Jackson, There and here: public affairs at summer’s end

Traditionally the sort of rhetoric that earns a person a visit from the Secret Service.

The editor observes and opines:

Off and running for the midterm elections…

Donald Trump’s anointee for governor of Wisconsin is calling on supporters to go after news media people whom he doesn’t like with “pitchforks and torches.” Trump’s man for US senator from Wisconsin, an incumbent, protests that he was only for overthrowing the results of the 2020 election via a slate of fake electors for a “couple of seconds.” He submitted the bogus document to former Vice President Pence, but now says he didn’t know what he was doing.  “I had virtually no involvement,” he now says. “Literally, my involvement lasted seconds, OK?” It doesn’t stop Johnson from having one of those fake electors on his campaign staff payroll.

Trump’s Pennsylvania picks have a TV doctor removed from the Columbia university part-time faculty for promoting unscientific quack cures for COVID and other conditions and a GOP gubernatorial candidate who hangs out with anti-Semites, QAnon freaks and has a Pizzagate conspiracy theorist on his weird campaign crew.

The GOP senator from South Carolina says it’s “obvious” that there will be “rioting in the streets” if charges are brought against Trump for his clearly illegal taking of White House documents, some of them containing secrets of the utmost sensitivity. Nazis were marching in the streets of Indianapolis over the weekend.

The Republican candidate for US Senate in Georgia is the quintessential dumb jock, a true birdbrain. And Trump himself is screeching like a wounded bird since the FBI raided his illegal stolen document stash at Mar-a-Lago.

The US economy is slowly recovering, but if fell so far due to the COVID epidemic. People are hurting and many of them are blaming Joe Biden. The thing is, though, that Joe Biden isn’t on the ballot this year.

There are instead all of these “down-ticket” races in which candidates get to run on their own merits or demerits — against a backdrop of far-right incitement to violence.

In so many states, the Republicans have gerrymandered the electoral maps and passed vote suppression laws. But the GOP is also running on very unpopular abortion bans against all sorts of personal privacy protections, which has generated record huge voter registration among women who are alarmed by that. Election officials and small town librarians are now routinely threatened without having done anything the least bit controversial.

And the investigations, trials and prison sentences for the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot continue. As do business fraud and tax fraud probes against Trump and his companies, and separate attempted election fraud cases against the 2020 Republican operation. As do disbarment proceedings against Trump lawyers for things like lying to judge and submitting bogus documents in offices and courts around the land.

Republicans keep piling it on. We even have this self-proclaimed prophet in the GOP gubernatorial campaign entourage in Pennsylvania who assures us that Nancy Pelosi “loves to drink the little children’s blood” and that Joe Biden is “secretly dead” and played by an actor.

There are people who believe in this crazy stuff and they make get violent about it during the campaign. It’s pretty much the point of all this incitement.

Look for a couple of months of rhetorical and physical lunacy, and a verdict on this in November. However, if you are a US citizen living in Panama, don’t stand by as a spectator. Order your absentee ballot and deliver your judgment. 

While here in Panama…

“Historic day for the country. The decree that created the Citizens Commission Against Corruption went into effect, its members can file complaints with the Public Ministry, special prosecutors or other offices, for possible punishable acts against the public administration.” EXCEPT THAT, everybody already had this formal right, which, through officials’ prejudices about who matters in this country, has been rendered nearly meaningless for a long time.

Back to normal / Slide into irrelevance?

On the morning of Sunday, September 4, the Twitter trends from Panama were headed by a celebrity photo challenge, #LindaBranChallenge, sponsored by a journalist in Ricky Martinelli’s media and attorney, Linda Bran. Of the other top 50 topics, one is perhaps related to a young independent member of the National Assembly, Juan Diego Vásquez (number 25), one about a drug bust in Panama Oeste where the cops found more money than drugs (number 32), one about a brazen robbery in Panama City’s banking district (number 37) and in last place the arguments as the “dialogue” in Penonome were fading out into next to nothing.

It’s not Labor Day Weekend HERE, but it is in the USA. Moreover, those talks in Penonome started in response to a labor uprising in July. So what is Panamanian labor saying now? Things like:

“The government kicked over the table. There is no negotiating table.”

“The government disrespects the accords.”

“Let’s take to the streets.”

“We won’t accept mockery or disrespect!”

So, sounds that lead the same families as always to rejoice? A great white victory to toast with Macallan single malt whiskey in upscale suites? Labor definitively crushed? Martinelista celebrity talk on top, K-pop music and European soccer in between, a crime story here and there, and working people bumped off the bottom edge of the Panamanian Twitterverse?

It reflects this strange combination of an artificial world shaped with bots and trolls, a penchant to be entertained rather than informed among part of the population and a seething hatred that’s not going away. Panama is unstable even if a lot of money is being spent to prove that it isn’t so.

Don’t expect July’s protests to start back up as they were. Don’t expect the Chamber of Commerce and friends to go right back to the practices that set off those protests.

Might we see such rule of law that Martinelli is tried, convicted, disqualified from the 2024 elections and stripped of his media empire? Might happen, but don’t bet the farm on that.

Even less likely will be the political caste ending its looting spree. Some of their backers, and a lot more of their paid followers, however, are about to find themselves expendable. External forces are still at work, the ways we have seen are intrinsically unsustainable, and there is hardly anyone else available to take the loss. The gringos are not coming to the rescue, neither the US government nor sufficient numbers of naïve newcomers to be defrauded. China’s not going to fight the Americans for us.

Only Panamanians are going to save Panama, the “What’s in it for me?” crowd is known and popularly reviled, the PRD has had most of its turn and won’t be immediately invited to take another, and what the polls say now are unlikely predictors of May 2024. There is no obvious choice. Panamanians are more united on what we don’t want. There’s very little chance of going back, but which way forward is up in the air. Setting aside all the manipulations of politics, media and social media, it seems at this point to be an unpleasant set of questions which most people here prefer to avoid. We are a nation adrift.

Eric Jackson
September 4, 2022



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