Every time individuals and societies compare a hypothetical bright future with a dark past, the future wins. But oftentimes when the promised future becomes present, it turns out to be worse than the dreadful past.
In politics, politicians and government officials try to conceal, disguise and/or misrepresent matters of great consequence. Some justifiably, like those having to do with national security to avoid possible negative outcomes such as war. Others dishonestly or even criminally, to elude accountability.
In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, Internet, Google, blogs, television and radio, it is possible for foreigners to learn and try to understand what is happening abroad.
These last few months, watching and reading about the current presidential nomination process in the United States, sometimes I think “I know what’s going on.”
How, you may think, a senior who lived in Cuba his first 62 years, may be so conceited to suggest that he understands what seems inexplicable to a considerable number of Americans?
What is happening in America now, in my opinion, is that many people no longer trust their politicians or, even worse, politics itself. My belief is grounded on what happened in Cuba between 1902 and 1958.
From 1908 to 1912 the president of Cuba was José Miguel Gómez. His corruption was so ferocious that he was dubbed Shark. Government officials under him lined their pockets, so folks came up with the one-liner “Shark bathes but also sprinkles.”
Between then and 1958 corrupt politicians in Cuba greatly outnumbered the law-abiding. It is estimated that the last president, Fulgencio Batista, amassed around US$600 million in stocks, bonds, real estate, jewelry and cash. Previous presidents Ramón Grau San Martín and Carlos Prío Socarrás were deemed corrupt but not charged or tried. There were thousands of corrupt senators, representatives, governors and mayors. Party hacks that controlled a couple of dozen votes got appointed to positions in ministries and went to the office on paydays only.
If most Cubans shared the views held by my relatives and friends, in 1950s Cuba very few people trusted politicians. Grandparents and parents were incensed by what people in power were doing: misappropriation of funds and the bribing government officials were daily occurrences; political assassinations happened occasionally. Teenagers listened.
And then, a Savior appeared. Young, charismatic, good looking, wearing the olive green fatigues he had worn when leading a guerrilla war against Fulgencio Batista. He had promised, in writing, that he would follow the letter of the 1940 Constitution, hold general elections in which several political parties would nominate candidates, end corruption and poverty, diversify and industrialize the economy, create jobs, bring healthcare and education to the boondocks, and so on and so forth.
People were ecstatic. At last Cuba would have real democracy, clean government, respect for human and civic rights, rule of law and accountability. You know how that turned out.
Let’s take a look at America now. In the 1850s, “Boss Tweed” controlled the courts, the legislature, the treasury and the ballot boxes of New York City. Kickbacks and corruption were rampant. He died in jail. Around 160 years later, on May 6, 2016, Sheldon Silver, former Speaker of the New York state Assembly, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for corruption.
Those were not isolated cases. There may well be several hundred similar occurrences in a century and a half of New York politics. Just in the last decade 22 senators were indicted. In all 50 states, from 1900 to date, probably tens of thousands of mayors, state and federal representatives, senators and governors have been charged with corruption.
It is possible and almost certain that a considerable number of American citizens are as disappointed by corrupt politics and politicians as Cuban adults were nearly 60 years ago.
Enter not one but two Saviors. A narcissist, rightist clown and a leftist comrade who defines himself as a democratic socialist. Both promise a hypothetical bright future.
The big difference with what happened in Cuba from 1902 to 1958 is that the United States of America is a functioning democracy with separation of powers, armed forces under civilian authority and a Supreme Court. Should one of the two saviors be elected president, neither can do what the Cuban savior did, which was to repress unmercifully, deplete the national wealth and set Cuba one step above Haiti. The legislative and judicial branches would prevent it.
Back to paragraph one. Every time individuals and societies compare a hypothetical bright future with a dark past, the future wins. But oftentimes when the promised future becomes present, it turns out to be worse than the dreadful past.
We should all be suspicious of saviors.