Passing Bite | Society

The many blinkered kings

Watching the ‘debate’ between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, two grown men vying to be elected to the position of the most powerful man on earth, I was taken back to the school playground. Trump kept up a constant dribble of interruptions, comments, insults, rejoinders of the level of an eight-year-old. The rules set for the debate didn’t matter, Trump talked and snarled over, under and across both Biden and the helpless moderator.

Immediate gratification

As an adult, it can be very difficult to face this kind of brainless barrage, whether it comes from a political opponent or a crazed news anchor. If you maintain civility or keep quiet, you’ll be seen as having no answers to the accusations being thrown at you; if you retaliate you will be seen as being no different from the person doing the bullying. It’s a nasty trap and some learn how to set it very early. If it yields results, they refine the manoeuvre and deploy it repeatedly as adults.

Usually, however, if a person is president or prime minister of a nation, he or she has an awareness not only of the immediate audience but also of the whole world looking on; they have some sense not only of the immediate moment but also of posterity, of how their words, tone and behaviour might be viewed later on. A juvenile shouting and baiting has no sense of these things — he just wants the immediate gratification of entrapping and destroying his opponent. The man who has managed to become president of the U.S. displayed exactly this greed for instant, fleeting triumph. Or perhaps the subconscious aim was not for a momentary victory but something more long-term; perhaps Trump was addressing not only his core base but also other gullible voters who he imagined would see Biden as weak and indecisive in the face of his assault.

Trump is hardly the only current political leader unconcerned about the international community as witness or about the verdict of posterity. This absence of concern is usually found in men crippled by an extremely narrow world view and a very poor sense of history. Tragically for us in India, we seem to have reached a critical mass of such ignorant, power-drunk men who have captured or risen to positions of authority.

So the district magistrate and police officer who execute the scandalous cremation of a brutally murdered rape victim do not care that the world may see them as criminals conniving with their political bosses. The investigative agencies concocting evidence and jailing people who are critical of the regime don’t care that their names will join the long list of organisations infamous for torturing their own people. The chief minister who hires a top PR firm to concoct laughable ‘international conspiracy’ theories doesn’t understand that people across the country and the world see through the masquerade.

Propped up

The officials who freeze the accounts of Amnesty International do not realise that they are reducing their country’s reputation to that of some dictator-run banana republic. The men who engage in the craziest legal contortions — saying, for example, that while the breaking down of a historic structure is a crime, the land it stood on should still be handed over to those who broke it down — seem unconcerned that the country’s once renowned judicial system will stand exposed as shamefully subservient.

Nor does this worthy foot-soldier, the one who waves a wand to disappear huge volumes of publicly seen evidence to acquit the self-proclaimed perpetrators, understand that he will go down in history as the worst kind of hollow puppet. The amoral men controlling these officials are seriously impaired in their vision and they pass their blindness down to their vassals, constantly infecting them with their own cowardice.

The blindered men at the top depend on their counterparts in other countries, all of them propping one another up, either as allies or in counterbalancing, co-toxic opposition. For instance, the man targeting the Uighurs counts on the man bombing the Kurds who counts on the man mass-imprisoning the Kashmiris who counts on the man targeting the Palestinians who depends on the man demonising the Mexicans.

All these men know, but haven’t digested, that history has a way of dealing with despots that is rarely kind. And when the end comes, no amount of lying and bullying and passing the blame will work.

Ruchir Joshi is a filmmaker and columnist.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2020 2:38:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/the-many-blinkered-kings/article32811580.ece

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