By Uditha Devapriya –
I know a friend who despises opinion pieces. He is a cynic when it comes to commentaries and as such, measure commentators (political or otherwise) on the basis of their fidelity to facts. Now facts, as the saying goes, are sacred, and comment free, but for all he cares this friend tends to disparage certain writers based on their lack of regard for the truth: journalism, for him at least, must be stripped of frill. The truth and nothing but the truth is what he aspires for in whatever he reads (barring the occasional novel or comic book, of course). I can’t say I agree with him entirely, but I will say this: I am no fan of opinion columnists, and going by that logic, at least when it comes to such columns, I am no fan of writing them either.
At one level I suppose it has to do with the blogosphere. There are so many writers out there on the net that it’s difficult to set some sense of uniformity. It’s difficult to standardise, in other words. Those who rant and rave, for the lack of a better way of putting it, rant and rave to their hearts’ content, never mind whether or not the extrapolations they make come close to the truth.
The best columnists, to my mind at least, don’t indulge in such rants: they are careful to support what they write with what they know. There’s a reason, after all, why Keats, despite his saturated paeans and tributes to love, is definitely not the superior of Pushkin: the former was young, too young, to talk of what he talked about with any concreteness.
All this came to me during the days that followed the American Election. I observed in a column I wrote two weeks ago that we shouldn’t care about the results because whoever wins and whoever loses, it’s still the same show when it comes to US foreign policy. There the matter would have ended, if not for the almost ceaseless barrage of comments and opinion pieces that Sri Lankans kept on writing. It would be interesting, I hence thought, to delve into some of these comments and glean from them a sense of the political that their writers exhibit, and how, at the end of the day, they congeal to their awareness (or the lack thereof) of the political in their country.
First and foremost, as Nalaka Gunawardene pointed out last week, Donald Trump is everything the alt-right (or alternative right) could have dreamt of: a global warming sceptic, a panderer to hardcore evangelists and fundamentalists (while being an atheist), and a pragmatist in the world of business. “We can only hope that Trump’s business pragmatism would prevail over climate action” is a parting shot Gunawardene takes at the American president. We agree.
In yet another article written before this, he went on to argue that what we saw was a “largely fact-free election choosing a (mostly) fact-resistant winner.” What of that? To the extent that Trump’s perception as a fact-resistant candidate is based on his crass handling and distortion of facts, I agree. Malinda Seneviratne, on the other hand, who is less prone to dichotomies that characterise the American political scene, argued that it cut both ways: Clinton’s bid for the presidency was defeated because of facts (her past record, her husband’s devious stances on foreign policy, and her economic views), while Trump worked on the fears of outside invasion which can, as I observed two weeks ago, congeal into a whole electorate unless they are address in time.
Who won what? As Paul Krugman puts it, “Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than two million, and she would probably be president-elect if the director of the FBI hadn’t laid such a heavy thumb on the scales, just days before the election.” That heavy thumb, to put things in perspective, just got heavier when Trump supporters whipped up a campaign against her.
In a context where political preferences are framed by the obsessive need to pick a champion, how is it possible to (de)select candidates based on the (as important) need to choose the lesser of the two evils? It is here, I think, that most commentators are batting for a six and failing miserably, starting with this: dichotomising candidates based on the perceived lesser evil distorts the truth.
That is why I can’t understand why writers (here and elsewhere) consider gender as the predominant factor in the election. I believe the tussle between Trump and Clinton was more dependent on perceptions: on who was standing for the Establishment and who was against it. Democrats who are whining about the winner losing at the Electoral College (for Trump is the fifth president to lose the popular vote) should consider the man they ignored. Gender figured in, yes, but if Democrats are so worried about gender, one can ask, why did they conveniently throw out Bernie Sanders (through the flaws of the system) who stood for gender equality in a less ambivalent way than Clinton?
That’s just one fact. Here’s another. Unlike in 2000, when Ralph Nader campaigned as an independent candidate and effectively “robbed” key votes which would have ensured victory for Al Gore, neither Jill Stein nor Gary Johnson (the man who did not know what Aleppo was) courted enough popularity for one to conclude that they did for Clinton what Nader did for Gore.
Fact is, not enough young people voted for Clinton: they were either fed up with the System (because of which Sanders was kicked out) or worried about electing a warmonger for a president (for Clinton, despite what her supporters can and will say, was the lady who jubilantly said, “We came, we saw, he died!” of Muammar Gaddafi). They couldn’t vote for Trump because he was far away from their ideals, and because of their idealism they decided to stay at home. How close was the fight, then? “If just one in 100 voters changed their votes to Clinton, the electoral college votes would have been 307 Clinton, 231 Trump. Not much of a landslide, really” was what a lecturer in Political Science in Texas observed. True.
Forget all that. I still don’t get this gender argument. Trump, so the conventional wisdom goes, courted the mythmakers, the worst elements of a society touted as the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave: homophobes, sexists, and racists. Should we be worried? Of course. But to argue that gender (or for that matter ethnicity) was all that figured in the election would be (and I say this at the cost of irking those arguing otherwise) as reductionist as saying that Trump was an anti-Establishment candidate (which is, by the way, the most common observation made by those vouching for the man, even here).
Yes, he made some unseemly comments about women that the mainstream media in the US made use of, only to irk those who supported him even more. But does this make the other candidate progressive? “Progressivism is a disease!” is what Glenn Beck loved to shout out. Now Glenn holds the Founding Fathers in esteem and criticises if not trashes the likes of Clinton, but reading his rants against liberal politicos, I questioned myself, “Who is progressive in this world? Obama? Clinton? Ralph Nader?”
Besides and more importantly, what is progressivism? Is it being soft on foreign policy, in which case no candidate can be singled out and commended? Or is it being soft on domestic policies, in which case one can cut (only) some slack for the Democrats? The truth, as anyone with any sense of history will tell you, is that the American electoral system cannot and will not promote the likes of Howard Dean or Bernie Sanders, by which I am not criticising it (after all there have been electoral systems which crowned Hitler and Ferdinand Marcos) but only commenting. And yes, that was a comment for all those who think that the United States is capable of electing a Pierre Trudeau.
Just the other day I came across an article that claimed to explain why so many Sri Lankans (here and there) supported Trump. This article attempted a miracle: to jump from misogyny in the American system to misogyny in Sri Lanka’s education system to the politicisation of Buddhism to the chauvinism inculcated in mono-ethnic schools here! Some points were valid, others were not, but all in all I couldn’t help but think back on that friend I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, and what he had to tell me at one point: shouldn’t such extrapolations be made with a pinch of salt?
Nationalism, some say, is over. Wrong. Nationalism is here to stay. Whether you are from the States or from Sri Lanka, if you are a presidential candidate you cannot, will not, and shall not win or clinch the presidency if you belittle the fears of the majority. Obama was no saint (who is?) but when it came to the final reckoning, his perceived saintliness ticked off the fundamentalists whose fears were not being addressed. Can one blame them? I for one cannot, even though there is much in them that I oppose and will continue to oppose.
Going by that, I can with all sincerity say that the most common misconception made by writers of such opinion pieces as that quoted above is this: in their bid to champion the lesser of the two evils, they forget the tendency of the System to twist and contort the most idealistic candidate.
As Padraig Colman pointed out in a series of perceptive articles on Trump and Clinton, neither candidate was perfect. Well, the truth is that no one is perfect, not you and not me, but in this rush to commend the less imperfect person we are entranced by personalities so much that we forget that the mere lack of any DISCERNIBLE flaws cannot and will not salvage a person from his or her corruption at the hands of the Establishment. That explains the many U-turns made by leaders both in America and in this country, U-turns that seem to get no press and which depress the idealist into thinking that there’s no hope left in a polity.
A prominent political commentator once told me, quite candidly, that there was nothing black about Obama, only the colour of his skin: a contention I subscribe to with some reservation. What Obama did (and his legacy, whether one likes it or not, is not palatable to the idealist) was basically conceal the deficiencies of a system that couldn’t be bottled for long.
To add fuel to the proverbial fire, he was offering as his successor a person who represented everything the American Right wanted in a more aggressive candidate: pushing for interventionism and championing unilateral action in a context where R2P (Responsibility to Protect) is being pointed out as a justifiable alternative to the sovereignty of a country. In this regard, is it a wonder that Trump won? Not really. Blue-eyed idealists, however, will have a hard time swallowing that.
Fidel Castro died last Saturday. He was 90. He spent the better part of his life combating the many myths that the West bred and perpetuated about him. I will not spend time on Castro (I leave that for next week’s column), but I will say this: for a man beset with so many falsities by the mainstream media, he triumphed and trumped. He never lost. Not once. Says a lot about perception and reality, when it comes to politics that is. Commentators who continue to lament the defeat of “idealistic” candidates, I believe therefore, should spend more time reading the many op-eds, essays, and articles written on him, mostly by those who see in him the devil he (almost) never was.
George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” He could have been writing of the voter: suckered into supporting a candidate who hides behind a veneer of sophistication and respectability, who upon victory embraces the same values that same voter opposed. In such a context, who should we blame? Naturally, ourselves.
*Uditha Devapriya is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles can be accessed at fragmenteyes.blogspot.com
By Jingo / November 29, 2016
Uditha, you write: “I observed in a column I wrote two weeks ago that we shouldn’t care about the results because whoever wins and whoever loses, it’s still the same show when it comes to US foreign policy”.
Really??? Does that mean that you don’t believe a word Trump said about changing current US policy regarding Immigration, Climate Change, NATO, etc?
And then about your views on Castro, you write: “He never lost. Not once. Says a lot about perception and reality, when it comes to politics that is”.
He never lost – true! But how on earth could he, when he never took the chance of losing and he never held elections???
And then you conclude with: “Commentators who continue to lament the defeat of “idealistic” candidates, I believe therefore, should spend more time reading the many op-eds, essays, and articles written on him, mostly by those who see in him the devil he (almost) never was”.
If you delve into the experiences of those intellectuals, artistes, homosexuals and all those who didn’t agree with Castro and who were either incarcerated ‘disappeared’, murdered, or had to flee for their lives simply because they disagreed with his views, then perhaps you will see why he was a “devil” in their eyes.
Any ‘leader’ who doesn’t allow the basic freedoms of speech, expression, movement and other Human Rights accepted by any civilized society is certainly a “devil” in the eyes of those who treasure Human Rights.
Would you have liked to live in Cuba under Castro if these freedoms were denied to you???
Uditha Devapriya / November 29, 2016
I like the fact that you pick and choose and vilify without at least giving the impression of having bothered to read the whole article, brother. Says a lot about your preferences, political or otherwise.
By Jingo / November 29, 2016
How can you conclude (or assume) that I “pick and choose and vilify without at least giving the impression of having bothered to read the whole article”?
That’s your “impression” and is totally without justification, as I did plod though your “whole article”, but only commented on what I chose to comment on. What’s your problem with that?
You would do better to answer the questions I raise instead of being so defensive.
To quote you again, ‘brother’, “The best columnists, …. are careful to support what they write with what they know.” So then, stop assuming what my “preferences, political or otherwise” are and respond to my comment.
Uditha Devapriya / November 29, 2016
I’d advice you to read history… the Cuba that existed before Castro… the “democracy” it was supposed to have had… and of course the American involvement in the Batista regime. Or are you pretending to sleep so much that you can’t see?
Whether it’s Trump or Bernie Sanders, and I quote my own column from two weeks back, “People and individuals are so alluring that voters forget there are things other than personality which drive a government.” Valid of a great many things – especially (what else?) US Foreign Policy. Only difference with Trump and Bernie is that unlike Clinton, they didn’t categorically say or imply that a legitimately elected government should kowtow to a terrorist organisation. Yeah, like what happened in SL.
I am no fan of Castro, but I’d also suggest you read the many instances of misinformation that the West has propagated about him. He was a devil in their eyes for a whole load of things. Love for democracy in Cuba was and is not one of them. :)
And before I sign off: you still haven’t read my article and read between the lines. Says a lot, doesn’t it?
Perriamama / November 29, 2016
Your response to By Jingo says a lot about you I think !
Unreal / November 29, 2016
Uditha Devapriya, I have a habit. Before proceeding to read the article itself, I glance thru a comment or two. And, when I saw November 29, 2016 comment at 6:00 am by By Jingo, I got enthused. I went back to read the article!
Your response was that he picked and chose, and went on to vilify. Interesting conclusion! How did you come to that? You could have given some evidence for me at least, as to how you arrived at that conclusion. You didn’t!
Poor me. What did I do? I went back to the article, in search of evidence!
Here is what I read!
‘On Myths, Facts, & The Blogosphere’.
I am not a writer. I am not an expert of the English language. But, somehow, I feel that the Title itself is unsound!
‘Myths’ could lead the heading. However, not so if ‘Facts’ should follow it! It ‘should’ be, ‘On Facts, Myths, & The Blogosphere!
Don’t challenge me on that, for you know that I am not an expert!
So, I went back to the back and forth comments (arguments). Give By Jingo his/her due. The onus is on you to answer, not counter!
By Jingo / November 29, 2016
Uditha, ‘bro’ – I really have no use for your “advice” as it stems from ignorance and your usual assumptions.
How could you possibly gauge my knowledge of “Cuba that existed before Castro”???? And what’s with the gobbledygook about “pretending to sleep”, “can’t see”, etc.? A cop-out posing as a response!
You still haven’t answered the questions I put to you to begin this discourse, or is this your “Trump-like” pivoting to avoid looking like a joke?
Another assumption is that I haven’t knowledge of “the misinformation that the West has propagated about him (Castro).
Your “sign-off” statement is the final assumption you make – no surprises there!!
Stop being so frigging smug when all you do is expose yourself (as one of the other commenters have already observed).
And maybe you will now take a few seconds to answer the questions I put? Or will we be treated to another volley of assumptions and evasion???
Perriamama / November 30, 2016
Has the author run away without responding? How very brave.
Realnaked / November 30, 2016
U are keen on attacking the author for personal vendetta.. so does Dayan Jayathialak to Ranil and CBK.
Jealousy and malice are top of your agendas. That is in blood of some.
Why you guys cant become normal average thinkers is the question of my grand child … who is not even 10 years old.
Uditha Devapriya / November 30, 2016
I thought I answered you. Let me reiterate…
Whether it’s Trump or Bernie Sanders, “People and individuals are so alluring that voters forget there are things other than personality which drive a government.” Valid of a great many things – especially (what else?) US foreign policy. Only difference with Trump and Bernie is that unlike Clinton, they didn’t categorically say or imply that a legitimately elected government should kowtow to a terrorist organisation. Yeah, like what happened in SL.
Let me add to that: from the time of Roosevelt to the time of George Bush (Senior and Junior), the only discernible difference one can notice between the policies of the Democrats and those of the Republicans is with regard to domestic policy. When it comes to foreign policy, the Dems are no better than the Reps, Clinton no better than Trump. That is what compelled my comment on there not being enough reason for us to be riled up by the election results.
Read Noam Chomsky, who is by no stretch of the imagination a lover of politicians in Cuba, Sri Lanka, or anywhere else. Read Arundhati Roy (again, no lover of Sri Lankan or Cuban politicians) as well. The West, perhaps unwittingly or perhaps not, picks and chooses the dissidents they celebrate and covet with awards.
I am no fan of Castro, but I’d suggest you also read the many instances of misinformation that the West has propagated about him. He was a devil in their eyes for a whole load of things. Love for democracy in Cuba was and is not one of them.
Let me add to that: The only difference between Cuba under Batisa (and US dominion) and Cuba under Castro was this: under the latter, that country achieved universal health-care, free education, and strides in various other areas which the US will take decades, if at all, to accomplish. I am not belittling the man’s dictatorial tendencies, but nor am I blind enough to adulate those in the West who vilify him.
There you go!
Perriamama / November 30, 2016
I didn’t Cuba top any lists for the best health care or the best education my son.
I suggest you ask the ones who suffered under Fidel if they would have their loved ones or their free health, I suspect they would pick their loved ones.
Yes, the west is EVIL lol
By Jingo / December 1, 2016
Uditha – “There YOU go”!
Another irrelevant load of crap from one who is consistent in his evasion of the questions that were asked.
You “.. thought” you answered me??? Where???? Show me.
Anyway, here are the questions again in the most simplistic way I can manage, in the order I asked in my comments. And please don’t regurgitate your usual irrelevant drivel to deflect from answering the questions – if you have the guts to.
1. Really??? Does that mean that you don’t believe a word Trump said about changing current US policy regarding Immigration, Climate Change, NATO, etc?
2. He never lost – true! But how on earth could he, when he never took the chance of losing and he never held elections???
3. Any ‘leader’ who doesn’t allow the basic freedoms of speech, expression, movement and other Human Rights accepted by any civilized society is certainly a “devil” in the eyes of those who treasure Human Rights. Would you have liked to live in Cuba under Castro if these freedoms were denied to you???
4. How can you conclude (or assume) that I “pick and choose and vilify without at least giving the impression of having bothered to read the whole article”?
5. That’s your “impression” and is totally without justification, as I did plod though your “whole article”, but only commented on what I chose to comment on. What’s your problem with that?
6. How could you possibly gauge my knowledge of “Cuba that existed before Castro”????
In conclusion let me advise you not to assume (there you go again!) that others are not as widely read as you think you are. Like I said before, “stop being so smug” – it only amplifies your inadequacies as an intellectually honest journalist or writer – not to mention your exaggerated view of yourself!
Cuban / November 29, 2016
I already commented on DJ’s post on Castro, and having seen your comment on misinformation about Castro I would like to refer you to it, where I said, that a simple Google search will expose the evil this man spread in Cuba. Here’s one – http://cubashumanrights.weebly.com/human-rights-violations.html
Sama / November 29, 2016
It is the media who can also work hard and change the myths in a society.
So as It is the media who can also create a world where only myths can be above everyhitng.
Like for example today, as we never had been before average people seem to be caught by Yanthra Mantra than in the past. Wearing pirith Nule has become more important than wearing their underwears. Even those men who acts like thugs to everyone s eyes – wear Pirith nule. I have the feeling that the culture has been manipulated so as the average people of this country.
For the last 3 decades I have been away from the country. But whenever I travel to lanka, I clearly notice that almost everyone is after Gurukam-witchery than anything else today. Even state run TV senders were busy with them than anything else. Breeding of ASTROLOGERS were like that of rabbits during the high days of Rajakashe adminsitration.
My own theory is – if a leader of a country cant be exemplary, almost everyone in that country can end up with all unexpected.
Emil van der Poorten / November 29, 2016
Uditha and the commentators on his column:
It was a pleasure to read something of intelligence and I enjoyed the challenges made (and responded to, successfully or otherwise). At the end of the day, as history has proved in spades, it isn’t the “isms” that matter, it is commitment to ethical/moral/principled conduct, no matter how nebulous those concepts might sound.
I will never tire of quoting the fact that the original constitution of the old Soviet Union (the USSR) was considered by many expert in the field to be the most democratic ever written. However, that document and system spawned Josef Djugashvilli, the “Caucasus monkey,” also known as Josef Stalin who proceeded to rule millions of people with something of an iron fist!
Sinhala_Man / November 30, 2016
Uditha, this article by you, as well as the responses to it, represent a learning experience for you!
“By Jingo”, unlike the silly “Perfectionist” who commented on your Richard de Zoysa article, was making a valid observation. It is good for you to be writing the way you are, but what you are attempting is difficult.
What you were saying was “safe”, in the sense that the views put forward by you are those held by the majority of readers of this site. But that also highlights the risk, that you may be commenting on things that have been sufficiently written about recently. Have you, therefore added anything new? What you write, and how – Emil van der Poorten has said it already.
As a result of your good writing, I think that you are being read by many, although the comments may not be many. When I was growing up, I cottoned on to these programmes, and I listened regularly with great interest to this man:
Alistair Cooke spoke fascinatingly on such a range of subjects, and made so many unexpected comparisons. He had an amazing breadth of knowledge. It is very few who can do this sort of thing, and I’m hoping that some others, who like me used to listen to him, will realise that they can get back to listening to some of these talks – the last of which he gave two weeks before he died at the age of 95, having decided that it was time to stop.
For anybody who hasn’t heard these, there is much that can be learnt from them.
Richard Psi / November 30, 2016
How disappointing that a promising young writer hasn’t the integrity or guts to concede that perhaps he made a mistake in not looking at the wider picture, and instead tries to validate his stance with irrelevant replies to incisive comments.
It takes more than a reasonable command of the language to be a good journalist or writer!
Above the Rest / December 6, 2016
My dear Uditha,
You should have responded to By Jingo’s comment without personally attacking him/her. Your article was not a Ph D thesis like the one Dayan wrote for By Jingo to read its every line and every sentence.
Reading your latest article, I get the feeling that you have done it. Hopefully By Jingo will respond to that article positively.
Anyway, it is good to see a writer trying to defend what he wrote.