By Shivaji Sengupta
“Democracy dies in darkness,” is an epigram carried by h h every day. I suppose darkness here means ignorance. Last week the writer, Margaret Renki, wrote in h , mentioning the 19th Century German poet, Goethe on his deathbed who had asked, quite literally, for more light. Writes Renki, “After the year we’ve just endured, we recognize Goethe’s urgency. Feeling the darkness descend, we beg for more light.”
Covid, with its multiple mutations, has brought darkness, disease and death. Having lost the House, the White House and the Senate in last year’s presidential elections, Trump and the Republicans are creating revisionist voting laws and regulations in the states they have majority (which is more than the Democrats have) so as to assure by hook or by crook, that they win the midterm and the 2024 elections. The Democrats are in disarray.
There is, however, plenty of grassroots action from both parties to resist the other’s move. I contribute to , a nationwide group of progressives trying every civic and political reforms from voting to abortion rights. But those who control the ballot have the sway. For now, the Republicans are on the upswing.
Per se, I don’t have a problem with that. I have lived under the rule of the Republican Party for over half of my fifty-two years in America. What I have a problem with, what scares the daylight out of me, is the . I wasn’t prepared for this.
Now, I realize that my Republican friends do not believe that democracy in this country is in danger. Almost a third of the people believe that Trump won the 2020 elections, and, therefore, support the manifold Republican moves to restrict voting laws in the name of voting reform. Republican efforts to strategically place Republican officeholders who are vowing to return Republicans, as election officers, are threatening to make a mockery of the elections, the most democratic aspect of our Constitution. No matter how much I try through friendly conversation and discussion – and through my writings such as this piece – I cannot reach them intellectually or emotionally, make them even to the possibility that what is going on politically is very, very wrong.
It all started with Donald Trump losing. The man was so sure of his victory, so absolutely certain that he would continue to be president, that the electoral defeat – a convincing one at that – was like a volcanic earthquake to him. Egged on by ruthless, dishonest advisors who care nothing about democracy, Trump convinced his forty million or so followers that the Democrats “stole the elections.” The first salvo at Democracy was Trump trying to force the election officers of Georgia and Arizona to overturn the result. “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” he pleaded with the Georgia Secretary of State. Then he tried to brow-beat his Vice President to use his position to annul the election results in those two and several more states. Senators and the congress people of his Party joined him in this. Fortunately for America, the Vice President refused to comply. Trump then complained about the election being stolen loudly throughout the country.
His last ditch stand was to rally six thousand of his supporters to march with dangerous intent to the Capitol and riotously disrupt Congress in the process of ratifying the electoral victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Five people died as a result of the riot. Over five hundred arrested and convicted. Trump was impeached by the House for his actions and believed to be guilty but found not guilty by the Senate. Guilty, because many believed that Trump was directly responsible for the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Not guilty because the impeachment process began when he was no longer president. You cannot impeach anyone who is no longer holding the position he is being impeached for.
However, having failed to re-enter the presidency through a back door, Trump this time rallied the myriads of his supporters in the majority of the states Republicans governed to change and regulate election laws to Republican advantage. If these revised voting laws and regulations are finally allowed to stay, the Party in control of a state will deliver for their presidential. The opposition will never win!
Does this sound like America, or more like the elections in a politically backward, developing country in South America, Africa or South East Asia? We, who have come away from some of these countries, and made the United States our home, do we have to see our adopted country, to which we have sworn allegiance, dwindle into an -democratic civilization?
As I said at the outset, the “darkness” in “Democracy dies in darkness” refers to ignorance.
Why can’t people see the obvious and realize that as a consequence of one Party’s’ greed for presidential power, what is happening politically is the onset of darkness. It is because of . By educated, I mean people who are rational, logical, can distinguish between premises and arguments, and not instinctively gravitate to the claims of those with whom they agree in the first place. Conversely, they refuse to listen to any counter argument.
Education is intricately related to democracy. Lack of it among the electorate leads to political leaders exploiting the uneducated, even dominating them. Let me give just one example. Madiha Afzal, a Pakistani political scientist at the Brookings Institute in Washington D.C., demonstrates in her book, , how rewriting of history to suit Pakistani Islamization has completely bereft that country’s high school student of logic and rationality. My own conclusion is, reading Dr. Afzal’s book, that forty years of such biased education, the lack of intellectual discussions in the classroom is producing an electorate that is utterly incapable of making informed and logical political decisions concerning the affairs of the state. The result is there for everyone to see. Pakistan is going downhill in every aspect compared to the rest of the world. Compared to India’s 4,000+ universities, Pakistan has twenty-three! India has over 300 IT colleges and universities. Pakistan, one. India has over 200,000 doctorates; Pakistan less than two thousand. If you surf YouTube, you can see the ordinary people on the streets of Pakistan praise India’s educational system, technological superiority, indigenously developed industries, Bollywood, sports – everything. In GDP, Pakistan is not only way behind India and, even Bangladesh, but is currently bankrupt.
Why has all this happened in Pakistan? In my opinion, lack of a rational educational system is one reason.
Why am I harping on Pakistan? Because, even as I worry about the way the political system is being held hostage to unscrupulous people in power, I read in newspapers and witness in the media how down south Republican states are using government apparatus to rewrite their history, especially eradicating the history of slavery and even dictating what books maybe retained in the public libraries and which books to be destroyed! These same bureaucrats should be reminded of what has happened in Pakistan and in other similar countries. ! .
I leave you with a quotation from the 17th-century poet John Milton’s :
The sun to me is dark
And silent as the moon,
When she deserts the night
Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.
Shivaji Sengupta is a retired Professor of English at Boricua College, New York City. He has a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. He has been a regular contributor to The South Asian Times and to other newspapers. He is a member of the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee.