After giving leadership to his futile and disastrous insurrection to remain in the White House Donald Trump, the lame duck President of America, has agreed at last to move out – I wouldn’t call it a peaceful transition of power — on January 20, leaving America in shambles. There are more troops (20,000 National Guards) now in Washington D.C. than all the troops in Afghanistan, Iran and Syria put together to protect it from – no, not Russia or China –but from internal White terrorists who are threatening to raid the capital on the Inaugural Day. All 50 state capitals of America are under threat and the security forces are stretched thin to protect Democrats, journalists and dissidents of Trump by his armed followers.
He has shattered the Right-wing of America like the window panes of the Congress poked by mobsters with the poles of their flags. Trump has also split America right down the middle. Whether the Right-wing can come together to its Grand Old status of the Party of Abraham Lincoln after the self-destructive shenanigans of Donald Trump is very much in doubt. Trump injected a passion into politics which was heavily dosed with hate.
Besides, he will be remembered as the first President who summoned his followers and urged them to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to take another branch of the government with force, if necessary, by attacking and disrupting the democratic act of procedurally legitimising the peaceful transfer of power which would take the Presidency away from him.
Above all, he incited insurrection against the holiest shrine of democracy in America – the Congress. The House has impeached him. If the Senate fails to convict him history will. This will be the deadliest blow to his ego – a man who always rated his actions as the greatest in American history!
He will also go down in history as the biggest coffin-maker of America. His bovine refusal to confront the pandemic scientifically has boosted the undertakers’ industry which has sold 400,000 coffins under his regime and now sales are rising at the rate of 20,000 a week. President elect Joe Biden in his first “rescue and recovery” speech told last Thursday that America has lost 18 million jobs and closed down 400,000 small businesses – the backbone of the American economy.
Political violence on an organised scale right across the nation is stalking America as never before – not since the American Civil War. The latest investigations emerging from those arrested and other connected sources indicate that those who raided the Congress did not come out of a void. Replay of taped conversations of the mob indicate that they knew the floor plan and where to go to do what.
Obviously, in his doomed days wounded Donald Trump was not going to quit without fighting back to rescue whatever he could unlike Richard Nixon who fell on knees in the White House and asked Henry Kissinger too to kneel down and pray. In his departing speech Nixon admitted that he gave the sword to his enemies to stab him. Trump has showed no remorse so far. In his erratic , vindictive and discombobulated ways, he has even refused to pay Rudy Giuliani, his loyal lawyer who fought for him.
The drama he has staged so far has echoes of a Shakespearean tragedy. Something akin to Julius Caeser where the law-makers – some of them the best of his friends like Brutus — came out with their knives to stab to death the man who was stepping out of line and trending to be a dictator.
Trump became a tragic figure in his last days because he pursued fanatically his unsubstantiated, unsustainable lie that Joe Biden won the election fraudulently. Lies of the political leaders have serious consequences to the people and to political institutions. Invariably racist leaders depend primarily on lies to rise and to survive. Hitler’s tragic adventures depended essentially on lies against the Jews. The lies of the Tamil leadership that legitimised violence against the Sinhalese in the Vadukoddai Resolution ricocheted and eventually led to the decimation of the Tamil leadership – mainly those who manufactured political myths and lies like Appapillai Amirthalingam and Neelan Tiruchelvam. (More of this later.) Trump’s lies dragged him all the way to the inevitable like the way the Tamils were dragged to Nandikadal.
The positive side of political lies is that they create monsters who turn against the manufacturers of the lies. Bigger the political lies bigger the possibility of the lies boomeranging and destroying the manufacturers of lies, if not the lies.
By October 20, 2020 Trump had uttered 22,000 lies. He was totalling at the rate of 50 lies a day, according to Fact Checking Data Base of the Washington Post.
Here are just two of them:
1. “The ice caps were going to melt. They were going to melt. They were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records, so OK, they’re at a record level –interview with Piers Morgan – Jan 28, 2018
Indeed, polar ice set records but it was for shrinking!
2. Global warming – total hoax! – Donald Trump Twitter — Dec 28, 2013. He has also referred to it as “bullshit”, “laughable”, “expensive hoax”.
It was the biggest lie of them all that nailed him finally: he was insisting that he won the election and that Joe Biden stole it from him. It would have gone with the winds like the other ones if it did not have consequences. This lie was accepted as the truth by his followers – millions of them who were chivvied by him to fight and win back what he lost. At this point things got worse. Lies have a limited lifespan and eventually it reaches a point where they cannot go any further with breaking into violence. When lies meet the truth and fail to breakthrough it must necessarily end in violence.
The truth can grow non-violently like in mathematics, Buddhism, medicine, etc. But lies can win only by force. Lies can be propagated by charismatic leaders like Hitler, Ponnambalam-Chelvanayakam and Trump in a certain climate of opinion. But they can’t sustain it for long. That is what happened to Hitler’s lies against the Jews. That is what happened to the Tamils’ lies against the Sinhalese embedded in the Vadukoddai Resolution which declared war against the Sinhalese. That is what finally happened to Donald Trump. Lies took the liars down.
But it is the tragic consequences to the victims of the lies that are unbearable and unacceptable. Who can forgive Hitler for the six million Jewish victims that died because of his lies? Who can forgive or forget the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist lies of the Tamil leaders (e.g., See Vadukoddai Declaration of War against the Sinhalese) that led to the deaths of more Tamils under the Tamil Pot, Prabhakaran, than any other force? Which historian will ever let Trump escape his responsibilities for causing havoc to the America democracy because he was a pathological and inveterate liar? In the end, it will be the consequences of his lies that will be measured by historians and condemn him forever as the type that should never be allowed to take command of national affairs at any level. It is true that he became a victim of his own lies. But the suffering and the debasing of values he leaves condemn him forever in the eyes of future generations.
His refusal to accept reality was the primary cause of his political decline into delusion and depravity. Before the election he told reporters that he can’t take defeat. He became the embodiment of the cynical words of H. L. Mencken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
Demonising the “other” made him a racist, white supremacist, misogynist, xenophobic and an irredeemable rabid myopic. He was defeated by his disability to face science, truth and reality. He is an American Stalinist who tried to solve human problems by building walls to keep them apart.
In the end he became a desperate loner because he would / could not accept responsibility for the consequences of his own lies. He was paying for his own incorrigible behaviour. In Shakespeare’s great tragedies the leading figures came to bitter ends either because they could not face reality or manage or cope with the flaws of their incorrigible character.
Cannot be excused
The additional element in Trump’s tragedy is that he was aided and abetted by the leadership of the Republican Party and those in the intellectual class, including Fox News, that kept his lies alive and kicking. They cannot be excused. His lies have divided and polarised America as never before. Even the recrudescence of the racist North-South past was witnessed when a man carrying a confederate flag was caught on camera wandering in the halls of the Congress.
What is significant in all this is the power of lies and the extent to which it can influence even cognoscenti who refused to believe in reality staring in their face. A man who can tell 22,000 lies to his people and get away with it with a considerable degree of credibility is indeed a phenomenon. Trump was so confident of doing anything and getting away with it that he told his audience once that he can shoot a man on the 5th Avenue and yet win votes. And to think that America is rated as the most advanced country in the world!
The new trend emerging from the American scene is frightening because social media which was supposed to combat lies with the truth has become a negative force of messaging hate-provoking information which has no foundations in reality. What is equally frightening is the role of the intellectuals who add fuel to fire with their sophisticated theories and models to sustain and boost the lies. .
The political ambience created by Trump’s lies is dangerous to the future of America’s values, peace and stability. Latest polls show that a sizeable number of Americans still believe in the lies of Trump even after the insurrection he instigated against a branch of his government. It is not an exaggeration to say that he had reduced the image of America to that of a banana republic.
In the end he became the kind of simian described by Gwilym Lloyd George, the son of David Llyod George. He said that politicians are like monkeys. “The higher they go the more revolting are the parts they expose.”!
In this tale what is relevant to us is the deleterious effect of lies that were believed and promoted by some of the best intellectuals in all fields. One of the biggest lies that led to the longest battle against terrorism in Sri Lanka is discrimination against the Tamils. This accusation lacks substance because they were the most privileged community in Sri Lanka. How can the most privileged community, enjoying all the privileges, perks and positions be at the same time victims of discrimination? They held a disproportionate share of jobs in the permanent, pensionable, public service wielding administrative power at the highest level. At Independence the Permanent Secretary to the first Prime Minister, D. S. Senanayake was a Tamil, Sir Kandiah Vaithianathan.
The first Sri Lankan Army Commander was a Tamil, Lt. Col. Anton Muttukumaru. The second Navy Commander was a Tamil, Admiral Rajan Kadirgamar. The globe-trotting Raju Coomaraswamy was the head of the Treasury. The head of Health Service Dr. S. Chellapah, the popular campaigner against malaria, was a Tamil. The head of the Government Clerical Services Union, the bastion of the Jaffna Tamils was K. C. Nithyanandan, uncle of Minister Douglas Devananda. And they cried discrimination from day one of Independent Ceylon, as it was known then!
Even the other metrics that measured social conditions of the Tamils proved that the myth of discrimination against the Tamils was nothing but – a myth. The People’s Quality of Life Index ( PQLI) of Jaffna was higher than that of Colombo. The economic conditions of the Tamil living in the South was even higher than that of the Sinhalese in the South, according to a study of the MARGA Institute conducted in 1985.
There was no impediment placed by the state or by the community to prevent Tamil professionals or entrepreneurs from competing and rising to their potential heights. The Tamils had their share of small businesses in all towns, cities and villages. Language was no barrier for the Tamils to penetrate the Sinhala-dominant areas and thrive.
Nevertheless, the critical bone of contention was the language issue. It was, no doubt, a very sensitive issue with the Tamils. Prof. Swaminathan Suseendirarajah, an internationally recognised authority on Tamil culture, wrote: “When the author (Prof.S.S.) in his investigations put a question to several villagers as to what their religion was, their prompt answer was ‘Tamil”, meaning Saivism. ….For these villagers, Tamil language and culture cannot be anything other than Saivism.” (pp. 141 -142, Studies in Sri Lankan Tamil Linguistics and Culture, 1998). Tamil language was a sacred part of their lives. They take pride in its antiquity and its richness.
So, when S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike passed the Sinhala Only Act in 1956 all hell broke loose. It was easy to exploit the language issue more than any other accusation to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists. It was politically expedient to instil fear into the Tamils that their world has come to end. They didn’t need much persuasion to believe that their sacred language and culture was doomed. Besides, the main economic security was in earning their bread and butter through English in the public service and professions. The sudden overthrow of English language was seen as a direct blow to their stomach, an act of discrimination.
The issue of discrimination centred around the Sinhala Only Act mainly. Then there was also the sporadic violence that cropped up from time to time arising mainly from Tamil extremism threatening to breakaway and establish a separate state. The Tamils too were provoking the “Sinhala lower-level ethnic leadership” to attack the Tamils, according to Prof. A. J. Wilson, to gain political sympathy and mileage abroad. Provoking the Sinhalese to attack the Tamils was a deliberate strategy of the Tamils, according Prof. Wilson. Of course, the main thrust of Tamil extremism was to strike fear in the hearts of the Tamils to win votes.
Demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists and fear-mongering became the main strategy of the Jaffna Tamil political platform ever since G. G. Ponnambalam unleashed the first Tamil-Sinhalese riots in Nawalapitiya in 1939. It was basically a class issue of the English-speaking Vellala elite to retain their dominant positions in the public service and professions.
The average Tamil who plied their small businesses and even petty trades had no problem with the language issue in Sinhala areas. Despite Sinhala being the official language – now Tamil also – the affairs of the state and the markets are still conducted in English. C. V. Wigneswaran did not conduct his judicial duties in the Supreme Court in Sinhalese. He did it in English though he cries discrimination now that he has to win Tamil votes in Jaffna.
But the big lie was that the Sinhala Only Act would kill the Tamil language and culture. We are now in 2021 and no one can say that the Sinhala Only Act of 1956 has destroyed the Tamil language and culture. Surprisingly enough, the threat to Tamil language came from Tamil Nadu. In fact, the Tamil intellectuals of Jaffna appealed to Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the then Prime Minister, urging her to ban Tamil publications coming from Tamil Nadu because they were polluting the purity of Jaffna Tamil – and she did.
The Tamil wing of Radio Ceylon became the cultural haven for Tamil culture and with its powerful transmission it was even influencing the Tamil culture in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil artistes and script writers who worked in Radio Ceylon have in their memoirs praised the Sinhala heads of Radio Ceylon for encouraging and fostering Tamil culture.
Gone the other way
The truth is that Kumar Ponnambalam and M. A. Sumanthiram, along with other Vellala professionals, have gone the other way and have become proficient in Sinhala to pursue their legal and other professional careers, though S. J. V. Chelvanayakam went from kachcheri to kachcheri urging the Tamil public servants not to learn Sinhala.
Those who followed his advice failed the efficiency test for promotion and then they cried discrimination. It is the duty of every public servant to learn the language of the people. The Sinhalese had to learn Tamil and vice versa. How can a Tamil doctor in government service serve a villager in Matara if he does not know Sinhala and how can a Sinhala doctor serve in Nallur if he does know Tamil? But insisting on a working knowledge of Sinhala for Tamil public servants was propagandised as an act of discrimination while the Sinhalese and Burgher professional took it as a part of their duty though grumbled like hell about it.
The main thing is that they did not see it as a political or communal act. Even the elitist Sinhalese resented Sinhala Only because they were not proficient in it. So, it was not an act of discrimination against Tamils. It was an act of enforcing public servants to learn the language of the people to serve their basic needs. The alternative was to ask the people to learn the language of the public servants. The misguided perceptions and fears of “1956” were whipped up by the Vellala elite as a political tool to push the Tamils to mono-ethnic extremism.
There are many dimensions to the critical issue of language which I will skip because I would like devote the balance available space to the other critical issue promoted by the Tamil lobby to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists, both nationally and internationally. It was repeated again by the visiting Foreign Minister of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar.
He said, parroting the mantra of the Tamils: “It is in Sri Lanka’s own interests that the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka are fulfilled.” This is a politically loaded sentence which in many ways sums up the ultimate Eelamist objectives in the Tamil political agenda. The words ‘equality’, ‘justice’, ‘peace’ and ‘dignity’ have a politically explosive connotation as if the Tamils have been denied these essentials in their daily lives by what they call “the Sinhala state”. So, India, accepting this part of the Eelamist agenda, is telling Sri Lanka give the Tamils “equality”, “justice”, “peace” and “dignity” if you want to get our vaccine.
Can India resolve the Sri Lankan issue based on lies? Since Dr. Jaishankar is an intellectual of some repute shouldn’t he base his remedies on researched analysis? Can lasting solutions be based on lies?
I shall explore the answers to these questions next week.