Lessons from Capitol Hill

AMERICAN democracy is on the brink. Eleven days remain to inauguration day, but the peaceful transfer of power, for the first time this century, seems far from guaranteed.

While the situation continues to unfold, there are already lessons that can and should be learned.

The situation in Washington is the logical result of divisive politics.

When parties are unyielding and unwilling to compromise, when officials are unwilling to entertain the viewpoints of others, when “us versus them” becomes the overriding principle, dragons’ teeth are sown, the ground readied for violence.

The adversarial narrative of PNM versus UNC in this country is little different from the current bitter animosity between Democrats and Republicans.

The similarities do not end there. While TT’s demographics differ, the intertwining of race and politics in the US – a nexus that is hard to challenge, given the composition of Wednesday’s crowd and President Trump’s record – should serve as a warning. The danger posed by the differential treatment of social or ethnic groups by the police is also apparent.

But Donald Trump could not have unleashed the virulence he did over the last four years without the co-operation of members of his party.

When representatives of a political party fall silent, when they refuse to hold their leaders to account, when they sheepishly comply with edicts that “no damn dog bark,” they abdicate their sacred duty to protect the interests of the citizenry.

When members of the political elite mix up private and public affairs and then pursue self-interest or the interests of their cronies and associates, they undermine sacred principles that should act as a check on leadership. The door is opened to bedlam.

Despite the sanctimonious party rhetoric we are regularly subjected to, the perception that politicians seek only to enrich themselves persists. Instead of positive steps being taken to challenge this perception, we are watering down procurement laws and defending useless, expensive helicopters.

Meanwhile, efforts to unclog prisons have done little to change the belief that some groups are more susceptible to the law than others. Action on white-collar crime is promised by every government. It is hard to cite a single prosecutorial success of moment.

All of this is worsened when, like Mr Trump, our public officials consistently attack the media, especially any voice that asks questions, airs criticisms, or simply points out all of the above.

Mr Trump’s presidency normalised lying in public life. But when local politicians resort to semantic games, evasions, obfuscations, distractions and downright spin – how different are they?

They might be tempted to distance themselves from or, alternatively, to use America’s woes as an opportunity to score points against opponents. But people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.


"Lessons from Capitol Hill"

More in this section