Desperately seeking Rudy

22 Nov 2020

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The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

WITH not just sweat running down his face as he was up against a barrage of media questions debunking his conspiracy theories to claim that Donald Trump, and not Joe Biden, was the winner of the US presidential election 2020, was former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The argument that we live in a global village may be somewhat over-egged but there can be no doubt that information technology today enables us to learn of what is happening as it’s happening in distant parts of the world.

This real-time transmission of images, footage and audio also allows us to quickly form opinions and see similarities in seemingly very dissimilar parts of the world. Let me elaborate. When Mr Giuliani came under media pressure at a White House briefing, an aide, a lawyer herself, came to his rescue.

Just as Rudy Giuliani’s (cheap and, for want of a better word, flimsy) hair dye was being washed out of his hair by his nervous and profuse sweating and running down his cheeks in black streaks, one of his legal team gently nudged him aside and took the mike.

We are in for trying times and we don’t have a Rudy Giuliani to provide comic relief.

“Your question is flawed. You are asking for evidence. You appear to have no understanding of how the legal process works,” she told a journalist who, not unlike other journalists in the room and millions of Americans elsewhere, was asking the Trump legal team if they could produce evidence to back their electoral fraud allegations.

This ludicrous stance came in for a bit of stick but not as much as it deserved, as all attention obviously turned to the streaks that were threatening to blacken the face of the Trump legal team head who is reportedly charging the president $20,000 a day for his services.

This was a man who just weeks earlier had made a fool of himself on camera while appearing in a staged interview by the wicked Sasha Baron Cohen for his ‘Borat’ sequel film when Rudy Giuliani is said to have behaved inappropriately before the young actor playacting as a woman TV reporter.

And then of course there was that disaster in Philadelphia where he addressed a press conference at the ‘Four Seasons’ forecourt which, it emerged, was not the upmarket hotel but a landscaping firm sandwiched between a crematorium and a porn shop.

Standing alongside him at the presser to offer personal evidence of vote fraud was a ‘witness’ who, it later transpired, was a convicted felon, raising serious questions about his credibility and that too in such an important case as a disputed presidential election.

Reverting to the legal team member’s view that a journalist’s question was ‘flawed’ because he was asking for evidence, reminded me of our own 2013 election when one of the unsuccessful contenders in that exercise made allegations of rigging.

Not just that. The politician in question also cited a supposed statement by a caretaker chief minister where the latter supposedly said there were ‘paintee painchurs’ (35 punctures) meaning that 35 Punjab constituencies had been rigged.

When asked for evidence, the politician’s and his party’s leading lights continued to insist they were speaking from knowledge. When faced with a legal challenge later, this stance was changed to ‘Someone told me of this quote and I used it in a lighter vein’.

Despite its earlier reluctance, the Supreme Court was drawn into the issue. A judicial commission headed by the chief justice concluded that the election was “fair and in accordance with the law”. That did not stop the party that considered itself aggrieved from continuing its ‘we were wronged’ narrative.

And neither will Trump, despite a string of failed legal challenges due to his lawyers’ inability to present evidence.

Populist leaders will be that and nothing else. One is reminded of the Trump-led ‘lock her up’ slogans at rallies during the 2016 elections when he was up against Hillary Clinton and was claiming she had a case to answer for using her personal email for official correspondence as secretary of state.

However, having won the election he dropped the plan to have Ms Clinton investigated and prosecuted for an alleged security breach, telling supporters raising the ‘lock her up’ demand, “That plays great before the election — now we don’t care, right?”

He also said the idea of prosecuting Clinton is “just not something I feel very strongly about”, and proceeded to focus on the economy. In our case, ‘Chhorunga nahi … bohot rulayunga’ (‘I won’t spare them ... will make them suffer’) state of mind prevailed post-2018 elections too and had disastrous consequences for the economy.

While it is reassuring that those at the helm in Pakistan are taking the Covid-19 threat seriously now, it was not the same when the pandemic first erupted earlier in the year and one of the provincial governments tried to take on the threat head-on. Its measures were the subject of derision by Islamabad and termed as destructive to the economy. Event­ual­­ly, the provincial government was forced to climb down from its stance. Now the shoe seems to be on the other foot.

With the opposition’s mass contact campaign gaining momentum, the government wants it to cancel its scheduled public meetings. The Covid-19 threat is real. And the government may well be propelled by public interest but its stance is not viewed as credible by its opponents.

The opposition parties are pointing to the campaign by all political parties, including the governing party in the Gilgit-Baltistan elections, which continued till last week when the spike in infections was already in evidence. And government ministers kept campaigning undeterred.

In what appears to be a tense political impasse and grave Covid-19 scenario, we are in for trying times. We don’t have a Rudy Giuliani to provide comic relief. An array of spin doctors seen on TV daily may appear funny sometimes but mostly make one want to weep. So, where do we go?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2020