When confronted by demands for change elected politicians speak in platitudes invoking the rule of law, the will of the people, majority rule and in the United States, the Bill of Rights. That said, America’s two defining late 20th Century landmarks of change – desegregation and the end of the Vietnam War – were brought about not by peaceful means alone but by violent criminal acts of near rebellion that galvanized the nation.
In a democracy conventional wisdom has it that reform comes from the ballot box. Change by less traditional means – riot, insurrection, coup, revolution, revolt, assassination – is frowned upon and outlawed. Yet what does one do when change is denied, stymied or aborted? When forces have subverted the electoral process? When the electoral process has been hijacked? When the people, the electorate is ignored?
America has been fortunate to avoid confrontation in its quest for change. The relatively recent abortion debates have been sparked by occasional flashpoints of violence as has been the search for sexual identity equality. The debate for change on those issues has been between a small but influential religious minority and small number of women’s rights activists and an equally small but vocal LGBT population. The dispute never affected the great majority who remained on the sidelines violence free.
Yet core issues remain unresolved. Incarceration has been substituted for segregation. Millions of blacks and Latinos have been processed through or are mired in the criminal justice system. A criminal record is as much a bar to integration as were the Jim Crow laws. A militarized police has been given license to keep the poor in check by violent means even murder if necessary.
Eric Garner on Staten Island, Tamir Rice and Von Dorrit Myers in Cleveland, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Lacquan McDonald in Chicago, Walter Scott in North Charleston, Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge are names and incidents that are immediately recognizable. The Guardian reports 1,134 killings by police in 2015, 696 in the first 6 months of 2016 with many being unarmed young black and Latino men.
The result has been a declared open season on cops. The murder of Dallas and Baton Rouge policemen is the beginning of a backlash, of revenge. I am old enough to remember the Black Liberation Army, the Black Panthers and the Symbionese Liberation Army. To underestimate the potential for retaliation would be foolhardy.
Internationally the constraints of platitudes were cast aside early on. The history of the 19th and early 20th Centuries need not be revisited. Post-World War II events will do just fine. Political and regime change were seldom brought about by the ballot, most often by the gun.
In 1953 the democratically elected government of Iran was toppled by a CIA coup that installed the autocratic Sha. In 1973 Chile’s democratically elected President Allende was killed in a coup d’état also sponsored by the CIA, installing General Pinochet and military rule. Nicaragua, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Brazil, Panama, Granada and notably Iraq are just some of the countries where regime change by bomb and bullet took place. So much for the rule of law.
This, the summer of Hamilton, the Musical, is the right time to revisit Hamilton’s nemesis Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton, the firebrand revolutionary was killed by a bullet in a politically motivated duel, political violence straight out of Jefferson’s playbook.
In a 1787 Jefferson wrote that “the people can not [sic] be all, and always, well informed”. But even if well informed “what country can preserve it’s [sic] liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” He concluded with the exhortation that “[t]he tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”.
Today in Great Britain and the United States there is a pent up demand for change. The vote for secession from the European Union and the ouster of David Cameron is a repudiation of the status quo. The English voter was well informed of the issues but chose to ignore them. Facts mattered little, the English voted against their self-interests demanding change, change at any cost for the present state of affairs was unacceptable.
Post Brexit British self-restraint prevailed. Had the status quo remained in place the British disease, football hooliganism could well have taken over with those feeling disfranchised taking to the streets, rampaging in protest.
As for the United States, American voters are still in a pre-election mode but they are following Britain’s lead – Donald Trump is the Republican candidate for President. His bankruptcies and shoddy business practices are well documented. His lies, prevarications and hyperbole are well known. His foreign and domestic policy follies – building a Mexican wall, nuking ISIS and a good portion of the Middle East, defaulting on the national debt – are delusional. Yet a good portion of the electorate, well informed if it only opened its eyes and ears, continues to support him. Stupid change for the sake of change in the face of the Hilary Clinton’s more of the same status quo.
The pent up demand for change, the disillusion with the status quo is world-wide and if not addressed will result in violence, witness last week’s Turkish failed coup.
I do not profess to know much about Turkish issues and domestic politics except that it was a secular state since its reboot by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1922. For me the state of this failed state is epitomized by President Recept Tayyip Erdogan’s Idi Amin-like Presidential palace, the cumhurbaşkanlığı Külliyesi – a 3.2 million square foot behemoth of Seljuk architecture with 1,150 rooms and a yet to be built Presidential residence of not less than 250 rooms and a personal mosque for 4,000 of the faithfull, all for an estimated US$1.2 billion price tag.
The New York Times reports President Erdogan to be “an Islamist [who] has also alienated many Turks with his increasingly autocratic behavior” and has “tightened is iron grip on his country, … had purged the judiciary, jailed insouciant senior military officers three years ago … installed seemingly compliant successors and cracked down on the opposition and the news media”.
Not quite the description of an ideal democratic state of affairs and no wonder that the secularist army chose bullets rather than ballots in an effort to dislodge him.
Likewise, in France it is no wonder that a moment of silence commemorating the Bastille Day truck rampage that killed 84 turned into a roar of rage against the government – just short of violence.
I am not advocating violence or revolution. I am reporting the obvious. Seems to me that both governments and the people have a clear choice: meaningful change by democratic ballot or violent change by revolutionary bullet. Your choice.
Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com