“Ten Years After the Spring,” a commentary in The Economist, looked back — back over the ten years since the beginning of what came to be called the Arab Spring. The trigger was the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor after his fruit cart was confiscated because he wouldn’t pay extortion money to get a permit. His final words, “How do you expect me to make a living?” The final image: Muhammad Bouazizi in flames.
The author notes the region (not Tunisia) is less free today and concludes: “One lesson autocrats learned from the Arab Spring is that any flicker of dissent must be snuffed out fast, lest it spread.” Donald J. Trump’s business and political lives reflect the same lesson. I don’t know where he learned it, but what is apparent is that mere criticism provokes a harsh reaction.
And what is equally apparent is that a high percentage of Republican elected officials bow down. While political Parties are celebrated as being representative, much of today’s Party leadership is subservient and awaits instructions—from Donald J. Trump.
Perhaps the most topical about-face occurred when Georgia Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue reversed course within a week. They were against $2,000 stimulus checks and then after getting the new script from the President were for them. And then there are Party officials who heralded the election of more Republican Members of Congress, while subserviently challenging the integrity of the Presidential line on the same ballot because Trump told them to.
Senator Josh Hawley, who all but wears a blinking neon sign proclaiming his ambition, has decided to challenge the election of Joe Biden on the U.S. Senate floor. I guess he believes his subservience will serve his future ambition to be The Leader. Rarely has ambition been more oxymoronic.
If subservience to autocratic figures was not so serious, we could simply write it off as script writing for Saturday Night Live. But then the complications of today’s world converts the laughable into the lamentable or worse.
While many are toasting a better outlook for 2021, due to brilliance in the world’s pharmaceutical laboratories, I am not so sanguine. Responding to China, technological disruption, health care and climate change imperatives requires creativity, competitive thinking, and thoughtful advocacy. Subservience serves none of the above. Capitalism has produced national wealth because it serves the quick witted, not the prostrate.
Our votes and Party affiliations in a universe of tens of millions means that the vote or opinion of any one person has very little weight or influence. But here is one person, who proudly served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who refuses to await instructions.
There is, at any given moment, debate about levels of government intrusion in our personal and collective lives. Often it distills down into arguments about various strains of capitalism and socialism. But, the most important division in the Republican Party today is structural. Is the Party an autocracy ruled by one man or one that is comfortable with competitive views and leaders? Choose, you still have a choice.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.