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Todd Spitzer handcuffing a patron of a restaurant, and then taking Norberto Santana to court for a related report on that incident, was indeed a bizarre and troubling conduct for a high ranking county politician. Actions of the Board of Supervisors as a whole restricting public participation in the county’s decision making process, and ignoring the DA’s snitch scandal, prompted Norberto to make an analogy to Castro’s type of government. Fidel had just died, and as Cuban American, Norberto understandably made this negative comparison.
Would I, a Chilean-American, have called them little Pinochets, or little Videlas, or little Castelo Brancos? Satirical images play a powerful role in politics, like calling Nixon “Tricky Dick” or Obama “the Deporter in Chief”, but the overall and isolated usage of these type of images can have a detrimental effect if taken out of the their contexts. As much as the County supervisors, and many politicians at different levels of local government, are not the best type of politicians we think they should be, rather than easily comparing them to dictators, we would better off if we attempt to understand what drives them and allows them to behave in the manner they do.
These imperfect local politicians with their authoritarian tendencies, self-serving goals, prone to corrupt practices, are the product of a democratic process. We elect them. Politicians’ traits have been observed and analyzed for centuries, the Prince by Machiavelli being one of the most well known studies. In modern politics these traits are present, and Spitzer’s actions illustrate them. In addition to the bullying against Norberto, another example is the “end justifies the means” approach used by his team in pursuing the noble goal of establishing the 200 beds homeless shelter, described in this post.
The valid criticism of these type of politicians without presenting acceptable alternatives leads to the questioning of democracy, not only in terms of the importance to vote but most importantly in our right to dissent. Whether the democratic process has been hijacked or corrupted by many interests or factors, is still a process that allows us or gives us the impression that we can participate and make a difference.
The most distorted and dangerous challenge to our democratic process is the Trump phenomenon. An establishment demagogue himself criticizing the “establishment” prevented to reasonable address the social, economic and environmental issues. As a result, significant number of people in my community are living in fear, in fear of having their families separated, of being harassed because of the color of our skin, of our accents. In the meantime we are waiting to what extent his hateful rhetoric will translate into policies , whether the GOP will go along or reject them.
Our flawed politicians are not at the level of dictators, yet. I hope that they will never be. Our pursuit of economic and social justice includes the respect for human rights and dissent, no matter where.