The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

LESSONS FROM FAR AND WIDE

What do Hong Kong and Ferguson, MO have in common?  Well, they’ve both been in the news as places where the residents have taken to the streets, protesting against government authorities.  And that’s where their similarity begins and ends.

Hong Kong and Ferguson are 7,934 air miles apart – or at least that was what I determined from a very neat program on the internet.  While I might not fully subscribe to the concept of global warming, I do have much greater faith in Al Gore’s other invention – the internet.  I do remember him saying that it was his creation.

Hong Kong has had a long and often rocky history.  Starting as little more than a local fishing village it became part of the Chinese empire.  Then the British took it over, elevating it to the status of Royal Crown Colony.  Finally, the English negotiated a lease with China and ceded it back to the PRC.  It purportedly holds a quasi-autonomous status.  And that is at the heart of the disturbances by protesters in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong ranks eleventh on the list of countries based on GDP per individual, just behind the United States.  By contrast, mainland China, despite the tremendous economic boom it has seen in the last twenty years ranks ninety-seventh.  That is, obviously, attributable in part to its massive population.  But not only does Hong Kong enjoy greater economic opportunity for its citizens – it offers far more personal freedom than those on the mainland enjoy.  The opportunity to earn more and live a better life is what the turmoil in Hong Kong is all about.

There is probably no mentally healthy person on the planet who wouldn’t want to live an easier, better life.  But there are challenges to achieving that goal.  While a person who has little financial expertise may have difficulty making wise investments which will help him or her achieve a more secure future, that person can get an education in finances or, lacking the desire or ability to do that, can higher an advisor who can guide him.  But the greatest threat to accumulating wealth is something over which none of us has control.  That grim reaper which rapes prosperity is government spending – or put in a one word explanation – taxes.  And it is those whom we elect to public office who determine out tax codes.

A few days ago, President Obama went on Al Sharpton’s radio show, (who knew he even had one) and made what is perhaps the most truthful statement he has uttered while either running for or during his time in office.  Obama, talking about those Democrat candidates in red states running for election to the Senate, all of whom has pretty much eschewed even knowing who he is, said (paraphrase),  “They all support me and my policies.  But they have to say or do what they have to say or do to get re-elected.  I don’t take their distancing themselves from me personally.”

I think all of us hope, perhaps even while believing otherwise, that we can rely on what a candidate promises.  We believe because we want to, that person X or Y will really bring a meaningful, positive change to government.  But the influence which most find once they get to Washington seems almost irresistible and if it doesn’t corrupt by the end of a person’s first term, by the second it seems that the allure of power is something which sweeps virtually all up in its web.  But those who believe in the political process and are hopelessly optimistic, continue to get involved in these contests as they present themselves, perhaps justifying years of disappointment with the thought that, “This time it may be different.”

Perhaps the fairly recent introduction of democratic elections is why those in Hong Kong have shown such ardent fervor in their rejection of the PRC’s position that they and they alone will determine for whom the people of Hong Kong should have the opportunity to vote.  The residents of Hong Kong realize that if they do not have the chance to elect people who share their personal and economic visions which have transformed this small island into a comparative paradise, they may lose what they have worked to achieve and their vision for an even better future will perish.  It is in free elections that they put their stock – even if cynics like myself – wonder if that is really the panacea which will deliver us from the bonds of turpitude and incompetence.

Returning to Ferguson, MO, the protests have been ongoing since Michael Brown’s death on August 9th.  Without trying to adjudicate this case as has been so completely done by the media, the primary cause which is advanced for these protests is that an unarmed black man was gunned down by a white police officer and was “executed.”  The underlying premise is that white policemen routinely feel it is within their purview to dispose of black males with impunity and that such acts are condoned generally by a racist society.

The predominantly black community of Ferguson has demanded that “justice be done,” which translates to “hang the white cop.”  But even though their approach to justice is not dissimilar from the mindset which motivated the Klan during its reign of terror, there is the undertow that even if Officer Wilson is put on trial, that trial is prejudiced to acquit him because justice for whites is far less just than it is for blacks, whites being generally acquitted because of their skin color and blacks being convicted because of theirs.

If we accept this view of the justice system, obviously there is little justice to be rendered for anyone whose skin color is black.  That leaves very few alternatives, one being either to move to another jurisdiction where justice is meted out more equitably; another country where justice is determined more fairly; or change those who are in control of the judicial system, replacing them with people who are more likely to treat everyone equally.  That can only come about through the ballot box – something that residents of Hong Kong seem to comprehend quite well.

Given the fact that most people don’t want to move unless they must, it seems natural that most people would gravitate to the third of the alternatives outlined above.  Yet in Ferguson, only eleven percent of the eligible electorate has even bothered to register to vote.  Several weeks ago there was a big news flash that the number of people in Ferguson who had registered, presumably because of the controversy generated by Michael Brown’s death, had swelled in number.  The Missouri Secretary of State later corrected that statement, citing the fact that they had looked at the wrong data base when they issued that announcement.  In fact, there were now still only 11.6% of the population in that city who had elected to exercise their right to the franchise.

If the citizens of Hong Kong are successful in their efforts to make their voices heard and have the opportunity freely to choose those who represent them, it will be to their credit.  And if the citizens of Ferguson continue to live under what they consider repressive and unfair conditions, they will have no one and nothing to blame but themselves and their own indifference.

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Comments on: "LESSONS FROM FAR AND WIDE" (3)

  1. I was interested in your description “allure of power.” That’s what it’s all about isn’t it. Person or persons wanting to impose their view on the rest. Now politicians are adept at promising what they feel the majority want but soon adjust or readjust to the inertia of governance and playing the power game. While democracy has its limitations where sometimes it appears the crooks get off lightly if they are part of another power block and political inertia exists it sure beats the totalitarian model where “the pigs are more equal” than the rest (Animal Farm) and freedoms are curtailed. That’s what the Hong Kong thing is all about. You raised the issue of people feeling unrepresented. I suppose if you don’t vote then the tyranny of the minority who does vote exists so its important for everyone to place their vote. Of course there are some who say not voting is a protest against a system where their opinions eventually don’t count no matter how they voted so that’s the flip side of the coin. With all its limitations though I still would prefer the model of democracy over the totalitarian state.

    • I hold the unusual distinction of having voted in every election since I was eligible to do so – and have never had a Representative in the House for whom I voted actually get elected.

      I’ve heard all sorts of excuses why people simply do not vote. “It won’t make a difference.” But I think the most honest one is, “I don’t want to get called for jury duty.” On one level I think that’s a goo thing – as I would hate to be tried by a panel of jurors who were that self-centered and didn’t realize that being part of society not only has rights attached to it but responsibilities as well.

      The citizens of Ferguson may gripe and complain about how “unfair the system is” and to a degree they are right. But whining has never solved anything and if they are so indifferent about their own situation, they should certainly not expect any sympathy from me.

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