing public services, free education, free health- care, free this, free that, sounds good, does it not?

However, nothing in this world is free as we have all discovered. It also lacks the competitive nature of productivity. Legal or illegal resident, you can lie on your couch all day and everything will be taken care of by your government. Can progress ever be achieved in such an environment?

The US is currently leaning towards socialism, with an eye on the Nordic model.

Before oil was discovered these were poor countries. Over one million Swedes and others migrated to America. Now they are rich, therefore social services are more generous.

“Denmark is far from a socialist economy. It is a market economy.” Such is the case in all of Scandinavia. It is a “pampering form of capitalism”. There is no minimal wage but there is a high flat tax of 45.9 per cent of your income, big or small. Most Western countries have a progressive system of taxation.

Often, the few people who complain the loudest are mistaken for representing the country, but they may be only killing the fantasy of America.

It has fashioned the world this past century.

At one time we all had a dream — the American dream.

If this is a sinister moment in its history, let us not forget at one time, only in America you could do anything and be anyone. Did Obama dream of being president? He still does.

Vote-rigging is nothing new in America. In the 1960s John Kennedy was handed 8,000 votes by democratic Mayor Daley of Chicago to defeat Nixon. All 8,000 were dead. It is still happening.

Twenty years ago votes in Florida were recounted as the nation waited 37 days before the Supreme Court declared a winner.

Waiting is agony, especially for all those who escaped socialist countries.

What is worse is the possible loss of the American dream.

Dream on dreamers. It is better to keep dreaming, than never to have a dream.

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

 Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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