We can draw ugly parallels between the United States President’s racist politics and what is happening in Sri Lanka. First let us examine Donald Trump’s racist rants which he liberally unleashes, without realising the damage he is causing to the nation’s social cohesion.
To say that Trump has no propriety in politics is an understatement. The truth appears to be that he has become so immune to criticism that he sees the inappropriate as appropriate. He does not seem to think that racism needs to be abhorred. He does not give a damn about history’s lessons on racist politics leading to holocausts and genocides, as has happened in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Myanmar.
Thus it comes as no surprise that he began his 2020 re-election campaign on a despicable note at the North Carolina political rally, where his silence was taken as a signal for encore by his supporters to chant racist slogans directed at Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Their shouts were in consonance with his ‘go back home’ tweets directed at Omar and three other non-white House Democrats.
In a three-tweet thread, Trump lashed out at the four first time Congresswomen, who have become his most vocal critics. Of them, only Omar was a naturalised American. She is from Somalia. The other three — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna S. Pressley— were born in the US, like Trump was. The Trump tweet thread said:
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
In the US, anyone with a primary school education will say theirs is a country of immigrants, a majority of whom are from Europe. Even the Native Americans, the original inhabitants of the continent, were once immigrants. Human history is one of migration from one place to another. To whichever country we belong, the people-of-the-soil claim holds no water. Trump himself is a grandson of an immigrant who came to America about 130 years ago. Even his wife is a naturalised American. She was born in Estonia. To grade patriotism on an early-bird-catches-the worm basis may appeal only to irrational bigots. No wonder, the Los Angeles Times in a recent editorial called Trump America’s Bigot-in-Chief.
Racism is not value-based. To keep it alive, its proponents have to resort to lies and deception, myths and fake history. What more proof do we need to indict Trump, when the white supremacist, who killed 50 people in a New Zealand mosque in March this year, cited Trump as his inspiration? This week, two US policemen, who were ardent supporters of Trump, were arrested for suggesting in their Facebook posts that Omar should be shot.
Dangerous indeed is the content of Trump tweets, for their contentious content underscores “us versus them” or a division along the line that full-fledged white Americans are better than half-fledged coloured Americans.
Mercifully, the US system does not discriminate against citizens on the basis of types of citizenship. For naturalised Americans, the only inhibition is that they cannot hold the office of the President.
We may disagree with the United States’ globe-gobbling foreign policy, yet we cannot but admire the egalitarian domestic system which has evolved through the American independence war of the 18th century, the American Civil War of the 1860s and the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s. If Trump-like politicians are allowed to flourish and their racist views accommodated in the name of free speech, the US will soon lose its position as the world’s most vibrant democracy.
But we take heart of the fact that a majority of the Americans are not racists. They elected Afro-American Barack Obama, son of a Muslim Kenyan, as President — not once, but twice. This week, a poll found that 58 percent of US voters labelled as “racist” the anti-Omar chants at Trump’s North Carolina meeting. Of course, 87 percent of this 58 percent were Democrats.
“A majority of the Republicans remain steadfast in their support for President Trump and don’t necessarily view last week’s series of controversial remarks as racist,” said Tyler Sinclair, vice president of Morning Consult, which together with Politico conducted, the poll.
Today, most analysts lament that the Republican Party appears to have become a Trump party, as seen in their blind support for him at the widely watched Special Counsel Robert Muller testimony before the House Judicial and Intelligence Committees on Wednesday.
With such Republican endorsement, Trump believes that winning elections is all about turning voters into bigots. Politicians like Trump cast fear into the hearts of the voters about an enemy and try to convince the fear-struck voters that it is only they who can ensure public security.
Such political charlatans care little about national unity. They fan the flames of disunity and polarisation, while promoting themselves as patriots of the highest order. Before their rhetoric binds us in a spell, we need to remind ourselves that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
Describing Trump’s campaign as ‘thuggish patriotism’, the Los Angeles Times said, “He is playing to the lowest, most degraded emotions of his supporters while revelling in the fury of his opponents. This is the definition of demagoguery. Sadly, it has found a receptive audience.”
Now, if we do not admit that this is also happening in Sri Lanka, then we are not keeping abreast with the story behind the news — or we are not politically literate enough to identify the humbugs in politics.
While President Maithripala Sirisena’s preposterous act of granting a presidential pardon to a rabble-rousing monk was seen as propping up racism, some politicians are approving of racism by their failure to condemn it. United National Front frontliners have put the party’s interest before the country’s interest, in the belief that the upcoming polls are to be won on the basis of racist credentials. Except for Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, they have chosen not to speak up against those who sow discord among the people through fear-mongering and hate speech.
Their silence or inaction is no different to the appalling policy of the India’s ruling party. The Narendra Modi government adopts a see-no-evil attitude when hardline Bharatiya Janatha Party supporters lynch Muslims after forcing them to say Hindu slogans praising Lord Ram. In a recent hard-hitting parliament speech, Mahua Moitra, a first-time MP from the opposition Trinamool Congress, lashed out at the Modi government’s silence in the face of anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit violence as a sign of fascism.
Sri Lanka’s political leaders must realise that their silent or overt endorsement of racist politics only expedites the rise of fascism in this country. If they do not change course, they are no better than the unscrupulous media outlets which spew out racism with impunity, showing scant regard for media ethics and principles.
To save Sri Lanka, we need to first save its politics and media from demagogues and presstitutes.