Yana Djin

  Bits And Pieces

Moscow News
April, 2000

In the course of the past several months, the bland canvas of the social-political issues in America has acquired dramatic hues. With an ebullience which most expressionist artists would envy, the US media is focusing its attention on the so-called controversial issues. “So-called” - because most of these issues should hardly cause a stir, considering the ethical make-up of today’s universe. A cool observer should not be bothered by the question of abortion when he considers the fact that one out of three people already born goes hungry. Nor should it be a matter of concern that taxes might or might not be raised in the “country of plenty.” The number of personal computers that would not be bought in the former case will be less than the number of conflicts in today’s world. As for the school prayer, we should shrug it off with disdain: Do we really care whether some overweight adolescent mutters prescribed “blessings” before a math class?

American media’s vision, however, is rather nearsighted. For example, it chooses to concentrate on problems of gay/lesbian rights and ignore the homeless. This nearsightedness has less to do with stupidity than with hypocrisy. Considering that the latter is a lubricant of any “stable” empire, we could safely state that a coolobserver is slip-sliding in America.

There is, however, one issue which should make any observer prick his ears. That issue – death penalty – has acquired “sudden” popularity in the United States. This popularity is by no means an indicator that the American government or its subjects have unexpectedly grown sensitive to it. Quite the contrary: They are comfortable with the fact that America is the only Western democracy which still enforces this measure of punishment. The reason the death penalty has been under scrutiny lately is the upcoming presidential elections.

It is a trait of every political system to emerge from its amnesia and conveniently lick its wounds right before or after the elections. To draw a parallel, let us take a cautious glance at the newly installed Putin administration in Russia. Terms ranging from “crack-down” to “Stalinist times” have been liberally thrown in its direction. However, whereas there are varying opinions in Russia as to the justification of these epithets, the American political machine remains shamefully unanimous on the subject of death penalty. This was not always so. In fact, just like abortion and school prayer, death penalty has long been a dividing issue between the ruling parties in America, Democrats and Republicans. Today, this is not the case.

Politicians in both camps must have grown more “honest.” Instead of leading the public opinion, they have decided to follow it and, once bought by it, they have chosen to stay bought. More than 75% of Americans support the death penalty and both Al Gore and George W. Bush – the Democratic and Republican contenders for the US presidency, respectively - support it. The Democrats pragmatically opposed it in the past on the grounds that death penalty is not a crime-deterrent since those states that enforce it have the highest percentage of crime. But Republicans proved to be better judges of human nature. They won votes by accentuating the ignoble thirst for punishment and revenge. The Democrats did not lag behind for long – they borrowed the Republican cowboy tactics and, as a result, the struggle for power in America has acquired absurd traits.

The two opposing parties are now virtually the same. In fact, today’s American electoral process reminds one of a Soviet-era joke, according to which voting is not tough when there is only one candidate to pick from. If Napoleon was right and stupidity is not a handicap in politics, then we should expect George W. Bush to emerge victorious. As soon as he spoke, it became difficult to overlook his uncomplicated nature - that of a Texas redneck. In addition to being born into a politically privileged family, a fate which his competitor, Al Gore, shares, Bush is also blessed with a rare mixture - exceptional ignorance and outstanding ruthlessness. During the five and a half years of his governorship, there have been more people executed in Texas than in all of that state’s history. One hundred and thirty-five, to be precise. That’s a figure which a serial killer would blush at. Three weeks ago, under Bush’s leadership, Texas executed its 136th prisoner, Gary Graham. This execution caused an international outcry. There was more than reasonable doubt that Graham had not committed the crime for which he was killed. Neither physical evidence nor the majority of the witnesses confirmed it. Nevertheless, he was put to death with the blessing of the possible future leader of the Free World, G. W. Bush. Bush did not care about justice in this case; he had far more important issues to consider - his own presidency. Therefore, he ignored the constitutional rights of a poor black prisoner and chose to prove to the “justice-hungry” public that he was tough. Incidentally, some years ago, Bill Clinton – a Democrat – interrupted his presidential campaign and presided over an execution in Arkansas to prove to the country his respective toughness. One could only wish that he should have exercised it when he was caught with his pants down. What does all this say about the American public? That they are a hypocritical lot who choose the presidents they deserves – either ignorant rednecks or indecisive cowards. It is a society where justice is discussed not when the situation calls for it, but when it is convenient for the country’s leaders to misrepresent it. Such justice, even in the rare cases when it has fair outcomes, has nothing in common with the truth. It becomes an outright lie. So, who should we vote for? Or should we perhaps sit still and keep our voting hands down on election day? I for one choose to do the latter.


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