Oped

Politics of caprice

  • Having witnessed what a one-man machine of demagoguery can achieve, we are better off with our own system
- Deepak Thapa
The fact that a person like Trump can continue to appeal to tens of millions of Americans despite all his transgressions that have come to light reveals that it is all about messaging

Nov 3, 2016-Back in the days when we were studying in Darjeeling, it used to be said that this beautiful hill station was famous for its three T’s: Tea, Tourism and Teachers. While acknowledging this to be a corruption of the original formulation of ‘Tea, Teak (or Timber) and Tourism’, the very fact that it was seen plausible to include ‘Teachers’ among the trio shoring up Darjeeling’s economy meant that there were some pretty good schools there. After all, it was not without reason that the last two kings of Nepal and all their siblings were sent to school there.

With such acclaimed educators, one would like to believe that the resident population of Darjeeling, too, would be well educated in like manner and, hence, more judicious than a group with a schooling perhaps not as inspiring. But somehow that correlation does not seem to work when it comes to one aspect of social life that perhaps matters—politics. Hence, Darjeeling was led by Subhas Ghising for two decades. A classic demagogue who appeared to become increasingly deranged the longer he stayed in power, Ghising’s main claim to fame previously had been to author books, some of which can best be described as soft pornography.

Ghising was ousted by his one-time mentee, Bimal Gurung, formerly a small-time rough. Having begun his political career as a storm trooper for Ghising’s political outfit, Gurung came to prominence in 2007 on the back of the campaign to get a local boy voted Indian Idol. And, it has been uphill for him so far.

To think that a place famous for education could do no better than Ghising and Gurung for three decades is appalling to say the least. Unfortunately, it has parallels around the world. The most prominent of these is Donald J Trump, who has come perilously (for the US and the world itself) close to becoming elected president of the United States.

The world according to Trump

Regardless of who emerges victorious on November 8, the US will be led by an Ivy League graduate, following an unbroken line that goes back nearly 30 years to 1988. His educational pedigree is something Trump crows about blatantly, but which has also discomfited a couple of thousands of people associated with his alma mater, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, to declare in an open letter to Donald Trump: ‘You Do Not Represent Us.’

As the Wharton folks wrote in indignation: ‘We, proud students, alumni, and faculty of Wharton, are outraged that an affiliation with our school is being used to legitimize prejudice and intolerance. Although we do not aim to make any political endorsements with this letter, we do express our unequivocal stance against the xenophobia, sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry that you have actively and implicitly endorsed in your campaign.’

I presume anyone would also feel embarrassed to have a fellow alumnus who goes around saying, as Trump did to a newspaper: ‘I’m really smart. Went to the Wharton School of Finance. Even then, a long time ago, like the hardest, or one of the hardest, schools to get into.’ Never thought one would see an American presidential candidate resort to the teenage-ish ‘like’ in a sentence. But, then, Trump is hard-pressed to formulate a coherent full sentence in general. He also goes around peddling patently dangerous ideas such as climate change being a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to debilitate the American economy.

Yet, Trump is romping high on the polls so far with only 4 points separating him from Hillary Clinton at the time of writing. Granted that most people with a college degree reportedly view him with distaste and scores of well-informed articles have pointed out the danger of electing someone who has nothing to offer but words twisted to suit the occasion. But the fact that such a person can continue to appeal to tens of millions of Americans despite all his transgressions that have come to light, ranging from financial to sexual, reveals that it is all about messaging, even if it is in the form of splutter, and appealing to just a section of the electorate broad enough to pose a threat to democracy itself. Therein lies the danger of a presidential system that the literature talks about.

Nepali politicians

If a country with such a long tradition of democracy and with a well-educated population can boil down the choice to Trump and someone else, I would say that we are not doing that badly. Both our school and university systems are in a shambles and have been so for quite a while. A number among our current crop of top leaders would have earned their degrees in jail, that is, by memorising answers to a certain set of questions every year and not through deep analytical thought that results from true education. Yet, despite all the name-calling, they have not foregone the basic decency that would make it difficult for them to work with each other when the time comes.

Many of them also shoot their mouth off every now and then, and sometimes deny with a straight face what they have said. But no one comes even close to the deeply disturbing pronouncements that Trump has been making. Even KP Oli’s repeated denigration of Madhesis when he was  prime minister would not fit in the same bracket, even though some observers have perceived Trumpian tendencies in him. Having witnessed what a one-man machine of demagoguery can potentially achieve, I think we are much better off with our own system that forces cooperation among the political parties representing a diversity of positions—the wart of unstable politics notwithstanding.

Published: 03-11-2016 08:39

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