I learned to think this way in the early 90s when Carlos Saúl Menem was elected president of Argentina. I was in one of Buenos Aires’s well known book-stores, Librería Gandhi, talking with an admired friend, el Negro Tula, going back to the exciting university years in Córdoba, before Juan Carlos Onganía took power (1966-1970) and started the wave of military dictatorship that ended in the mid-eighties. The “transition”to democracy–in the vocabulary of the social scientists that detached themselves from the previous generation focusing on dependencyâ€”coincided with beginning of the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the Washington Consensus. In that junction, and in the rise of neo-liberal regimes, Carlos Saúl Menem was the democratic incarnation of neo-liberal doctrine grounded in the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, initiated in Chile in 1973. That was more or less the context in which el Negro Tula was analyzing the conditions under which Carlos Saúl Menem was democratically elected and by a significant majority. The conversation was winding down; all avenues had been pursued during two hours and several cafés. El Negro Tula looked through the window, with a grimace and concluded: “Well, what can I say, we Argentine have what we deserve.”
I remembered that conversation the very day in which George W. Bush was elected President of the United States. Those of us who voted for Al Gore spent several hours speculating on why if all political analysts, on all major US television channels and major news papers, recognized that as incumbent vice-president Al Gore should have been elected (which for the majority of vote, and legally, he was) the next president of the U.S. but he wasn’t: “We US citizens (I am one since 1984) have what we deserve”, I told to myself for a long time. Time has proven that that was indeed the case.
We have seen the lies, the corruption, the clientelism, the self-serving interests that unfortunately is one version of democracy that is still at work. And a combination of enormous mistakes, the pressure of international critiques and opposition and the slow, undecided at times but relentless attentiveness of democrats contributed to show that we, US citizens, deserve nothing that we can be proud of. Examples to illustrate the self-serving, narrow and wrong-headed interests defended by the government of the US in the past six years abound. I would like to give three from my own collection.
Just take a few minutes, read and contrast George W. Bush’s Presidential address on January of 2007, justifying the need to send more troops to Iraq with the Inaugural address, in the same month of January, delivered by Rafael Correa, elected President of Ecuador. Correa’s discourse was nothing like the empty set of promises citizens are used to hearing from presidential candidates. His key expression, (“this is a change of era and not just an era of changes) shall be taken seriously; as well as his critiques of the “inhuman”aspects of globalization to which the government of George W. Bush has greatly contributed. But nothing has been more revealing than the enormous mistake made by the “American people”in electing and re-electing George W. Bush, with the complicity of the legal procedures lead by James A. Baker III than the growing visibility of An Inconvenient Truth, the well known documentary by Al Gore. It is not just the “success”of the documentary I am referring to but to something much larger than the popular commodity that the documentary has become. And of course, there is a danger of consumerism. The danger is that consumers will be satisfied with “having it”or proud that “I have seen it”, disregarding immediately the process of which the documentary is a particular moment and the dangers that An Inconvenient Truth reveals and alert us with desperation. And the point is this: if you are a US citizen concerned with the idea that “terrorists hate us and they want to kill us”, you may be overlooking the fact that US citizens and denizens, as well as citizens and denizens of this wonderfully globalized world, may dieâ€”and if not die live under miserable conditionsâ€”because the planetâ€”which doesn’t hate usâ€”will end up killing us because we hate her (the planet, Mother Earth, Pachamama, Gaia). Now, when we contrast the mission would-be President Al Gore would have set for the global leadership of the U.S. and the one we have suffered in the past six years, the conclusion is clear: we, citizens of the US living in the best nation of the world, have what we deserve. Unfortunately, people of the world are also suffering the consequences of what we, Americans , deserve.
Fortunately, Al Gore is not alone. His message, of global reach, and his role as intellectual and activist (perhaps too much for a President of the U.S) is not a solitary enterprise. People around the world have been realizing that governments and international institutions (e.g. United Nations, World Bank, IMF) are not going to do the job that will save the planet and the majority of its inhabitants. We are witnessing these days another example of the conflict between private interests and human survival: the nascent project of “agro-combustible”to replace the political and economic problem presented by the fact that oil is under. The recent visit to South America tried to solve, was not for the survival of the planet and those of us who live in it, but for the self-interests of an elite that has governed the country and “lead”the world in the past five years. While it is expected that “agrocombustible”would help solve the political and economic problems presented by nonrenewable natural resources, the consequences it will have for “food sovereignity”is mostly disregarded. Fortunately, Al Gore has become in the US the most visible figure of a global process of which “food sovereignty”is one among many.
I am not here campaigning for Al Gore’s candidacy in the next elections. I am just underlining the fact that, looking in retrospect to November 4th, 2007, we have what we deserve, both as citizens with the right to vote and as citizens who support a legal system that allowed James A. Baker III to “extend an offer”to George W. Bush for the presidency of the US. And I am stressing also that, as Al Gore himself states in An Inconvenient Truth, terrorism is not perhaps our biggest danger for survival.
PS: After Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize, Paul Krugman published a series of pointed articles some among them asking and answering why Republicans are so uncomfortable with the turn of events. Well, i will re-state my case: we got what we deserved.