Trump(ets) of Doom: On Bringing der Fuehrer Back Home

As a 60s teen who read Camus and Sartre and fancied himself an existentialist, I used to think that all serious moral-ethical-political challenges were in the past and all we could do now was ask ourselves what we would have done had we been German in the 30s or whether we would have gone to fight like Orwell in the Spanish Civil War.

Somehow growing long hair, dropping acid and protesting the Vietnam war, or getting kicked out of high-school for refusing to stand for the Lord’s Prayer (among other things), just didn’t quite reach the level of the political and ethical challenges to personal integrity that confronted so many in the 30s.

It never occurred to me then that hindsight (especially the hindsight embodied in a historical tendency to valorize “the left” in the literary world that I entered almost every time I opened a book) might have been creating a clarity that people alive at the time could not possibly have experienced in reaching for a decision about which road to take.

I realize now that part of the reason nothing in my then-contemporary environment seemed to require the level of moral-political commitment that had characterized the left in the 30s was due to the elevation of fascism, especially in its Nazi variety, to the heights of metaphysical evil. I mean, LBJ was bad, but he wasn’t Hitler, right?

Ultimately the Vietnam war killed around 3 million SE Asians and devastated 3 countries. The United States used chemical weapons, anti-personnel bombs and massive non-stop terror bombing as well as torture and assassination in a pointless and ultimately fruitless display of callous disregard for international law and human life.

But within a few years, American politicians, American media and Americans in all walks of life were wallowing in self-pity over the Vietnam Syndrome and the high cost of gasoline. Oh, and the 58 thousand American soldiers who died so that 3 million SE Asians–men, women and children– would never again threaten American freedoms.

By the end of that episode of mass murder in the service of democracy, a majority of Americans had come around to the view that the war was a bad thing. The mind boggled. The combination of Richard Nixon and the Kent State shootings had somehow trumped the mindless slaughter and finally motivated Americans to oppose the war.

In recent years, various Arab dictators have been promoted to “Hitler-status” as the American public is primed for yet another war on yet another poor country filled with yet more non-white people whose children will die in massive numbers so that freedom and democracy can replace the Hitler du jour who oppresses them.

While domestic politics in the United States often revolves around what looks like nothing more or less than a game of “victim-victim, who is the victim?”, foreign policy often revolves around the question of “who is the Hitler that the American war machine needs to take out next?” This is known as liberal interventionism. So it’s liberal.

Putting aside the utility of maintaining a pervasive awareness of a “Hitler-Nazi = Ultimate Evil” equation for the apartheid and genocidal state of Israel, it is even more obvious that by never quite reaching the levels of iniquity of Nazi Germany,  Americans can usually obscure their own marked tendency to mass slaughter from themselves.

The Vietnam War in popular memory was not so much an American travesty as it was a Nixon crime. Gulf War II was not an American crime against humanity so much as it was a Bush crime, a Rumsfeld crime, a Cheney and a neocon crime. It is never about America and Americans and their constant rush to support American wars.

But along comes Trump, a genuinely ugly and vulgar man from the get-go. Suddenly Americans are able to envision a homegrown Hitler and an American Fascism sprouting all around them like unwelcome weeds on the otherwise pristine suburban lawn surrounded by the white picket fence of American feigned innocence.

The man isn’t in office for a month and “Antifa” are out in skinny jeans and hoodies bashing fashis and setting off fireworks in order to keep media darlings like Ann Coulter from speaking at universities. A “Resistance” springs up, and immediately all kinds of folks who’d gladly bomb the shit out of brown folks are “anti-fascist”.

It’s almost as if history began, yet again, on the day Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. And what distinguishes Trump and “the Trump era” and “Trumpism” from all the other American administrations that have deliberately and consciously slaughtered millions of non-white poor people?

Racism apparently.

Who knew?

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LADY GAGA: FASCIST IS AS FASCIST DOES

I’ve always liked Lady Gaga.

In spite of the fact that her “friend of the marginalized” routine was done better by David Bowie and Madonna, she has always seemed like a genuine pop talent. It’s hard not to like Just Dance.

I will say though that Born This Way struck me immediately as a ripoff of Express Yourself and so maybe it would be better to say I used to like Lady Gaga.

Taking a bit of persona from Madonna and Bowie is one thing; blatant plagiarism is another altogether.

I wish now that I’d gone to see Madonna when she came to Bangkok doing that sarky mashup of the two songs as a way of letting everyone know what she thought of the bitch stealing her music.

And then came the recent Democratic primary. Both Lady and Madonna came out for the warmongering Saudi supporter Hillary Clinton and blew all respectability right out their celebrity asses.

I mean, Margaret Thatcher was a woman too, right? She who destroyed British unions and led the Anglosphere charge into atomistic neoliberalism? She didn’t so much break a glass ceiling as smash a champagne bottle and shove it right up the workers.

But the show Gaga just did for the ever-tawdry SuperBowl was the last straw.

After showing up in Michael Jackson’s Prussian drum major outfit at a Hillary rally and causing a TwitStormFuhror over her apparent Nazi appearance, it was hard not to read her mouthing God Bless America against a backdrop of drones rendering Old Glory in a night sky subtly reminiscent of Baghdad back in March ’03 as a paean to the perpetual fascism that is and has been America since The Donald was just a lad.

I don’t really care who’s land that land is or who it was made for. It sends its sons and daughters of all races and sexual orientations to kill kids wherever brown folks live in relative poverty.

And celebrating that puts Lady Gaga right up there with Leni Riefenstahl, except of course that Leni was blessed with a brilliant visual sense and Gaga’s choreographers on this occasion could only have been blind.

Ten Things to Remember When Thinking About Thai Politics

(Time to repost this series before I go on to write something about how I see things now)

1. Thailand is not now and has never been a fully functional liberal-democratic state. Pretty much everyone acknowledges this but then many conveniently forget it when criticizing various political actors for not behaving like people working within a liberal-democracy. This is a problem for both “sides”, both in the actual arena and in the various boxes and cheapseats that make up the popcorn gallery.

So, for example, when people question the wisdom and/or courage of Yingluck and her administration for not cracking down on Suthep, or for not taking a stand on LM laws and their abuse, or for not doing more for UDD political prisoners, they are assuming that the “government” of Thailand has the power to do so. They don’t. There are powerful forces in the miltary, the bureaucracy, and the palace circles that can call out the yellow dogs any time they wish. This is also why it was a blunder of epic proportions for Thaksin to have attempted to initiate his return from exile with the amnesty bill fiasco that provoked this most recent round of realpolitik-in-action.

2. The Puea Thai government, aka The Thaksin Regime, was elected in an election that is acknowledged to have been free and fair by all but those who hate Thaksin and all his works. This makes it different from the previous Democrat-dominated coalition government of Abhisit and Kamnan Suthep.

When disingenuous supporters of the status quo, like Voranai at the Bangkok Post, prate about the “moral equivalence” of Suthep and Yinglak, many foreign heads nod at the wisdom expressed therein (thus disproving the oft-claimed superiority of western education). One is a proto-fascist agitator for the dismantling of what democracy exists in Thailand and the other is the head of an elected government; only a halfwit or a slimy propagandist would suggest that these are somehow equivalent in the context of the Thai political drama unfolding recently.

3. There is nothing particularly “educated” about the Thai middle classes. In fact, an argument could be made that the longer one has spent in Thai schools and universities –learning to grovel rather than think, to parrot nationalist and royalist nonsense rather than express opinions, and at best to tune out the drone of  “teachers” rather than listen carefully and critically to what is being said– the less likely one is to have the capacity to think, speak or behave like a rational citizen in a democratic system.

The same goes for those whose wealth and privilege has enabled them to get the much-vaunted “western education”, although not for the same reasons obviously.

The cost of study in countries like the US and UK is, relative to average incomes in a country like Thailand, astronomical. At minimum, Thai students studying abroad are spending in one month what many Thai families live on for six. The likelihood of someone receiving this sort of bounty from the operation of the Thai political and economic system genuinely finding fault with it is not great; at best, you get “hip” young adults who talk a good game while out with friends in the fashionable restaurants and night-clubs of Bangkok but go home and abuse the servants, while at worst you get the lying, manipulative, corrupt “ajarns” and journalists that proliferate like bacteria in a sewer in Thailand.

And anyone who has worked in or around western universities catering to foreign students knows that it is unspoken policy that “you pays your money and you gets your degree”, not to mention the outright cheating, the papers written by “tutors” in the guise of “proofreading”, and the simple fact that instructors have all but given up trying to maintain any sort of standards in the classroom. As is evident from the lack of critical thinking on the part of ex-pats who go on and on about the lack of critical thinking amongst Thais, a “western education” guarantees absolutely nothing.

For the few whose English is proficient when they leave Thailand and enter “good” universities abroad, of course a real education is possible. Abhisit Vejajjiva is the perfect example of what you get in this case: someone who talks like a liberal democrat and impresses foreigners while relying on backroom deals with generals and thugs to have any sort of “political” career at all.

4. It is not the case that significant numbers of the protestors on either side of the vast divide are “pawns”. It is a commonly held view that the “ordinary” Thais who make up the bulk of the street protestors in both movements are neither acting out of rational self-interest nor principle. Somehow or other they have been bamboozled, brainwashed or bought.

The corollary to this is of course the oft-stated belief that the protracted crisis in Thai governance over the past 8 or 9 years is nothing more nor less than an intra-elite conflict. Disagreement exists over just exactly who makes up the “sides”, but that they are members of the elite and it is they who are driving the conflict is generally accepted. There are also disagreements about what is really at stake, with opinions ranging from the purely financial, the “it’s about the graft” position, to the belief that this is and has always been primarily about controlling the upcoming succession in the monarchy.

5. The simple fact of the matter is that at its root this is a class struggle. As distasteful as it has become in these neo-liberal times to refer to anything as a class struggle or a battle of rich against poor, it has to be acknowledged that without the vast divide that exists between rich and poor in Thailand there would be nothing to catch fire when the elite rhetoric courts and sparks.

These posts by Bangkok Pundit, http://tinyurl.com/lbq4cqg & http://tinyurl.com/kqnaqrg, provide a little more substance to what should be obvious to anyone observing the protests over the past 5 years.

Neither movement is “pure” in terms of class membership. Pointing out that Thaksin and the leadership of the UDD are not from the lower classes is the usual “argument” presented by those whose anti-democratic impulse feels the need to hide its face while spewing vile classist and racist imprecations regarding the “ordinary Thais” who make up the bulk of the Redshirt/UDD movement. There are also the large numbers of “ordinary” Thais who attend the PDRC rallies who come in for their fair share of classist jibes from the more “liberal” side of the commentariat.

I suppose this could mean that the number of middle class whites who worked and fought for the Civil Rights movement in the USA meant that that movement was not primarily about race. Or that because Lyndon Johnson was a racist pig who married a woman who made millions for the couple while Lyndon was still in the military, his successful promulgation of Civil Rights and Great Society legislation somehow didn’t count. LBJ was motivated by a drive for power more than any notion of justice or racial equality; does that mean that people supporting him were tools?

As the first Thaksin administration aptly demonstrated, voters can gain advantages from electing governments that feel constrained to follow through on promises they made to get their votes. These people, who no one before Thaksin ever bothered to welcome into “Thai-style” democratic politics, learned fast, and the result is what has been happening in the political arena over the past 5 years.

6. Thaksin, for all his wealth and “political” savvy, unlike his opponents, is 100% dependent on the democratic system and the votes he has attracted from huge numbers of Thailand’s less privileged citizens. He is “using” his supporters, particularly those attached to the UDD, to gain power and wealth; they are “using” him to gain and retain enfranchisement in the country’s flawed democratic system. Thaksin, then, is a traitor to his class and has earned their undying emnity; his supporters are representing their class and using Thaksin’s money and organization to do so.

7. Bangkok’s middle classes are not in the main all that interested in democracy. They have nothing to gain from a genuine democratic system: they can afford the bribes they offer to get a “good” education for their children from kindergarden up; they are not victimized by the police checkpoints that pull over motorcycles and taxis and extract the 1 or 200 baht fines that help them put their children into the same schools; at work, obsequiousness and ass-kissing are much easier to achieve than the hard work, skill and intelligence that would be demanded in a more meritocratic system. And so they align themselves with the asses they’ve been raised to kiss since birth.

8. The southern Thais, who have provided loyal and unquestioning support for the non-democratic Democrat party for over two decades, have their own reasons for preferring the old system over any move toward more genuine democracy. Bottom line in the south is that graft and influence have paid better for all concerned than real democracy might, so it’s better to stick to the laughable faith in “clean politics” that supporters of the Democrats tell themselves is what Abhisit and Chuan Leekphai represent (while mafioso like Suthep keep things running in the background).

You have to wonder how long this blatant self-deception can continue to operate now that Kamnan Suthep, king of Palm Oil and Land Distribution, is actually the most public face of southern politics.

9. This most recent round of yellow fascist insurrection should put paid to the mythical notion that the southern electorate is somehow more “sophisticated” than their poorer, less-educated brethren in the north and north-east of the country.

In interview after interview with northern and north-eastern Thai supporters of the Redshirts, these less educated folks admit to Thaksin’s corruption and the imperfections of his “regimes” before going on to give reasons for their support of such a “bad” man.

The reasons always fall into two categories. Self-interest is invoked when talking about the “populist” policies that go back to the initial TRT victory at the beginning of the millennium. And the principles of democracy and equality, however “imperfectly” understood, are invoked when vilifying the military and judicial coups which have repeatedly disenfranchised  voters who have repeatedly supported Thaksin over the past 13 years.

Southerners, on the other hand, while even more eager to label Thaksin as an evil and corrupt man, then turn around to explain their support for the Democrats and the “good people” who will  no doubt find a way to put the Democrats back in power by invoking the “goodness” of “good” people like Kamnan Suthep. No doubt their “sophistication” would extend to include Newin Chidchob in the “good” column if their Democrat masters told them it would be a “good” idea. After all, to sophisticates and “educate” people like these, “goodness” means whatever the “good people” say it does.

King Lear would have understood the meaning of this sort of “sophistication”.

10. Unlike the farcical productions that pass for “politics” in western countries, Thai politics are real. At the moment, the political choice in Thailand is not between two political parties with virtually identical policies dictated by international capital and the military-industrial complex, but between two systems of government.

On one side is democracy and on the other is military-supported oligarchy. It is possible to spin these two simplistic formulations into infinitely ramifying complexities in discussion, and no doubt citizens of liberal-democracies will want to do so. The problem is of course that this is not a matter for “discussion” in Thailand; it is a matter for decision.

It would also appear to be a matter of life and death. Repeatedly over the past 40 years, the Thai oligarchy has demonstrated its willingness to kill to resist democratization. And elements of the pro-democracy movements over the same period have demonstrated a willingness to die.

It’s hard to see how, given the seriousness of the situation, this conflict can be resolved through discussion. To continue to push for democratic government in Thailand will almost surely end in violence.

The question then becomes: Is it worth it?

Morning Muse: Corruption and Institutions

Many of the articles dealing with the most recent round of “protests” aimed at dismantling Thailand’s ever-fragile democratic governance speak of the need for “strong institutions” to provide the “checks and balances” necessary to protect against corruption and other abuses of power by elected officials. This theme is hardly new in Thai politics. The ’97 Constitution was designed with just these “institutions” in mind.

This article from Bloomberg puts it clearly: “Only strong judiciaries, anti-corruption arms and networks of government watchdog agencies can ensure accountability.” And whereas I am sure all good liberal-democrats everywhere will nod their heads in agreement (as I found myself doing as I read it), a moment’s reflection is enough to realize that this sort of suggestion is equivalent to proposing that Thailand adopt “Mom, Apple Pie, and The American Way” as a bulwark against everything bad. Which is just silly.

Thailand is an early-adopter of what is being recognized as a major trend in anti-democratic strategizing around the world: the so-called “judicial coup”. In order for groups or individuals aligned against democratic governments to avoid resorting to the much-maligned military coup, a “strong judiciary” is a good substitute. A wealthy oligarchy with a matched set of judges in its arsenal is going to benefit from a “strong judiciary” far more than the voting public with their “one man, one vote” weapon of choice.

The same thing goes for all of the “institutions” needed to provide the “checks and balances”. The stronger the institution the more powerfully it can be used to either bolster or utterly destroy an embattled democracy like Thailand’s.

Corrupt judges cleared the way for Thaksin Shinawatra to become Prime Minister when he had been caught hiding his assets under his maids and chauffeurs, and corrupt judges have been beavering away ever since to remove him and his associates from Thai politics.

To run through the catalog of similar abuses by the NACC (National Anti-Corruption Commission) and the EC (Election Commission) over the past decade or so would be a waste of time. The point is clear: without honest, law-abiding men and women to staff the strong institutions that provide checks and balances to government power, these institutions serve only to shore up the power of extra-governmental, anti-democratic forces within the country.

What this means of course is that Suthep and his followers calling for “good people” to set the Thai system of government back on democratic track is absolutely correct. The irony of a corrupt politician (charged with murder and being allowed to avoid reporting to the police because he is too busy overthrowing an elected government) nominating himself and his cronies to be part of a committee to choose those “good people” is painful.

Corruption in Thailand begins at the top and flows downward. At some point in the process, that corruption has gathered sufficient power unto itself to threaten the livelihoods and lives of anyone who would challenge it. It is going to require a lot more than “strong institutions” to save democracy as the preferred form of government in a country where just about everyone in the middle class and above is heavily implicated in the very corruption they pretend to abhor.

At the “bottom” of the Thai system of “democracy”, farmers sell their votes to whoever offers them a few hundred baht and then go ahead and vote for whomever they want. At the “top”, judges and professors and journalists and politicians sell themselves for varying amounts of money, prestige and power, thus ensuring that the votes those farmers sold mean nothing anyway.

And what can strong institutions do about that?

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Ten Things to Remember When Thinking About Thai Politics (concluded)

10. Unlike the farcical productions that pass for “politics” in western countries, Thai politics are real. At the moment, the political choice in Thailand is not between two political parties with virtually identical policies dictated by international capital and the military-industrial complex, but between two systems of government.

On one side is democracy and on the other is military-supported oligarchy. It is possible to spin these two simplistic formulations into infinitely ramifying complexities in discussion, and no doubt citizens of liberal-democracies will want to do so. The problem is of course that this is not a matter for “discussion” in Thailand; it is a matter for decision.

It would also appear to be a matter of life and death. Repeatedly over the past 40 years, the Thai oligarchy has demonstrated its willingness to kill to resist democratization. And elements of the pro-democracy movements over the same period have demonstrated a willingness to die.

It’s hard to see how, given the seriousness of the situation, this conflict can be resolved through discussion. To continue to push for democratic government in Thailand will almost surely end in violence.

The question then becomes: Is it worth it?

 

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Ten Things to Remember When Thinking About Thai Politics (cont’d)

4. It is not the case that significant numbers of the protestors on either side of the vast divide are “pawns”. It is a commonly held view that the “ordinary” Thais who make up the bulk of the street protestors in both movements are neither acting out of rational self-interest nor principle. Somehow or other they have been bamboozled, brainwashed or bought.

The corollary to this is of course the oft-stated belief that the protracted crisis in Thai governance over the past 8 or 9 years is nothing more nor less than an intra-elite conflict. Disagreement exists over just exactly who makes up the “sides”, but that they are members of the elite and it is they who are driving the conflict is generally accepted. There are also disagreements about what is really at stake, with opinions ranging from the purely financial, the “it’s about the graft” position, to the belief that this is and has always been primarily about controlling the upcoming succession in the monarchy.

5. The simple fact of the matter is that at its root this is a class struggle. As distasteful as it has become in these neo-liberal times to refer to anything as a class struggle or a battle of rich against poor, it has to be acknowledged that without the vast divide that exists between rich and poor in Thailand there would be nothing to catch fire when the elite rhetoric courts and sparks.

These posts by Bangkok Pundit, http://tinyurl.com/lbq4cqg & http://tinyurl.com/kqnaqrg, provide a little more substance to what should be obvious to anyone observing the protests over the past 5 years.

Neither movement is “pure” in terms of class membership. Pointing out that Thaksin and the leadership of the UDD are not from the lower classes is the usual “argument” presented by those whose anti-democratic impulse feels the need to hide its face while spewing vile classist and racist imprecations regarding the “ordinary Thais” who make up the bulk of the Redshirt/UDD movement. There are also the large numbers of “ordinary” Thais who attend the PDRC rallies who come in for their fair share of classist jibes from the more “liberal” side of the commentariat.

I suppose this could mean that the number of middle class whites who worked and fought for the Civil Rights movement in the USA meant that that movement was not primarily about race. Or that because Lyndon Johnson was a racist pig who married a woman who made millions for the couple while Lyndon was still in the military, his successful promulgation of Civil Rights and Great Society legislation somehow didn’t count. LBJ was motivated by a drive for power more than any notion of justice or racial equality; does that mean that people supporting him were tools?

As the first Thaksin administration aptly demonstrated, voters can gain advantages from electing governments that feel constrained to follow through on promises they made to get their votes. These people, who no one before Thaksin ever bothered to welcome into “Thai-style” democratic politics, learned fast, and the result is what has been happening in the political arena over the past 5 years.

6. Thaksin, for all his wealth and “political” savvy, unlike his opponents, is 100% dependent on the democratic system and the votes he has attracted from huge numbers of Thailand’s less privileged citizens. He is “using” his supporters, particularly those attached to the UDD, to gain power and wealth; they are “using” him to gain and retain enfranchisement in the country’s flawed democratic system. Thaksin, then, is a traitor to his class and has earned their undying emnity; his supporters are representing their class and using Thaksin’s money and organization to do so.

7. Bangkok’s middle classes are not in the main all that interested in democracy. They have nothing to gain from a genuine democratic system: they can afford the bribes they offer to get a “good” education for their children from kindergarden up; they are not victimized by the police checkpoints that pull over motorcycles and taxis and extract the 1 or 200 baht fines that help them put their children into the same schools; at work, obsequiousness and ass-kissing are much easier to achieve than the hard work, skill and intelligence that would be demanded in a more meritocratic system. And so they align themselves with the asses they’ve been raised to kiss since birth.

8. The southern Thais, who have provided loyal and unquestioning support for the non-democratic Democrat party for over two decades, have their own reasons for preferring the old system over any move toward more genuine democracy. Bottom line in the south is that graft and influence have paid better for all concerned than real democracy might, so it’s better to stick to the laughable faith in “clean politics” that supporters of the Democrats tell themselves is what Abhisit and Chuan Leekphai represent (while mafioso like Suthep keep things running in the background).

You have to wonder how long this blatant self-deception can continue to operate now that Kamnan Suthep, king of Palm Oil and Land Distribution, is actually the most public face of southern politics.

9. This most recent round of yellow fascist insurrection should put paid to the mythical notion that the southern electorate is somehow more “sophisticated” than their poorer, less-educated brethren in the north and north-east of the country.

In interview after interview with northern and north-eastern Thai supporters of the Redshirts, these less educated folks admit to Thaksin’s corruption and the imperfections of his “regimes” before going on to give reasons for their support of such a “bad” man.

The reasons always fall into two categories. Self-interest is invoked when talking about the “populist” policies that go back to the initial TRT victory at the beginning of the millennium. And the principles of democracy and equality, however “imperfectly” understood, are invoked when vilifying the military and judicial coups which have repeatedly disenfranchised  voters who have repeatedly supported Thaksin over the past 13 years.

Southerners, on the other hand, while even more eager to label Thaksin as an evil and corrupt man, then turn around to explain their support for the Democrats and the “good people” who will  no doubt find a way to put the Democrats back in power by invoking the “goodness” of “good” people like Kamnan Suthep. No doubt their “sophistication” would extend to include Newin Chidchob in the “good” column if their Democrat masters told them it would be a “good” idea. After all, to sophisticates and “educate” people like these, “goodness” means whatever the “good people” say it does.

King Lear would have understood the meaning of this sort of “sophistication”.

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Another Morning Muse

A few hours after I posted yesterday’s Muse, UDD co-leader Nattawut announced that the Reds would not be coming to Bangkok http://www.bangkokpost.com/breakingnews/384478/reds-will-rally-if-there-any-attempt-to-derail-elections-says-nattawut, thus delaying the inevitably violent confrontation between two determined and armed “protest” groups. So no “big day” yesterday. Which is not to say that anything has changed.

One of the reasons I set up this blog in the first place was to explore the way “farang” tend to discuss Thai politics in order to come to some understanding of the role of the observer in shaping and defining the observed. Recently on Twitter I have been engaged in a childish and not very intelligent exchange with a couple of constant commentators on Thai politics who, along with many, many other foreigners, tend to dismiss the majority of actors in the Thai political arena as, yes, you guessed it, “stupid and childish”.

In my view, what we are watching unfold in recent weeks is a tweaked replay of every PAD/Yellowshirt/Royalist bid to remove Thaksin from power that has taken place since 2005. And there is nothing either stupid or childish about the way these things unfold: move, countermove, manipulation of media, appeal to foreign opinion, dismissal of foreign opinion, threats of violence, accusations of oppression and brutality, violence, violence and more violence.

Over the past few years, since a certain person made a speech indicating that such a thing should happen, judges in the various courts charged with responsibility for “political” and constitutional affairs have played a greater and more decisive role in creating outcomes in the extra-parliamentary battles that determine Thai politics far more than either elections or legislative action do.

To a great extent, this new judicial activism has replaced the military coup that has always been the preferred method of keeping power in the hands of the “elite” when parliaments look to be getting out of control. It is an innovation that will no doubt slowly spread around the world and has already done so in Egypt. And there is nothing “stupid” about this Thai innovation, regardless of how obviously corrupt and undemocratic it is, because what it does is make it impossible for the usual suspects of the liberal-left variety to point to the obviously evil and discredited military coup as a way of denying legitimacy to whatever governments are set up in the wake of a traditional coup.

But that is just the tip of an iceberg that will have to dealt with in a longer post.

I think the reason so many foreign observers and Thai “liberals” (who have almost always spent years outside the country getting an education, working, or both) are so dismissive of the machinations and manipulators in Thai politics, as well as the ordinary people who take part on either side of the divide, is that they are unwilling to see that what constitutes “politics” in Thailand and what is labeled “politics” in the predominantly liberal-democratic developed world are two different things altogether.

In Thailand, there is no liberal democratic framework within which “political” questions may be decided, as there is in western countries. The political question in Thailand is “Who rules?”, not “How shall we spend our tax money?” And as long as that is the question that politics is required to answer, the violence and structural manipulations involving courts and constitutions and all forms of extra-parliamentary chicanery will be the order of the day, particularly, ultimately, the violence.

What is happening in Thailand, again, over the past 7 years is a struggle to change the nature of the whole system of governance, not because someone like Thaksin has decided to idealistically “gift” the people of Thailand with democratic sovereignty, but because the highly imperfect system of democracy has again emerged as a possible solution to problems raised by the question “Who rules?”

To expect that struggles over a political question that has given birth to such things as the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions should somehow take on the appearance of the televised inanity that is politics in the US or Great Britain is more than a little “stupid”. And to treat the deaths of Thai citizens on either side of the divide as nothing more than the manifestation of “childishness” is not only naive and childish in itself, it is deeply offensive.

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