The Malta Independent 21 January 2021, Thursday

A burning issue

Charles Flores Sunday, 10 January 2021, 10:35 Last update: about 11 days ago

I have always felt intrigued by the sheer connection between books/plays that people write in a miscellanea of languages across the world and socio-political realities. When the Nazi Party in Germany held its first book burnings, one of the works destroyed was an 1821 play by Heinrich Heine containing the famous prophetic phrase, “Where they burn books, they will also in the end burn people”.


The way people all over the globe have been reacting and taking positions over election results and the spread of the Covid-19 virus is startlingly scary. The current US saga of a soundly beaten president peddling threats, incitement, disinformation and blatant fake news in the desperate hope of clinging to power against the expressed wishes of the vast majority of American voters still dominates prime-time news, despite the Georgia senate seats. More so since the coup-like insurrection at the very heart of American democracy last Wednesday.

But it is not just the ranting of a president counting the days before he is due to be dumped into the abyss of history that is worrying most people. These have been unprecedented events and actions that are a major source of shock and concern for Americans of goodwill everywhere and the rest of the world. If American democratic values have gradually been reduced to bloodshed and to vandalizing the homes of leading politicians like Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat and Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, with graffiti, fake blood and a pig’s head, then the problem is far much deeper. Lashing out in this vicious way at a country’s leaders would normally be attributed to Third World nations, dictatorships and banana republics, certainly not the world’s only super power believing it can export democracy and freedom.

Don’t be misled into thinking these politics of fear are merely the perpetrations of pot-bellied white men and their obese wives, most of whom make up the 75-million-plus votes Donald Trump got in last November’s election. The herd immunity is not restricted to viruses and the masses. There is also herd mentality, shepherded into fits of sheer ignorance and utter disdain by politicians of the Trump ilk. When you read, as we have done recently, of a district chairman of the State Republican Executive Committee, Terry Harper, hinting that Senator Mitt Romney, from his own Party, should be executed for opposing a plan to block the certification of the 2020 elections results and arguing that this Repulican ploy “dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic” you begin to wonder and automatically switch back to Heinrich Heine and his connection between book-burning and people-burning.

This idea of using cruel metaphors in relation to politicians or their servers in power seems to be gaining ground. It’s like a reality show that has gone too serious and, undoubtedly, too far. Here, on this eternally polarised island, we have not been spared similar intimations of it in both the distant and recent past, as was the unfortunate case when it was intimated a Castille potentate should be taken out and shot. Not everyone is able to distinguish between the metaphor and pragmatic language.

To find oneself reading about communication gurus saying the US media has become a disgrace and insisting that “they don’t report news – they manipulate it” and that “Walter Cronkite must be spinning in his grave to see how biased and one-sided US TV news has become” also forms part of the inexplicable reality package that is hitting America and the rest of the world by default.

Even worse, that all 10 living former US defence secretaries, from Dick Cheney to Donald Rumsfeld, should come out insisting the military should play no role in President Donald Trump’s attempts to block the transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden really did sound like an alarm bell. You’d think the spirit of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh is spreading across the US electoral boundaries.

In their opinion piece published in The Washington Post, the ex-defence secretaries said the time had come for the Republican incumbent to accept he had lost the 3 November election, adding that “efforts to involve the US armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory”. Rumblings nobody would ever think they could hear in one’s lifetime coming from the US.

The whole insipid scene is complicated by the participation of top politicians who seem to find hidden opportunities in taking the Trump trail on the issue of electoral fraud. Among them is Senator Ted Cruz who, ironically, was insulted, as was his wife and father, by Donald Trump when the latter lost the 2016 Iowa caucuses to him. Trump had then falsely claimed he had won and accused Cruz of election fraud. When it gets to such myseries of political life, who can genuinely say he or she understands even an iota of it all?

In the meantime, pro-Trump protesters were dying and clashing violently with police on Capitol Hill and in Washington’s Black Lives Matter Plaza outside the White House on the saddest day of American politics and even on the very eve of a joint session of lawmakers to confirm the Electoral College vote won by Joe Biden during which some Republican members of the Senate and the House were objecting to the tabulation and trying to overturn the election.

The burning of books seems to be over, at least temporarily. Will the burning of people stop too?


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