Election 2016: Righteousness and Left-Leaning Progressivism

Special for the Armenian Weekly

As the presidential primary process has progressed, the importance of favoring progressive policies of the American left has only grown. A clear divide differentiates visions articulated by the left for a more just, tolerant, and peaceful America, and the right for a more hawkish, discriminatory, and deregulated America.

Previously, I argued that reigning in corruption, protecting human rights, and pursuing diplomacy over war marked three major touchstones in the American left that will benefit the United States, Armenia, and the Armenian Diaspora. This article extends the position and concludes that “Armenian issues” in the American political arena must not exist in a vacuum.

Democratic Party candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders during a debate (Photo: CNN video capture)
Democratic Party candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders during a debate (Photo: CNN video capture)

 

Corruption: Inequality and Obstruction

An untempered stew of globalization, hyper-consumerism, and “trickle town” policies (thank you, President Reagan) has disproportionately benefitted top income earners. Wealth and power abound in the sectors of insurance, pharmaceuticals, oil, mining, real estate, weaponry, telecommunications, and information technology (among others). This trend has burgeoned juggernaut, private-sector multinationals—from Halliburton to Monsanto to Verizon—to harness their clout over elected officials and steer politics to sustain this unbalanced system. The Urban Institute reports that between 1963 and 2013, wealth inequality has spiked to favor the highest income earners while middle class wages stagnated. The evidence is overwhelming: America’s economy disproportionately serves top income earners in the private sector and not the middle class. Limiting government regulation upon the private sector, a policy prescription from America’s right, will not bring about the reforms necessary to fix this unsustainable trend.

Oligarchs have leveraged not just America’s economy, but also Armenia’s where a heightened version of the same system unfolds. Private corporations, many with roots in Russia, have plundered Armenia’s environment and middle class, putting the fragile nation in a downward spiral worsened by declining population, vanishing government regulations, and rising corruption. At nearly 18 percent of GDP, remittances render a false hope for Armenia’s future. Oligarchs hike rates, buy elections, and occupy key government posts, consolidating a system with little incentive to change. Obstructionism also deteriorates the rule of law’s integrity in both countries. In America, the current incarnation of this tension has unfolded with the vacancy of Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court chair. On the day of Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” He went on to state that the right wing in the Senate would reject any nomination presented by President Obama despite the fact that article 2, section 2, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution vests to the president the power to nominate Supreme Court judges.

This position sounds reasonable on the surface. It appeals to our buy-in with the democratic process and a sense of “people power.” However, the subtext points to a troubling willingness by the right wing to bypass the constitution for political gain in a historically unprecedented move. The last time the Supreme Court had a vacancy that lasted longer than a year was before the U.S. Civil War, and Obama still has more than enough time in his term to fill the vacancy. By denying the president his constitutional right, McConnell ironically exercised loose constructionism in the pursuit of further constitutional originalism. McConnell lacks the authority to place a time limit on Obama’s constitutional authority as president. Such actions exacerbate the corruption that flourishes in any political system—be it America’s, Armenia’s, Egypt’s, and beyond—where the rule of law can be bypassed by those with enough power. The entire right-wing presidential field supported McConnell’s declaration, confirming one of the many troubling issues with today’s American right-wing political culture of schoolyard obstructionism.

The United States and Armenia must both pursue reigning in this corruption, a complement or by-product of obstructionist oligarchs and political operatives. The presence of American diplomacy, academics, and development funds in Armenia means that the Armenian government has a “better way” towards which to pivot. Right now, Russian influence dominates the culture of Armenian government and society. This is not necessarily a bad thing, nor a surprise given Armenia’s location and history. Russia has become the last hope for economically marginalized Armenian citizens to find a better future, and Russia’s Armenian community has become the world’s largest and arguably wealthiest diaspora, sending in its own wave of resources to make improvements. However, the Russian state’s own practice of aggression and corruption in the region has affected its “little brother” in the South Caucasus. Regional tensions compel Armenia to reach out for assistance.

Can the United States offer Armenia a vision and opportunities more compelling than what Russia offers? It has, and it can continue to do so in a more pronounced way. One core value that must drive this relationship is the pursuit of better governing practices in the face of electoral fraud, widespread bribery, evisceration of the rule of law, and the many other forms of corruption that tarnish Armenia’s independence.

 

Human Rights: Discrimination, Hate Speech, and the High Road

The left wing has consistently stood on the forefront to advance America’s human rights record. Advocating for the legal protection of the disabled, laborers, women, African Americans, and beyond has been a fight to preserve humanity in the face of power, particularly when that power was derived from corrupt economic practices. In the mid-1800’s, for example, the American South became one of the world’s wealthiest regions thanks to ballooning cotton production yielded through slave labor. Slavery marked the South’s most precious labor commodity, and one of the major reasons why they refused to provide basic human rights to African Americans.

GOP candidates 2016 (Photo: Fox News)
GOP candidates at the start of the 2016 campaign season (Photo: Fox News)

Today, the American South remains a hotbed for pockets of racist extremism. Look no further than Mississippi’s state flag that boasts within it the confederate flag, a controversial symbol of racism in the United States. Until last year’s horrific shooting in a predominantly Black Charleston church, South Carolina flew the confederate flag over its statehouse. Parks, streets, and towns throughout the South maintain the names of racist confederate war “heroes.” Imagine walking down a street called “Talaat Boulevard.”

Days ago, leading right-wing presidential contender Donald Trump embraced an endorsement from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who gained notoriety for racist remarks against African-American colleagues and institutions. Then, Trump waffled on handling the support of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. McConnell condemned Trump for doing so, underscoring the continued fracturing within the American right’s core identity. The likelihood of the GOP consolidating support around its eventual nominee is minimal at best. Consider Mitt Romney’s recent remarks.

Indeed, juxtaposing the rhetoric on the left and right can reveal the quality of character and thinking on both sides. On the left, contenders critique one another’s records on voting, policy positions, and public service. On the right, contenders have accused one another of wetting themselves, sweating too much, and wearing makeup. Yes, mudslinging has always colored electoral politics, but the exchanges on the right have degraded political discourse into a reality TV spectacle.

The right has not just levied rancorous rhetoric among its own ranks; they’ve taken aim at the left. For example, Marco Rubio’s attacks against President Obama defy reason. In a recent ad, Rubio suggested that Obama lacks the competence to address terrorist threats (Who took out Osama Bin Laden?) and that he plots to take guns away from Americans. Both claims lack evidence and reflect Rubio’s attempt to stir voters’ sentiments, not reason. This appeal to emotion reflects tactics that stretch as far back as the 1st century AD when Cicero stated, “Man is moved more by passion than by reason.” Hitler extended the claim: “Propaganda must be aimed at the emotions and only to a very limited degree at the so-called intellect.” Donald Trump also utilizes this strategy, especially in his degrading commentary towards women, Muslims, and many others (except Mussolini).

The right wing’s Islamophobic rhetoric is unsubstantiated and will only fuel the fire of anti-American sentiment among Islamic extremists. From the Spanish Inquisition to the Crusades to Israel’s ghettoization of Palestinians, every major faith group today bemoans dark chapters in its history. Most troubling is the notion that the majority of Muslims—some 1.6 billion people across the world—can be lumped into a single category worthy of suspicion. As the descendants of minorities subjected to hate speech and genocide, Armenians must summarily reject intolerance in all forms. Contrary to the right wing’s belief, the world is not in a grand struggle between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. No, the world faces a grand struggle between moderates and extremists.

As the descendants of minorities subjected to hate speech and genocide, Armenians must summarily reject intolerance in all forms. Contrary to the right wing’s belief, the world is not in a grand struggle between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. No, the world faces a grand struggle between moderates and extremists.

Corruption in the government and private sector limits accountability mechanisms that ensure elected officials promote the welfare of the entire society, not just loyalists. In such a system, human rights wither. A 2015 report by Human Rights Watch underscores how this corruption in Armenia has translated to infringements on freedom of assembly and expression; the implementation of torture and ill-treatment in custody; a culture of violence, abuse, and neglect in the military and psychiatric institutions; unnecessary restrictions on palliative care; and repeated hate crimes against those whose political, sexual, religious, and/or personality orientations insult conservative identity formulations. As (mostly) diasporan outsiders, we must consider what kind of value system we want our (American) public and private sector officials to represent during their time in Armenia, particularly as a compelling alternative to what Russia offers. The American left’s progress in protecting the basic human rights of its people has resulted in inspirational victories to uplift women, African Americans, people with mental illness, the excessively incarcerated, the poor, and beyond. No political faction is better positioned to offer Armenia a more tolerant social vision than the American left.

 

Diplomacy Trumps War: The Flaws of Engagement

From the war in Vietnam to the war in Iraq, the troubled history of American intervention offers a cautionary tale for how to consider the next administration’s engagement with the international arena. The fragility of the Middle East, Syria in particular, has disoriented Armenian communities the world over. American engagement in the Middle East has created more questions than it has answered, and no amount of aggressive posturing—a hallmark of the right—will resolve simmering tensions.

In 2015, the United States spent $598.5 billion, or 54 percent, of its discretionary spending on the military. To put that figure in perspective, it would take the combined annual military expenditures of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, India, and South Korea to match the United States. No nation could ever topple America’s military might. However, today’s greatest threats to America come in the form of non-state actors like al-Qaeda and ISIS. What these bodies lack in finances (relative to the American military industrial complex) they make up for with zealot recruits cropped from communities of the economically and intellectually marginalized. Poverty and a lack of education lead to their radical ideologies taking root.

The United States cannot “carpet bomb” its way to erasing radical Islamic extremism. Such actions would extend the failed policies of the Iraq and Vietnam Wars, exacerbating resentment and scorn towards the United States. Instead, this country must utilize non-military foreign policy instruments, such as diplomacy and foreign aid, to lift millions out of poverty with education and economic opportunity. There is certainly enough wealth in the government’s budget and the nation’s economy to invest in such solutions.

 

Conclusion: A Vote for the Right Would Be a Vote for Corruption, Discrimination, and War

Placing “Armenian issues” into a vacuum places Armenian political and intellectual identity into a vacuum. These issues belong instead to a wider conversation about good governance (against corruption), human rights (opposing Aliyev’s Trumpesque rhetoric, for example), and international affairs (diplomacy trumps war). Some of America’s major diasporan institutions have simplified the process of evaluating candidates to a simple checklist on “Armenian issues,” often with the Armenian Genocide litmus test towering at the top.

Placing “Armenian issues” into a vacuum places Armenian political and intellectual identity into a vacuum. These issues belong instead to a wider conversation about good governance (against corruption), human rights (opposing Aliyev’s Trumpesque rhetoric, for example), and international affairs (diplomacy trumps war).

The candidates before us are not defined by their stance on “Armenian issues” alone, just as “Armenian issues” are not defined independent of their relation to wider considerations about the South Caucasus, the Middle East, Russia, and beyond. A presidential candidate’s full record must be analyzed to properly determine whether or not they possess the sound judgment to occupy the White House. For example, does Marco Rubio’s base rhetoric against Donald Trump and fear mongering false claims about Obama’s plans to steal guns in America really indicate someone fit to occupy the White House?

Donald Trump at the South Carolina Tea Party Convention on Jan. 16. (Photo: Donaldjtrump.com)
Donald Trump at the South Carolina Tea Party Convention on Jan. 16. (Photo: Donaldjtrump.com)

Rather than ask which candidate will make a declaration recognizing the Armenian Genocide or condemning Turkey, Armenians in America and throughout the diaspora should consider which candidates would be best positioned to promote an agenda that opposes corruption, uplifts human rights, and pursues peaceful resolutions to international conflicts. These touchstones of the American left can with greater effect and sustainability compel Turkey’s government to improve its human rights record, which may be the best hope for Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide and halt its record of state-sponsored discrimination against Armenians and other minority groups.

With the continued fragility of the Middle East and Russia’s regional aggression, Turkey will remain of strategic significance to the United States as a major partner in trade, military, and refugee processing. The next president, regardless of party affiliation, will not jeopardize this relationship by publicly recognizing the Armenian Genocide. American politicians can only deviate from the demands of the state so much. But they can leverage the state apparatus to promote values and ideologies through foreign aid, leadership, and civil society development. What’s more, centuries of the Turkish state’s neglect and discrimination towards the Armenian identity in Anatolia will not find catharsis in any act of Congress or presidential declaration.

The touchstones of the American left will also offer Armenia’s government—riddled with its own unsustainable corruption and discrimination—a “better way” towards which to pivot. The American right’s intolerant rhetoric towards Muslims, women, and immigrants would hardly put the United States in a position to lead an international coalition against corruption, discrimination, and war. Instead, we would become Vladimir Putin’s echo chamber.

In this presidential election cycle, a vote for the right would be a vote for corruption, discrimination, and war. That is not a winning formula—not for America, not for Armenia, not for humankind. I urge any and all major Armenian institutions, stakeholders, and individuals to support the cause of social harmony, righteousness, and left-leaning progressivism.

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Raffi Wartanian

Raffi Wartanian’s work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, The Huffington Post, and World Policy Journal.

25 Comments

  1. As an Armenian American, I am monitoring the presidential elections extensively, and your article is absolutely incorrect as you do not understand the current Establishment politics whether it be Left or Right. Furthermore, encouraging Armenian-Americans to join Socialists is an insult to my family and millions of Armenians who have suffered under the Soviet regime which included restrictions on Free Speech, Religious Freedoms and Free Expression of our national history. For example, in order for books on Armenian history to be published, Soviets mandated that it be written from a Marxist narrative. We limited in the amount of national expression which was regulated by Moscow. In your article you have advocated for leaning Left, as if the Left is not corrupt. Let me allude you to the current scandal Hillary Clinton is currently in and the potential for Federal Criminal Indictment. Furthermore, let’s analyze the Left’s violent speech that has advocated for the assassination of a Republican candidate, a double standard that is absolutely sickening. The Left prides itself of be tolerant, however, they are far from that. The attack on the family by redefining the family is against the core fabric of the Armenian identity. You are advocating for an ideology that counters our national views and traditions. We (Armenian-Americans) had the same hope in the current President who promised to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, however, that was a major disappointment that we all experienced.

    In order for Armenian to flourish, it must clean up it’s interior mess and allow prosperity to flourish from free markets. Restrictive Socialist regimes don’t allow for free markets. Lastly, do not confuse the situation taking place- the socialization of America with free capitalism.

  2. Obama didn’t even recognize the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. I don’t see how you can advocate for the Democratic Party so strongly (although I’m not suggesting you advocate for the Republican party either).

    Give me the candidate (party) that will finally give Armenians our just recognition. The Jewish Holocast shouldn’t be the only Holocast recognized by the US government. Until the Democrats recognize the violation of Human Rights experienced by the Armenians I don’t believe either party has earned unequivocal support of Armenian-Americans.

    • Does your “American” half care about anything involving America – like social justice, universal healthcare, better race relations, the educational system … You did say you are “Armenian-American” – right?

    • Such a lazy response. Do you disagree with Raffi about racism in the South? Do you disagree that corruption both in the US and Armenia is a problem and needs to be dealt with? What is it that you exactly disagree with?

  3. This is a horrible politically disguised article from the US Political machinery. The Democrats are as corrupt as the Republicans and the Armenian government as corrupt as it may be, is not in the same league as the corruption in this country. The United states is going through a major change through Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The people are tired of the old system and are looking for a change and old time politicians are fighting the Nation tooth and nail. They are trying to circumvent the will of the people through media, political systems and even Mitt Romney. You are supporting them. Shame on you.

    • “Shame on you.” REALY? Why, because he is giving the readers some suggestions to consider? Because, he cares about betterment of everyone and not just ONE group of people? Why should Raffi be ashamed? What is the basis for your false outrage?

  4. I don’t know who Wartanian is, but all he’s done is spout the same nonsense we’ve been hearing from the left for years.

    It would be an easy task to refute almost all of what he says, but a tremendous waste of my time.

    Instead, I’ll just say what I believe should be the priorities for the next president: (1) get the federal budget under control, (2) end the Mexican invasion and (3) bring jobs back to America. The socialists in the democrat party are not going to do any of these things. They will only continue on the path to bankruptcy and destroy everything that has made America great.

    It’s a shame that Wartanian has been poisoned by the left wing university types that hate everything good about America. But then he’s very young and undoubTly fits the profile to a tee of the very famous quote variously attributed to Clemenceau, Bismark, Lloyd George and Churchill among others: Any man who is not a socialist at age 25 has no heart. Any man who is still
    a socialist at age 40 has no brains. So maybe all is not ultimately lost.

  5. Clearly, Raffi is not a real Armenian because he’s been drinking the Kool Aid from the political Left. If he were one of us he’d be drinking water or ayran or raki…or maybe some good Armenian brandy. Evidently, he has no idea that “Hill the Kill” Clinton has actively denied recognition of the Armenian Genocide by this country and has repeatedly lied to the Armenian people on this topic. Bernie Sanders who is little more than a burned out old hippie from the northeast could care less about the plight of the diaspora for genocide recognition. Raffi will continue to live in his Progressive paradise where all people live in peace and harmony while battling climate change.

  6. You could do little better than to keep your political opinions to yourself. Liberal Democrats have done nothing more for Armenia and Armenians than pull the wool over wishful eyes. I would rather our people receive no promises than be immersed in endless streams of broken promises.

    • You do realize that you are reading the Op-Ed section :) “keep your political opinions to yourself”

  7. One question for the writer.
    For seven years we had a democratic administration:
    1- What did Obama do for the Armenian cause, or have any influence to improve economic, political conditions in Armenia?
    2- What did Hilary Clinton do as Secretary of State, other than totally reversing her position on the Genocide and refer it to historians?
    You are so biased, you cannot even see straight or admit the facts.
    No further comment is necessary.

    Vart Adjemian
    Vart Adjemian

    • Both Obama and HRC did what every administration before them did – both Democrat and Republican. Raffi is a writer and he is expressing his opinion based on his understanding the political reality in DC. By definition, opinions of a person have a bias since it is their view of the world. Lastly, he is addressing multiple issues and suggesting that it may no longer be affective to pursue a single issue agenda. That’s not such a bad idea to consider if you want to matter and influence things :)

  8. Wartanian’s argument is clear and correct: single-issue politics, as has a long history in the Armenian-American diasporan community, fails to see that all politics take place in a context. Genocide recognition, for example, is impossible so long as Turkey is crucial to American interests.
    The burden we carry as the descendants of survivors is to act ethically, to reject war and nationalist violence, To protect everyone’s human rights (and not just our own), and to stand against inequality and corruption.

  9. Oh come on Mr Wartanian, you’ve been drinking the koolaid. This admistration has done nothing for Armenia nor will they do anything in the future. Same deception, empty promises & same old story. Broaden your mind by fair & balanced self education of this administration & presidential candidates. Do yourself a favor & for your readers. Look for their true agenda . Most of all, check their dirty laundry, long list. Wow, you are misinformed and very close minded.

    • “misinformed” – how? “very close minded” – how so and on what issue? “Same deception, empty promises & same old story.” – so you’re saying this administration is not alone in not doing what a special interest group is demanding of it? “fair & balanced” – WAY TOO MUCH time with Fox News.

  10. Thank you Raffi for your excellent articles. The Armenian community and the larger community in general, will benefit significantly in having you express the issues you have in such a clear, thoughtful and well written manner. Keep up the good work.

  11. Fool me once. I remember Armenian media encouraging everyone to vote for Obama. What did we get? No genocide recognition and a war in Syria that destroyed the Armenian community. We lost ancient Kesab that survived the Ottomans! Let that sink in. We elected a president that no only was a liar about recognition, but gave the green light to Turkey to flood in the terrorists that killed and displaced Armenians a century later after the genocide. Not to mention reduce aid to Armenia and increase it to Azerbaijan and attempted to orchestrate colored revolutions and failed. NO THANK YOU.

  12. Recognizing the Armenian Genocide is not in the best interests of US. Period. No politician can change that in the near future. But some candidates are better positioned than others to ever supporting our Genocide cause. Hillary Clinton is one of the worst candidates here. As a State Secretary she plainly stated that the Armenian Genocide is not a recognized historical fact. Can a US top ranking official be more insulting than this?

    Though the author has several valid points, I don’t think being favorable to the Genocide recognition is so much of a left- or right-leaning matter as a matter of personal integrity. Hillary Clinton is known to have lied on many occasions in her career based on the political expediency of the moment. She certainly lied as State Secretary, and she will undoubtedly lie if she is elected as president.

    I think the best candidate for us Armenians is the most honest one which is Bernie Sanders. But I also agree with the Mr. Wartanian that we shouldn’t judge the candidates in a vacuum. Sanders does need to prove his total commitment to issues such as oligarchy and corruption which are highly relevant for Armenia. So, in my opinion he is the best candidate for the US and Armenia as well.

    • A correction to what I said above, it should read: “Sanders does NOT need to prove his total commitment to issues such as oligarchy and corruption which are highly relevant for Armenia.”

  13. Washington’s greatest strength continues to be is its devilish ability to deceive even the healthiest of minds. I suggest you people wake up from your silly dreams and realize that “democracy” does not exist in the US, it never has. The US has been founded on genocide, slavery and war. If recognizing the Armenian Genocide fit the strategic formulations of imperial officials in Washington, we would not even need an Armenian lobby in Washington, it would happen automatically.

  14. I hope the Armenian Weekly is not turning into a leftist propaganda outlet. And I hope that everyone is also given their opportunity to voice their concerns inclusively instead of selectively in matters which are not directly Armenian oriented.

    So I will say this again. As an Armenian-American, I don’t know which candidate is good for our community, in fact I think none of them are, as they have always lied to us.

    But as an American, I would see Trump as an interesting choice who seems to have the best interests of the American public so far, because he is interested the betterment of the country without any establishment funding him and pulling the strings, like they are with Clinton, Cruz and all the rest. I don’t know if he is the right President because of his “unpresidential” disposition, but all the candidates thus far are unqualified for the post in my opinion.

    Clinton becoming President will mean the continuation of and more of the neocon politics started by the Bushes, and Democrat or Republican they showed us the same policies for the past few decades. In fact, under Democrats, this country has now been consummated as effectively an indirect police state. If they were truly ‘different’ they would have reversed course on citizens’ rights violations starting from Bush. In the greater scheme all the bickering that is taking place between the two parties are shallow. The system is set up that way.

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