The Baby and the Bathwater:
Thailand’s Cautionary Tale for America’s Hillary Haters
There is a serious political problem with Election 2016 and Helen Highly objects. I’m talking to you, fellow Democrats, Liberals, and Progressives who won’t vote for “Crooked Hillary.”
I will start this political essay by offering theoretical agreements with the claims of so many relentless Hillary Haters (and also you — mere Hillary Resisters).
- Hillary accepts money from big-business and Wall St. Yup, she does.
- Hillary is greedy. Okay – very likely true.
- Hillary has used her political career for personal gain. Sure, I’ll even put that in all caps: HILLARY HAS PROFITED FROM HER POLITICAL CAREER.
- Hillary has been caught in a misstatement (okay – call it a deception), covering up an embarrassing error about what she knew and when she knew it with regard to her email-server “scandal.” I’ll go ahead and give you that one – Hillary lied. Again, all caps: HILLARY LIED.
- Hillary apologized for her mistake but that is not enough; any ethical misstep or financial misdeed makes her absolutely unfit to be President (and she probably belongs in prison as well). No – that is where I stop agreeing. In fact, that is where I get scary chills down my spine. And here is why:
Thailand, September 19, 2006. Thailand has no oil and no nukes and is poor and relatively peaceful and so the politics of Thailand almost never makes the news in the United States. Even when there is a military coup you won’t hear about it on our major TV network’s national news. But that’s not my point. My point is that NOW is a very good time to take a look back at what has been going on in Thailand for the past ten years, and also what just happened there last week, which again, went virtually unnoticed by America. (Kudos to The Economist for covering the story.) Thailand is a cautionary tale with astounding similarities to America’s current situation. And I personally saw this shit go down, or I wouldn’t have believed it myself. I was there, and now I am going to tell you.
I went to bed one night in a lovely, friendly, democratic country (long-standing ally to the United States) and woke up the next morning to tanks in the streets and men with machine guns positioned outside my hotel. Thaksin Shinawatra, businessman and politician, had been removed from his position as Prime Minister of the country. And with good reason.
Thaksin was undeniably corrupt (like you believe Hillary is). And he was personally benefiting from his political career (again, like Hillary). He was palling around with privileged rich guys (like Hillary). He was making tons of money with shady business deals. So… they threw that greedy, corrupt guy out. They named him a criminal, which was probably true (seemed he didn’t pay his fair share of taxes), but… does it really matter? Most people believed it was true, and masses shouted “Lock him up!” He’s now living in exile in order to avoid a prison sentence that still awaits him. Which court actually delivered this sentence and was it legitimate? Let’s not get bogged down in the details. HE CHEATED. Good riddance.
But here’s the problem: Thaksin was a cheat AND YET it is also undeniably true that this flawed man was a legitimate hero of the working class and poor. This man brought the country into the civilized world. He earned his way into heaven thousands of times over – saved lives and made them better. Thaksin’s government launched programs to reduce poverty, expand infrastructure, promote small and medium-sized enterprises, and provide universal healthcare coverage. He made wide-spread education and financial loans to individuals possible for the first time. With Thaksin as Prime Minister, ordinary people, for the first time, could get a financial loan to pay for college or buy a home or purchase a car to get to work.
Thaksin stamped out the drug dealers who were feeding off of the rural poor and killing thousands of people. (We’re talking about the middle of the “Golden Triangle” – heroin producer for the world.) Thaksin offered poppy farmers real-world alternatives and created markets for their new, legitimate crops. He brought opportunity and hope to his country. He was the first democratically-elected Prime Minister of Thailand to serve a full term and was reelected in 2005 by an overwhelming majority. His personal big-business, btw, was an I.T. and telecommunications corporation, which made him one of the richest people in Thailand and also, incidentally, enabled widespread internet access, which of course enables democracy, which we Americans know is so crucial to freedom.
BUT he was a big-business profiteer (rich and entitled like Hillary). And he cheated on his taxes (probably). And on that one reason alone — his personal greed and presumed corruption, they threw him out. Single-minded, self-righteous protectors-of-the-fantasy-of-flawless-purity gave him no mercy, and gave his mistakes no context and no reasonable perspective – just like so many people in this country are doing to Hillary.
And when the public voted for another person from Thaksin’s political party to replace him, the new “law-abiding” government made that political party illegal altogether (because they deemed it bad for the public). And they shut down democracy. And restricted the internet, and the press, and even group gatherings of five or more people. It was a military coup. But don’t worry; it was a “bloodless coup,” because Thai people are Buddhist and don’t believe in violence. So, as far as we knew or cared, in America, it didn’t really count. The transition was so smooth. In the marketplace it was business as usual — no problem, no problem.
It seemed just like the Law and Order that Donald Trump promised during his convention speech when he accepted the GOP nomination for President. And most Americans chuckled when Donald said that on the morning after he takes office there will be an immediate end to crime and violence. We laughed it off because it seems so ludicrous – not even possible, just another Trump exaggeration.
Except I know it’s not ludicrous and it is possible. I saw it. Not in another century – just ten years ago. I woke up in my comfortable bed to that strange and terrible law-and-order silence that was supervised by the military, for the supposed safety of the citizens. Yup, the Thai people are now safe from their leader failing to pay his taxes. They are protected from the ethical mistakes and greed of that hard-working politician.
But: Goodbye to all those social programs Thaksin had created. Goodbye to all the progress he made for the country, and all the hope, and the health, and the growth and the stability. And the freedom.
They threw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s all gone now.
And now some other rich guys are getting richer, instead of Thaksin. And all those ordinary, non-violent, too-naïve, Thai citizens – especially the rural poor and those with lives at the highest risk… those people are totally screwed now. They’ve been screwed for the past ten years – victims of a sudden turnaround for the country, which was initiated by a quiet, little “act-of-justice” against one public servant, for one wrong thing he did. And, due to the latest “vote” (as if) for a formal constitutional change that will keep the military in power for the foreseeable future, the Thai people are now screwed for the rest of their lives, and their children’s lives.
And no, that situation is not directly parallel to America’s situation. But the key similarity is this misguided campaign to put all our energy into punishment rather than progress, into hating Hillary rather than helping the country. It is this stubborn refusal to look past this functionally irrelevant email thing – this one thing. This blindness to everything but this one error, and this one personal flaw. Hillary Haters, take heed: It is you who are doing wrong here and making a dangerous mistake –
— this refusal to see Hillary’s shortcomings and even her misdeeds with appropriate context and perspective.
And you think you have the leeway to “vote your conscience” — essentially throw away your vote, just “to show her.” You think it’s impossible that a monster like Trump could really end up running the country. Or you absurdly equate Hillary’s misconduct and greed with Trump’s… (I can’t even write the long list, but it ends with Hate.) You claim to believe that fibbing about email or making a self-serving business deal is seriously evil — comparable to Trump’s dangerous combination of Stupidity and Hate. Well, you are wrong. And if you will only stop and think honestly, you know it.
So I am begging you: Please consider Thailand’s cautionary tale and don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
What do I recommend instead? Sorry to sound so simplistic and cliched, but how about we try to get a Democrat in the White House and a majority in the Senate, and then we can use the democratic process (yup, our messy and flawed system) to wrestle with Hillary and hash out the details later, once we are truly clear of and safe from the threat of Trump.
I may come back to the essay tomorrow, when I have more time, and add my personal Hillary fantasy/theory that just might be possible or true. But for now, I feel the need to sound the alarm. Don’t Blow This Election!