George Floyd’s death continues to pain America. Mishandling of the entire affair has brought America to the brink of an internal destabilisation that it hasn’t experienced for a very long time. The question that raises its head again and again is: why we fail to learn from history? Three hundred and sixty-nine years have passed since Leviathan was written (1651) by Thomas Hobbes during the period of English Civil War. Didn’t he tell us that the right to rule is not with the King but with the people? Didn’t John Locke (1632-704) agree with Hobbes and lay down the foundations for the writing of the American declaration of independence? How could such writings be there for such a long time and Presidents like Donald Trump fail to learn from them? Locke argued, “People have rights, the rights to life, liberty and property…men are naturally free and equal and people conditionally transfer their rights to the government in order to better ensure the stable, comfortable enjoyment of their lives, liberty and property.” The debate here is not actually about the rights. The debate is more about the obligation and this is not only true for America but for all other nations including Pakistan.
In a democracy if it was only for the leaders to give people their rights why would the Parliaments ensure that such rights are given? Why would they be endorsed in the constitution? And why would they be protected by the court of law and have judicial protection? The leaders through execution of their coercive policies can delay these rights but they cannot deny them to the people forever. So in true sense, giving rights to the people is not what decides the quality of leadership. The quality of leadership is decided through the leadership’s obligation towards the society. How it succeeds or fails in making the society what it becomes. Giving the example of Thomas Hobbes Leviathan (State as a sea monster) (absolute ruler), James Robinson in his book The Narrow Corridor: States, Society, and the Fate of Liberty divides such a monster as ‘Absent Leviathan’, ‘despotic Leviathan’ and ‘shackled Leviathan’. In countries like USA where the society is mobilised and continues to contest for its liberty, freedom and rights the state remains in a state of ‘shackled Leviathan’, chained and prevented by the people not to commit extra constitutional excesses.
So George Floyd may have had a murderer police officer’s knee on his neck but in a country like USA where the state institutions are independent and free, where the political leadership is free and not in the service of political parties led by hereditary political incompetence, where morality and self-consciousness is still not dead, and where the state is shackled by the people — there the people too have a knee on the neck of the state.
For all those who are calming the demise of American democratic and political order let me say that America will come out of this crisis even stronger. If it is anywhere that the twin principles of democracy-liberty and equality are valued both by the state and the society — it is in America. When this is over and the history books ask: why? The answer will only be Donald Trump.
Leaders influence the course of history. History takes the shape that it takes depending on who was a country’s leader at a particular time. In simple terms if it was Donald Trump’s predecessor in power I am sure he would not have allowed the situation to aggravate the way it has under Donald Trump. The witless statements by the President like “there will be shooting if there will be looting” only adds fuel to the already burning fire. I am reminded of the recent speech of the Democratic US Presidential candidate and former vice president of US Joe Biden on the issue. He made lot of sense when he said “America doesn’t need clinched fists at this time what it needs is open hearts” and spoke about needless ‘narcissism’ being displayed by President Donald Trump.
Today, Donald Trump as American President represents the great democratic transition that has taken place in that country. From Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency that took place during the American Civil War to the Presidency of Ronald Regan that brought USSR to the brink of disintegration and even beyond to the Clinton, Bush and Obama’s time where America engaged in fighting preventive wars and fighting the war on terror, the American Presidents have shown and demonstrated remarkably different styles of leadership to the world.
After the end of President Regan’s tenure the American political scientist Francis Fukuyamma spoke about ‘the end of history’, ‘the end point of humanity’s evolution and the final form of the government’. He was referring to the demise of all political systems as competitors against capitalist American democracy. The final nail he thought was the end of communism. But five years later (1994) American Author published his thesis in his book The coming of anarchy. According to him Francis Fukuyyama’s ‘last man standing’ would still be subjected to scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism and disease that would continue to destroy the social fabric of our planet and continue to promote conditions of anarchy.
It didn’t end there in 2018, Yuval Noah Hariri, the author of the books Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus wrote his bestselling book 21 Lessons from 21st Century and reminded us of how initially as a modern world we had three stories to pick from — the fascist story, the communist story and the liberal story and describing various moments in the world’s history he ended at the ‘Trump moment’ in a growing environment of artificial intelligence (AI).
His prediction of the future world being ruled by ‘digital dictatorship’ aptly fits the tweeting Donald Trump in that description. No matter what the position of US administration, White House, Pentagon, the House of Commons or US Congress — the American President has his own mobile and his own tweets to say what he says — even if it divides his country.
None other but his own former defense secretary Gen James Mattis has accused him of dividing the country saying, “He is the first American President in my lifetime who does not try to unite American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”
Margret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, during her election campaign famously remarked, “The Old Testament prophets did not say brothers I want consensus, they said this is my faith, this is what I passionately believe. If you believe it too then come with me.” The problem with Donald Trump is that his current faith and belief is at cross purpose with large majority of American people. The sooner he realises this the better for America.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2020.
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