There is war in Ukraine. So once again, we get to witness just how ruthless states can be when they see their self-preservation at stake. The warring powers leave no doubt that they alone decide when their existence is on the line and what that entails for their people. And yet, the same people, across the globe and especially in Europe, feel morally obligated to take sides.
Have they lost their minds?
Apparently, you can’t reveal it often enough. It doesn’t matter that the man has almost a full term behind him. Seasoned journalists still see the final verdict about Donald Trump as being that he is above all a man with no sense of decency. Three and a half years of America first!, his implementation of impressive visions and revisions of American world politics, of the ‘homeland,’ and of the most powerful office in the world — everything he does on and around the job is perceived solely as evidence of a defective moral sensibility.
It’s strange how so-called populists have acquired the reputation of being a danger to democracy. The list of their sins includes stirring up discontent as grist for their mills, dividing the people and declaring themselves to be their only true representative, telling the people what they want to hear, making unrealistic promises to them and offering ‘simple solutions’ to complex problems, engaging in nationalistic and xenophobic rabble-rousing, cultivating an authoritarian personality cult and showing no respect for the rule of law.
It’s strange because populists carry on so extremely democratically. It’s as if one knew of a democratic competition of political parties other than one where good democrats with a pronounced will to power not only seize on popular discontent wherever it is loudly proclaimed, but also track it down, dig it up, and incite it in order to direct it against the those in office and in favor of themselves. It’s as if one didn’t know very well that a democratic politician shows no limits to his shame when it comes to going from on high among the masses in order to be celebrated as one of them.
The journalists of the world have two closely related adjectives for Trump’s style of rule: unseemly and undemocratic. The editors of GegenStandpunkt do not want to make the new resident in the White House more decent than he is. But a look at his conduct in office during his first hundred days shows quite clearly that there is nothing un- or even anti-democratic in Trump’s style of rule; and the standards that the guardians of democratic decency bring against Trump are not one bit better.
World public opinion has a simple and clear concept of what’s going on in the Cape: democratization. This is supposed to be, first, a good thing and, second, a necessary thing. The whole world sees an advance of civilization when the “verkrampte [stubborn]” Boers finally sit down at the table with their blacks and extend the human right of a free and secret ballot to the black majority. The granting of universal suffrage is considered so undeniably good that the lifelong functionary of apartheid, de Klerk, is forgiven all the sins of the regime he served. World opinion thinks nothing of him, along with longstanding victim of apartheid and ANC leader, Nelson Mandela, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
How voting rights are supposed to be so good for the blacks: this the free world, to which the irresistibility of everything democratic has finally gone to the head, does not even want to know. At any rate, the advocates of “normalization” and “modernization” of this state don’t even claim that the material situation of blacks living in poverty would improve through elections and appointments of black politicians to state offices. Democracy itself is the value that has to matter — whether or not it is good for something else.
“This unprecedented assault brought us face to face with a new enemy, and demanded that we think anew and act anew in order to protect our citizens and our values.” (Attorney General John Ashcroft before the U.S. Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, “Oversight of the Department of Justice,” May 25, 2002)
After 9/11, the U.S. government decreed the necessity of “thinking anew” the nation’s domestic security.
"The nation is at war. This war has two fronts: one is abroad, in Afghanistan; the second is here, defending the homeland." (White House spokesman, press conference October 24, 2001)
On New Year’s Eve, 2000, Boris Yeltsin surprised his country and others one last time. Before his regular period of office ended, he handed his power over to his prime minister, Vladimir Putin. During his last public appearance on Russian television he affirmed he had wanted only the best for Russia and its people, even if much had turned out quite differently. His successor assured him life-long immunity from any possible prosecution; an assurance the ex-president obviously is in need of. Since then, Mr. Putin has been head of the Kremlin. And he immediately publicized a devastating diagnosis as to the state of affairs in Russia, of which the surprising thing was less the diagnosis itself but the fact that the head of the state no longer deludes himself about the situation…
When experiencing harm, dissatisfied citizens have the well-known custom of complaining about having been treated unjustly, and they blame politicians for having failed to deliver on their original promises. This complaint shows two things: firstly, everybody takes absolutely for granted that in a system of rule humanity is divided into opposites — executors of sovereign power dictate the living conditions and opportunities to which the rest of the population have to subject the conduct of their lives. Secondly, it is noteworthy that those subjected to the sovereign do not simply make fools of themselves when they demand being treated justly by the authorities, but instead count on — and can indeed count on — getting a hearing at least. That may have its particular forms in the bourgeois state, but it is something that in principle the citizens and the modern constitutional state share with their respective historical predecessors. As a political power insists on treating its subjects justly and judges its use of force accordingly, it is willing to listen when this kind of complaint from “below” is directed at it. And when subordinates complain, they always invoke justice vis-à-vis their sovereign because it is first and foremost a maxim of sovereign power. The sovereign doesn’t merely want to suppress the self-interests of those it subjugates and repress their will, but wants to rule justly.