Disambiguation first. This piece has nothing to do with Elon Musk's The Boring Company. Despite its ingenious name the company remains known for tunnelling and digging holes in the earth.
This article, on the contrary, argues for healing the world. Rebuilding trust, patience, doing what is right, and bringing principles of collective security back to the centre stage are the key arguments here. And during the pandemic lockdowns, Mr Musk's outbursts have damaged the environment of trust to such an extent that it can only be repaired by time and not by his interesting performance on Saturday Night Live. But before we move further let me properly introduce the subject matter and the title of this piece with an anecdote.
It was a week before the 2020 United States presidential election. I was moderating a televised discussion on the merits and demerits of the two candidates. The gentleman representing the Democratic Party pointed out that president Trump's emotional outbursts on Twitter and in public had severely harmed America's brand and the international order with it. He then went on to promise that if his party got elected in November the new administration would go back to the old normal and that we would only witness temperance and professionalism through the new president's Twitter handle and his public statements. Nothing incendiary, nothing impulsive. Seized by an impulse I asked him if his party's new slogan was: “Vote for us, we are the boring ones”? My guest smiled and his answer, in so many words, was a yes.
In the last column, I had pointed out how the greed and selfishness of America's closest allies, and not major rivals, had elevated Trumpism (let us leave Trump out of it for now) to a major ideology in the country. While Trumpism had its external advantages in a madman doctrine sort of way and perhaps in terms of the economy too, it seriously jeopardised the domestic evolution of the past two centuries, damaged the social fabric and the cause of democracy around the world. In short, it had undermined whatever made America unique. In the meantime, as I am never tired of reminding you, America's key allies, mostly institutional democracies, were getting more authoritarian and fascistic by the day. But wait a minute. Was democracy not the defining factor in the American-led world order? If you could not tell countries apart by their democratic values how could you distinguish allies from rivals? If, for instance, India and China could be accused of the same repressive methods to curtail dissent how could you decide that India was your ally and China an adversary? If Israel's prime minister was continuously dividing his country, weaponising every possible fault line in there and introducing apartheid laws to stay in power despite serious corruption charges and ebbing public support, how could you call it the only democracy in the Middle East and a true ally? If anything, Trumpism has taught us never to take democracy for granted and that even in the best of societies the forces of retrogression can work fast to usurp you of all progress. You will notice I consider Trump and Trumpism two different elements. Despite his forbidding character flaws, Trump was not a bad candidate. If we were to judge politicians by their character, a significant number of former US presidents could never win even a mayoral election. No, the problem with Trump was his weapon-grade regressive ideology which emboldened the worst elements in the society.
Then came the elections and President Biden triumphed. We knew that Trumpism wouldn’t give up without a fight. And then we witnessed the attack on the US capitol. American democracy survived the attack. But Trumpism has refused to go away. You ask why? Because its shareholders are still in power elsewhere. One shareholder showed his true colours recently when to sabotage the democratic transition, which would have removed him from power and probably sent him to prison, he orchestrated the war in Gaza. Another shareholder had used this formula in 2019 to return to power in India. Many stockbrokers out there too. Steve Bannon, Alexander Dugin, Olavo de Carvalho, David Horowitz, and on.
On June 2, and two developments promised to change Israel's political fortune. In its bones, the Israeli state knows that Netanyahu’s 12 years in power have incredibly weakened its international image and internal cohesion. So, a correction was bound to come. The first development and more exciting one was the formal consensus among Netanyahu's disparate rivals to form a unity government for change. The second one, however, is more indicative of the country’s desire to change. Isaac Herzog, a former chief of the Labor party, won the election for president with a resounding majority. Often presented by the Israeli media as a boring man and nicknamed Bougie (pronounced Bouji), he is the son of a former president, a career politician, and a believer in the two-state solution. He is said to be capable of winning back the bipartisan support in Washington and wooing the estranged diaspora.
The word boring may also remind you of a similar charge against another leader. The detractors of Dr Manmohan Singh used to complain that he was boring and seldom spoke in public. In the end, India managed to replace him with someone who never shuts up. But the problem is all he knows is to talk. And punish people for speaking out. And get people killed.
Professionals often seem boring to people because they understand their work and do not need oratory or theatrics to distract or deflect from their ignorance or failures. Exactly the kind of people who build democracies, maintain institutions, and uphold freedoms. Your textbook ants and the grasshopper story.
The boring world order then is the principle-centred, rule-based one. Where multilateralism, the universality of humanitarian ethics, regard for international law, and individual nation's obligation to commitments pave the way forward.
I am cognizant of the fact that today I have all but exhausted the allotted space. So, I will attempt to discuss these principles in another piece. But let me tell you how I think this project progresses. First, the democratic world puts its house in order and exorcises the fascistic impulses within. The country that embraces these reforms, wins all sympathies. The one that doesn’t gets some tough love. Once this phase is over you can attend to the undemocratic world and ways to help it reform. Since the undemocratic nations will not stand still, time is of the essence and the first phase will have to be completed swiftly. Otherwise, what is the point of confronting those who don’t have democracy?
Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2021.