The Colombian and United States Experiences
Faith in democracy is at a nadir. And with good reason. Democracy today is at best dysfunctional, in large part, because of voter participatory apathy. Perhaps it always has been.
Widespread complaints? Absolutely. But participation? It’s subject to the same excuses an attractive woman makes to an undesirable suitor: “my hair, I need to wash it, … again; my period; my great aunt died again, … really”. But systemic faith is something else. It’s usually been reasonably strong, albeit deluded. Perhaps we are just more aware today that electoral fraud of one kind or another is probable. Gone are the days such as the fall of 1961 when Richard Nixon lost, because most of the dead in Chicago voted for his adversary, but declined to challenge the results for the good of the country, something the media and historians both studiously ignore, except perhaps, for good old Theodore White in his Making of a President series. But if some of us are more aware nowadays, hypocrisy is still King.
In many parts of the world, a significant segment of the electorate does not believe in the reliability of their systems, either due to perceived ineptitude or, more frequently, a belief that it is manipulable and corrupt. And for good reason, it all too frequently has been. In the past though, there was a semblance of media objectivity that at least seemed to align it with vigilance over possible governmental improprieties. That is no longer really the case. Perhaps it never has been. Especially in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Actually, in much of the so called Western World. The past two presidential elections in the United States are particularly instructive.
But first, a bit of good news, perhaps great news. The Republic of Colombia just held presidential elections and despite a massive effort by the traditional elite, the corporate media, all traditional political parties and United States intelligence agencies, for the first time in Colombian history, an outsider won. A Latin American trend continued. For a while it seemed as though, the election might be “stolen, as has occurred on a number of occasions, especially during 1970. The head of the electoral commission refused to permit an audit of the electoral software, as mandated by law, and the director of the national police warned that it would be out in force to deal with any post-election protests, an indicia that there might well be something about which to protest, but, despite such warning signs, the election went off without a hitch. As in most of the world (except perhaps the United States), there are safeguards in place to minimize electoral fraud (given human nature, it can never really be eliminated): official, government issued identification including a photograph, fingerprint and signature is required to vote, with ballots issued at polling places directly to the voter, who must immediately complete them in a private booth, and then deposit them in a box in front of electoral witnesses representing the candidates. Contrast that with the United States where, in too many states, ballots are mailed en mass, without required identification and returned by whoever wants to assume the task for deposit in unsupervised “boxes”. That, my friends, is an electoral fraudster’s dream, but to approximately 40% of the voters in the United States, totally acceptable. It should be. It helps them magically morph into a majority should they decide that such sleight of hand is called for. But if you dare to realize that, you are in big doo-doo. That would make you a seditious, antidemocratic racist, or worse. Seems strange to Colombians. Actually, many all over the world refuse to believe that to be true, but, then again, the same can be said for many United States voters, even if they participate in elections under those strange parameters.
Anyway, now for a not-so-positive history lesson a bit to the north of Colombia’s borders.
In 2016, despite an all-out media blitz and electoral shenanigans in favor of the pre-crowned favorite of the United States’ bureaucracy, especially the intelligence community, the financial community, the corporate media and of course, their masters, the billionaire class (popularly referred to collectively as the “deep state”), a blitz that steam rolled over the left’s popular favorite, Bernie Sanders, an irascible and improbable right wing anti-establishment populist won. One who, of all things, had been induced to run as a straw candidate by his opponent’s husband. The deep state was shocked but not immobilized. A myth explaining the defeat was immediately concocted, paid for and set in motion: the election “had been stolen”, the loss was not legitimate, it would not be tolerated, the Russians were at fault and a resistance movement was immediately organized, set in place and mobilized! A myth that the victorious GOP would eagerly bite into as they could always be counted on to fall in line behind anything anti-Russian (who knows why but that’s the way it is). A putsch you might ask? Of course, perhaps even a sort of “soft coup”. Seditious you might ask? Sure, but what the heck, a real democracy can absorb a bit of seditious shenanigans. And anyway, when the corporate media’s on line, and all traditionalist politicians, regardless of party, and bureaucratic moles as well, … well, … can they all really be wrong?
The myth was taken seriously and investigated both in the Congress and by the Justice Department for three years at a huge expense in tax payer funds. It succeeded in largely immobilizing what should have been the victorious candidate, but, after all, that was the point; delegitimizing him, delegitimizing the election. Delegitimizing democracy.
At the conclusion of the investigations it became clear that it was a cynical scheme without any substance but with a whole lot of impact. It facilitated a takeover of Congress in 2018 by the theretofore defeated Democratic Party, which then proceeded on two occasions to impeach the 2016 electoral victor in the name of, … wait for it, … “democracy”, and fellow deep state allies, especially in New York, launched a series of politically motivated criminal investigations designed to preclude Mr. Trump from being able to steam roll the deep state again.
The predictable end result was a significant loss of faith in the electoral system which set the stage for a sort of political comeback for the deep state in 2020, with a huge amount of help from what now appears to have been a hyperbolically orchestrated response to a possible pandemic, which savaged the world economy but helped secure an electoral victory, even if, once again, the deep state party selected the least popular possible candidate.
In 2020, no chances were taken. As in 2016, the corporate media engaged in a one sided blitzkrieg, first, against the populist candidates on the left, the collaborative Bernie Sanders, but even more so against a real left wing populist, an ideal candidate, a woman of color from an alternative religion and who was a military officer with experience in the Middle East but steadfastly antiwar, Tulsi Gabbard. She was crushed through a conspiracy of silence which excluded her from most Democratic Party debates, even if it required a change of rules in mid stride, and then death by silence in the corporate media, which acted as though she was not in the race, notwithstanding polls or, internet search results. But that was just the appetizer.
The heretofore described pro-electoral-fraud voting procedures were set in place in a number of critical states by Democratic Party governors, despite contrary constitutional requirements and over the objections of state legislatures charged with designing voting methodology. It was done based on the claim of emergency dictatorial powers (in the sense that separation of powers was not respected) because of the “pandemic” which, in the name of democracy, apparently required facilitation of potential widespread electoral fraud, assuming that a sort of “honor system” would assure that absolutely no fraud would take place. No ballots would be bought, sold or fabricated despite the lack of any safeguards because, well, that would not be honorable. And the United States judiciary at all levels, federal, state and local agreed. So obviously no fraud occurred, at least as far as the deep state and its followers were concerned.
Unfortunately, a large segment of the United States electorate refused to play along, and, having seen over the previous summer that rioting and arson and looting were appropriate vehicles for political protests, a few hundred zany kids (of all ages) turned a non-violent political protest in the nation’s capital (in front of the United States capitol, of all places), into a black-lives-matter like riot, but with very different consequences. Strangely, the rioters seem to have been motivated and directed by embedded government agents charged with, well, who knows, purportedly monitoring to assure they would not riot. One protester who invaded the nation’s Capitol, a place we all now know is reserved for politicians, was murdered by a police officer. Apparently only black-lives-matter and she was only a non-black civil servant. That police officer, unlike others charged with illegally slaying criminals in the act of resisting arrest during black-lives-matter protests, was deemed a hero. Strange to some, but the corporate media and deep state made the difference stick, no explanation required.
While political dissidence, protest and resistance from November of 2016 through November of 2020 had been patriotism at its best, immediately following the 2020 presidential election, it became treason and sedition, and, instead of investigating allegations of electoral fraud and electoral meddling, as had been the case from 2017 through 2020, Congress instead, along with the Justice Department, decided it was essential to investigate the protesters rather than the alleged electoral fraud, protest now having become vile and evil rather than noble and courageous.
Amazingly enough, a huge segment of the population did not buy into the change in script, and refused to accept the results of what they honestly believed to have been a fraudulent election. Videos of suitcases full of ballots surreptitiously introduced while polling places had been mysteriously cleared in Georgia seemed to have led them to believe that not all was as the deep state’s spokespersons assured them was the case, indeed, evidence of alleged electoral improprieties seemed omnipresent, but, legal and administrative actions seeking explanations were summarily rejected, thus, apparently, the refusal to investigate allegations of corruption was definitive proof that absolutely no electoral fraud had taken place. So there!!!
Criticism of the 2016 presidential electoral results was characterized by the corporate media and Democratic Party as “patriotic, pro-democracy resistance but, … criticism of the electoral results four years later is anathema and actionable sedition and treason. Go figure, … if you dare. If you don’t mind being deemed a Big Liar.
Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin are both credited with having espoused the notion that, if a lie is big enough and repeated incessantly, in no uncertain terms, why, … it becomes the official truth. The technique is popularly knows under the appellation of the Big Lie. Interestingly, that tactic has long been favored by the corporate media in the United States and the United Kingdom. After all, Freedom of the Press was established in the United States in two cases, several hundred years apart, the colonial Peter Zenger case in the eighteenth century, and the United States Supreme Court case of Sullivan versus the New York Times several centuries later. In each case, the judiciary sanctioned and protected the right to calumny, to report false news, as essential to a functional democracy. So, despite the irony, it ought not to be a surprise that the people who, whether they are right or wrong, firmly believe that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen”, including the deposed former president, are now accused vehemently, on a 24/7 basis, of being Big Liars, and televised, one sided Congressional hearings without any right to refutation, are being staged in prime time television, to assure the American people that any claims that the 2020 presidential elections might have been tainted by fraud or manipulation are just “Big Lies”. I can sort of sense Hitler and Lenin chuckling, or perhaps guffawing.
Given the foregoing, one wonders what awaits the incoming administration of Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego, the populist victor of the June 19, 2022 Colombian presidential elections. The United States deep state was subtly involved in backing Mr. Petro’s opponent, as was its Colombian variant, but, as in the United States in 2016, they were unsuccessful. Now, they are angry and determined to make Mr. Petro and his populist followers pay. Plans are already afoot to destroy the Colombian economy through foreign manipulation (think of what was done to Venezuela and Cuba and Nicaragua, etc.) and internal elite manipulation of the local stock market and currency exchanges. And Colombia’s version of Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post, Jaime Gilinski Bacal’s Semana, is already spewing a permanent stream of calumnies and distortions. Thus, given the United States’ experience since 2017, some of us in Colombia who support real democracy and liberty and equity and equality and justice and free elections are a bit concerned.
But fortunately for us, Colombia is not alone in Latin America, a continent which at long last seems to be waking from a long nightmare of United States abuse. Many countries have selected leaders who demand respect for their sovereignty and express support of their sister states. And Colombia’s declaration of independence may resound a bit in Brazil in the near future, leaving the United States virtually excluded from the region, except for its recently purchased president in Ecuador. Mr. Petro is no Donald Trump, indeed, his opponent was a meld between the worst qualities of Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden. The only political similarity between Messrs. Petro and Trump is that both are opposed to armed conflicts and foreign intervention (which is what probably led to the successful, anti-Trump coup). Still, notwithstanding how brilliant, ethical and motivated Mr. Petro may be, it will be hard to resist the combined power of two deep states, unless of course, the Colombian people are less gullible and less manipulable than the voters in the United States.
And that, only time will tell.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2022; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at email@example.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at https://guillermocalvo.com/.