International Bilahari Kausikan on violence in Washington DC: Idealism and idiocy

Bilahari Kausikan on violence in Washington DC: Idealism and idiocy

Former diplomat urges those outside the US to see everything as a whole, without “ideological or ethnic sentimentality"

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Singapore — Rioters stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday (Jan 6), making headlines around the world and forcing members of Congress to leave the building.

It was reported later that four people had died in the insurrection, which many believed to have been incited by President Donald Trump on the day when Congress was to have confirmed the win of Mr Joe Biden in last year’s election.

Longtime civil servant and retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan weighed in on the incident, writing in a Facebook post on Thursday evening (Jan 7) that while he was saddened at the turn of events, he was “not particularly shocked” and “certainly not especially surprised”. 

In his piece, Violence On The Hill: A Short Essay On Ambiguity And Complexity, the former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that he had never had an idealised perspective of American democracy, and that no political system is perfect.

Mr Kausikan said: “There has always been more than one set of American values.

“I’ve always known that the Shining City Upon a Hill has cast dark shadows.

“How could it not be otherwise? Something bright and high up must by definition cast a deep shadow.” 

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Asserting that ideologies in the United States “has always lent itself to extremes”, he added that he considered the events of Jan 6 as one extreme, “a very bad one”.

For him, the display of the US’ weaknesses “are the other side of America’s strengths”, with both springing from the “same fundamental cause: strong commitment to a set of values”.

Mr Kausikan said at least part of the problem is a failure of idealism, which he writes, is in actuality seldom “ideal” and lends itself to extremes. Moreover, it “almost always carries in itself the seeds of its own negation, is almost always self-destructive”, he added, endeavoring to contextualise the rioting that occurred.

“Idiots, and those who stormed Congress certainly are idiots, can be ‘idealists’ of a sort. They too hold their values strongly.”

Perhaps the strongest point the former diplomat was making was for those outside the US to see everything as a whole, without “ideological or ethnic sentimentality”. Every country has its strengths as well as its weaknesses.

He added that while not everything from the Trump presidency was wrong, one benefit to the shocking incidents on Jan 6 is that “Trumpism in its crude form is seriously discredited” with even the closest allies of Mr Trump withdrawing their support.

However, given that over 70 million Americans supported Mr Trump’s re-election bid last year, Mr Kausikan believes that Trumpism “will certainly remerge, and perhaps in a more intelligent form”.

He then urged the public not to adapt their opinions from the US media, as this would lead to “loss of agency”.

Mr Kausikan’s postscript read: “Think! In a month or less, everything will look different — not necessarily better — but at least different.

“Have as happy a new year as possible under the circumstances. Do not get complacent and keep healthy.” /TISG

Read also: ‘Democracy under siege’: International press condemn Trump

‘Democracy under siege’: International press condemn Trump

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