Berkeley Brawls
Posted on April 17th, 2017

Editorial The Island

It looks as if the US had exported too much of democracy to the rest of the world and were faced with a severe shortfall thereof at home as a result.

The US has apparently been afflicted with the same ills as the not-so-democratic nations. President Donald Trump himself, in the run-up to last year’s presidential election, expressed fear of possible polls rigging. That gloomy prognosis did not come to pass, according to official reports, but there have been calls for ballot recounts, which are common only among half-baked democracies. Besides, Trump’s populist campaign deliberately targeted the longstanding US institutions and his election was tantamount to a repudiation of establishment. Needless to say the much cherished, long-held ideals of American democracy have taken a severe beating at the hands of a real estate tycoon-turned president who has had no government experience.

There has emerged resistance to Trump’s style of governance from human rights groups, environmentalists and even the national legislature, but he carries on with blithe disregard for the consequences of his executive actions. One of the first few things he did as President was to impose a travel ban on some Islamic countries. Thankfully, the judiciary intervened to put it on hold. He has already locked horns with congressional democrats over ObamaCare, which he has threatened to throttle by holding back payments to health insurers; this is how he tries to railroad his rivals into negotiating amendments to the new healthcare scheme on his terms. He seems to be exercising his executive powers just like a Sri Lankan president!

The US has earned notoriety for instigating people in other countries to refuse allegiance to their governments and stage leaderless protests to bring about regime changes. It promoted Arab Spring protests, which helped oust some dictators but plunged their countries into turmoil in the process. Libya is a case in point. In a dramatic turn of events replete with irony, following Trump’s election Americans took to the streets in their thousands refusing to accept him as their President, reminding us of the Opposition-led protests here following the 2010 presidential election. The UNP and its allies rejected the outcome of that election initially.

The US democracy suffered a massive blow, on Saturday, when Berkeley, the cradle of free speech, looked like a trouble-torn West Asian city, with Trump supporters and anti-fascist activists clashing in public. Street brawls in the People’s Republic of Berkeley—as the progressive people living in that university town call it endearingly—left many injured. A picture of a white male in US-flag-patterned shorts struggling to escape his rivals who were mercilessly beating him went viral on the Internet. Those violent incidents reminded us of clashes between Opposition activists and pro-government goons in this country, the most recent one being the clash at Hambantota four months ago. The intolerance of dissent insidiously eats into the vitals of democracy and is without a known cure; it has to be prevented.

Saturday also saw 150 marches in different parts of the US to crank up pressure on President Trump to release his tax returns. The Trump backers have sought to make light of these agitations, but protests tend to snowball and get out of hand unless the root causes thereof are effectively tackled. Street brawls presage more trouble for the Trump administration, which has already made enough and more enemies. We thought only Sri Lankan politicians had to be pressured to declare their assets and liabilities!

The US democracy is doubtlessly resilient and its systems are robust enough to withstand shocks and temporary setbacks. But, of late, its image has been tarnished very badly internationally. The US has brought itself to such a pass that its critics are in a position to derive some pleasure by telling it to put its own house in order before trying to export democracy to other countries.

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