Get the Ferret Out of the Elephant's Cage

Uncle Bill Warner

I see in the funny papers that our esteemed Secretary of State is trying to sell the countries of the Middle East on “democracy.” Given our opposition to the recent democratic Palestinian election, they may consider us hypocrites? What is “democracy” anyway? A form of government that represents the will of the people? A form of government that protects the rights of minorities? A majoritarian concept? Any government that gives the U.S. what it wants?

I looked up “democracy” on Wikipedia (the popular free encyclopedia on the Internet) and found nearly 17,000 words discussing the concept! There is clearly not one accepted definition. Democracy may come from the bottom up, with popular elections selecting leaders. It may be imposed from outside by military force such as with Japan, Germany, and Italy…the losers in World War II. Some “democracies” deny rights to those not in the majority. Some protect power and privilege (only one in five Greeks were allowed to vote back in the beginning). All-in-all, though, the idea of the will of the people rather than the will of a king, dictator, elite ruling class, or colonial-power-favoring puppet is what democracy is all about.

So here we are in the most powerful (militarily) country in the world, floundering along as the world’s greatest debtor nation, selling ourselves off to foreign interests, borrowing money hand over fist, exporting jobs, cutting services to the poor and disadvantaged among us, enriching our already-rich elite, and heading down the road to a fascist dictatorship with no checks and balances on an imperial presidency and all the while pretending to be the saviour of democracy in the world, and attempting to impose our version of it on the rest of the world by force.

There is an old comedy routine from the BBC wherein the new head zoo keeper incompetently loses most of the animals and tries to cover it up. While reading him the riot act, the director of the zoo ends by telling him “…and get the ferret out of the elephant’s cage; its not fooling anyone!” I sometimes feel like telling someone, “Quit using the word ‘democracy’ for neo-colonial aggression; its not fooling anyone!” It certainly doesn’t fool the people in the countries where we have fought democracy tooth and nail.

Just a few examples of this anti-democratic aggression might be the subjugation of the Native Americans and the appropriation of their lands. “…all Men are created equal?” Right. Then there was the suppression of the Filipinos after the Spanish American War when we “liberated” them from Spain and then squashed the people that thought they would now be able to pick their own leader and have a free country. More recently, the U.S. promoted a coup against the democratically-elected leader of Chile, Salvador Allende, and installed a horrendous dictator. We really don’t like democracy when there is a chance that AT&T or Anaconda Copper might suffer from a regime more friendly to its own people that to U.S. corporate profits.

And then we spent years and rivers of blood and money to keep Vietnam from holding democratic elections. Why? Because the Viet Minh and their leader Ho Chi Minh, the heroes of Vietnamese liberation from Japan and France would have won, and we didn’t want that.

Lately we have been trying to overthrow the democratically-elected leader in Venezuela (Hugo Chavez) as he is too uppity concerning keeping oil profits in the country to help Venezuelans. We worked to overthrow the democratically elected Jean-Batiste Aristide in Haiti. We are now trying mightily to undo the democratically-elected Hamas in Palestine. The people in the rest of the world are not fooled by ferrets masquerading as elephants, or by the United States pretense of “bringing democracy” to the world.

Now, I plead guilty to enjoying a standard of living which is purchased at the expense of peoples in Third World countries. Our government has repeatedly maneuvered to keep them from having the leaders they want, instead imposing on them leaders more friendly to U.S. business interests. Every time I buy a cheap Chinese product, a vegetable grown in Chiapas, or drive my car on cheap oil from the Middle East, I contribute to the situation we, as Americans, refuse to recognize. I am not proud of being a part of this, but I am. At least, though, I resist the hypocrisy inherent in the abuse of the word “democracy” to describe what we do. Maybe the first step toward living up to our stated ideals is to start calling a ferret a ferret, not an elephant.

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