Have you checked your American exceptionalism lately?
I mean it. Have you checked where you stand on the idea that the United States is inherently different from other nations, and that the ghastly things that happen elsewhere, like fascism, or authoritarian rule, can’t happen in this place?
I thought about that recently when I had the pleasure of interviewing Arundhati Roy, the renowned Indian novelist, essayist and activist. This spring, the good people at Haymarket Books are publishing a second edition of Roy’s latest collection of essays. It’s called Azadi: Fascism, Fiction, and Freedom in the Time of the Virus, and in it she brings readers up to date on, among other things, the state of democracy in India.
“It’s a carcass,” she writes, “dragged about by one party without accountability, headed by a man whose power rests on the use and threat of use of violence.”
Under the rule of Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist RSS party, India’s been steadily dismantling the institutions of democracy, such that as Roy puts it, just a shell remains. A situation where elections can only be fought by people who have money, and social protections and rights exist on the books but only in real life if you’re considered to belong to the right race, religion, gender and class.
The more I listened to Roy talk about India the more I heard echoes of the US. Perhaps not here, not yet, but by no means impossible.
As Stephan Marche, author of The Next Civil War, wrote in the Guardian recently, 2022 is kicking off in the US with elected sheriffs openly promoting resistance to federal authority in the US, militias training in preparation for war; threats against members of Congress up by 107% and death threats having become a part of the daily work life of election supervisors and school board members alike.
The US, like India, is full of people with solid ideas for a brighter future with a real electoral system, universal rights, healthcare, and a viable plan for civil society’s survival on this fragile planet.
This is the same Arundhati Roy after all, who 19 years ago, memorably said that another world was not only possible, but breathing. I asked her about that this week. She’d be a fool to claim that her sunny outlook of then has taken no hits since, she said. Fascism’s also been breathing, hot and heavy.
We’d be fools to be fooled into believing that our situation was inherently different.
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