Hoodwinked

 The meaning of hoodwink I learnt not many years ago. I don't even remember from where I first heard of this word. Its dictionary meaning is: "deceive or trick someone". 

Growing up in Bangladesh I am very much familiar how the corrupted politicians hoodwink as many people as they can. Democracy was not easy to achieve in Bangladesh. After its bloodshed filled independence war when millions died and millions more injured and after only a few years of the governance of the first elected government, more bloodshed came, and multiple governments came and gone by several coup-d'├ętats. 

In my childhood we had only one television station and one main radio station in Dhaka. Government ran both of these. So, whoever was the government in particular time utilized these mediums as effectively as they could to propagate their political agendas, to hold onto power. 

Even, the newspapers and cinemas had to go through strict censorship. 

Still, each military based government failed to hold onto power. It was not easy to keep general people hoodwinked very long. Democracy eventually came and removed autocracy. It was not an easy journey. Many died in successive protests against the autocratic rules. And when democracy came, it was not easy either. It was indeed messy. Two polar opposite political parties were at each other's throat, as they are still the same to this date. 

When I moved to America to pursue higher studies, one thing I loved about it from the very beginning was its peaceful transfer of power. I was amazed to see after a hard fought election, the losing party concedes gracefully and transition the power to the winning party. 

For many like me, and I am sure billions of more in faraway nations, American democracy was indeed the shining beacon. I had very little knowledge of Canada and other nation's political system then, and also I only started taking a few history and political science courses in American university. 

As I learnt more from books and from observations from more than half of my life having spent in north America, working in many places, working at numerous odd and professional jobs in various cities, coming close to people with many ethnicities, faiths, nationalities and diverse political ideologies, I remained in awe seeing the mostly peaceful coexistence in democracy. 

Yes, history is painful. The grievances by indigenous and people with darker shades of skin color, ethnicities I found to be intense and real. But, I was either shielded by being busy all the time at school or work, or being very lucky to be in a place and a city in my formative years in Texas where I didn't see any mass discontents among people. Now, I know how lucky I was. 

After September 11, 2001, I felt a big change happened everywhere. A sharp division between a before and an after. People's attituded changed. Distrusts grew. And some politicians took advantage of the painful circumstances by exploiting fears. 

Moving to Canada shielded me and my family from most of these dire changes in America, though we were not completely immune from the pain. Canadian economy is very much linked with American economy. If American economy goes down, Canadian economy follows it. Political upheavals, instability in America has profound effect in Canada in many forms. It influences its national politics.

2016 was the year when another big change happened. Donald Trump became American president as a major shock to many. From the very beginning, during the bitter election campaign, his tones, directly attacking immigrants and people of color and diverse faiths with acrimonious words were not missed by me. When he came to power, like many other naive human beings, I also thought and hoped he would be changed and would govern from the center. 

It didn't take long before that hopeless hope died. 

Last 4 years I observed with increasing dismays as he uttered lies after lies, and repeated those lies even after facts were checked and he got caught many times, but still the lies never stopped. In the beginning I thought Donald Trump is the most idiotic American President in history. And I kept believing it. Only last year after reading a few contemporary books my delusion slowly swept away. 

Now I know Donald Trump is one of the most shrewdest and cleverest Presidents in American history. He used the classic hoodwinking tricks that I knew from my childhood time, where autocrats and wanna be autocrats try to make everything very simple for the masses. Like the Bangladeshi autocrats, I trembly realized that Donald Trump was hoodwinking American people, he gave them a clear vision of their future, a return to a throwback American past when everything supposed to have been greater. He told them America was under siege by foreigners, by Muslims, by liberals. He told them the liberals in Democratic party wanted to make America a socialist / communist country. He said he wanted to make America first. 

A large segment of people gobbled up everything he said. 

In a recent book I'd read a few weeks ago, Surviving Autocracy, written by Masha Gessen, I found the following stanza:

"both Hitler and Stalin struck many of their countrymen as men of limited ability, education, and imagination—and, indeed, as being incompetent in government and military leadership. Contrary to popular wisdom, they were not political savants, possessed of one extraordinary talent that brought them to power. It was, rather, the blunt instrument of reassuring ignorance that propelled their rise in a frighteningly complex world."

What also surprising to me was an active approach putting people in Trump's cabinet and other leadership position who either did not possess any relevant skillsets or they had history of opposing that particular position or tasks. For example, the Environment Protection head who was against any environmental regulation or Education cabinet who didn't like quality public education but promoted private education in the disguise of school choices. 

Year by year, Trump became stronger. He became the central figure in the Republican party. Quoting Masha Gessen, "In an autocracy, the politician’s primary audience is the autocrat himself, because he is the patron who apportions power and influence. In Trump’s America, Republican politicians perform for Trump—he is their primary audience—but his audience is his base, the people who come to his rallies and absorb his tweets. He distributes power by mobilizing these voters."

As the Republican party became more and more like a Trumpian party, the main opposition the Democratic party tried to counter it, but their efforts didn't have full success. The investigation by Mueller failed because the conclusion was vague and inconclusive. The impeachment fell through the Senate. And Trump was happy to put 3 conservative justices in Supreme Court that may have years of impact. 

Like many at some point I also tuned off any political bickering filled news. When I started paying attention again in March of 2020, COVID Pandemic was slowly becoming menacing. I watched a few COVID press briefings where Trump and his team gave daily briefings. There I saw how the lies and downplaying of COVID never ceased to stop. Dr. Anthony Fauci and people from CDC were breaths of fresh air among the politicians but they could only do so much without full support from their main leader. To be fair, COVID or any pandemic is complex and is not easy to handle, and is highly unpredictable. But I still think if Trump could have been more forthcoming and truthful from the beginning and put all of his earnest efforts the pandemic could have been better managed. 

Then came the painful summer. On top of pandemic, the black lives matter movement soared, for justified reason, after George Floyd's live streamed murder by a police officer. People of all colors and ethnicities were anguished seeing a fellow human being's life was snuffed out under a rigid knee. The counter protest was also massive, and most of them seemed to me were the Trump supporters, who vehemently claimed All Lives Matter, as if pointing to a specific and on going injustice was too much to fathom. Trump fueled the anger in his typical inflaming rhetoric. 

From Masha Gessen's book I learnt, "Totalitarian regimes use words to mean their opposite. In 1984, George Orwell imagined the Party dictating its slogans: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Real-life totalitarian regimes do not grant their subjects the clarity of juxtaposing a word with its antonym—they enforce order by applying words in ways that invert meaning."

America is still a democracy and I am glad that Joe Biden with decades of political experience won the presidency in 2020. But I think it will be very challenging for him to heal the damages that Trump and his acolytes cost America. A large segment of Americans believe most news media are "fake news". They believe Trump is the one who tells the absolute truth and they believe Democrats are the incarnation of devils, etc. etc. How to recover from this deeply held beliefs based on years of lies and deceptions? 

It's possible. But it will take honest efforts. It will take steps to dismantle the lies and fears about immigrants and anyone considered as "others", about the fearful outside world. Without the significant changes in the Republican party's extreme ideology that many of them hold dearly to appease Trumpism, Democrats will fail in their all noble goals of making a more equitable world. Once Republican party's most major leaders were centrist or just right of the center, but first the Tea Party and then Trumpism changed everything. 

2021 started like 2020 did, with a bang! The attack on American Capitol in Washington DC on June 6 shall indeed remain in livable history and possibly many years to come after we are all gone. In last few days it seems the sanity is slowly returning after this horrific attack at the heart of American democracy. Freedom of speech is super important. But freedom of speech does not give anyone the right to spew incessant lies and hatred and incitement of violence. Various social media and technology platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple are taking long over due steps. But the problem is already a huge segment of Americans, even a large segment of Canadians, Europeans, even in other continents and nations, the effects of Trumpism spread, far and wide.

Maybe the pandemic and its eventual end or better control will have positive impact. When everyone who wants to get vaccinated and the spread of the virus is slowed and stopped and managed like we manage other yearly viruses, and when the economy rebounds as it will surely do unless there is any unforeseen calamity, most if not all people can be united, inspired by "understanding of our fundamental equality and interdependence" in this only living and breathing world we know of. We have bigger and real existential crisis waiting, like the unstoppable climate change, maybe a runaway meteor or a gigantic asteroids, or more natural disasters waiting to be happened, that may bring grief filled unity among the warring humans.

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