Skip to main content

New Year in November (Reprise) 十一月的新年(重奏)

Four years ago, I wrote an article titled New Year in November about Barack Obama's historic victory. That's what it felt like — a new beginning, a rebirth – even to a blogger half the world away. Four years flew by in the blink of an eye and the president was up for re-election this month. This time I wanted to be there — in America, in the thick of things. I planned my annual home leave in the second week of November and arrived in New York just days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast. Expecting the vote count to last all night, I stocked up on junk food in my hotel room in Midtown Manhattan. I had my laptop showing the electoral map and a calculator to tally the votes. I toggled back-and-forth between CNN and Fox News on the flat-screen TV while posting the latest election results on Facebook. I was a ready for a showdown.

New Year in November (Reprise)

I’m not an American citizen and so I can’t actually vote. Even if I were, my vote wouldn’t have mattered much because New York is what they call a “Blue State,” where residents predominantly vote for the Democratic Party. Under the winner-take-all electoral college system, all of the state’s 29 electoral votes would have gone to Obama regardless which way I would have voted. Since the Bush era, America has become more polarized and adversarial than ever. The political divide between the liberals (“Blue States”) and the conservatives (“Red States”) is so wide that there are even talks of secession. Either side refuses to compromise or acknowledge that their opponents can sometimes be right. This extreme case of partisanship sounds eerily familiar. Here in Hong Kong, the standoff between political movements like People Power (人民力量) and Scholarism (學民思潮) on the one hand, and C.Y. Leung’s government and the pro-Beijing camp on the other hand, turns every policy issue into a binary proposition: my way or the high way. I have always been a staunch liberal and a fervent supporter of the anti-government movement in Hong Kong. These days, I am finding myself increasingly intolerant of dissent and opposing viewpoints. I suppose I am every bit as guilty of partisanship as the political opponents I criticize.

A country polarized

At around 8:15PM on Election Night, after I had barely finished my first Kit Kat bar, NBC News declared Obama the projected winner of Ohio. The 18 electoral votes from the swing state were enough for the president to defeat his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Just like that, the show was over: Obama had won a second term. I was relieved. For a long time I had been genuinely worried that Obama would lose the race. After all, no U.S. president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has been re-elected with the national unemployment rate above 7%. And the stakes were so much higher this time around. It would have been far worse for Obama to lose the re-election in 2012 than to lose the first election in 2008. In American politics, there is no bigger kick-in-the-teeth than a one-term presidency. Just ask Jimmy Carter and George Bush Senior. If Obama had lost to John McCain four years ago, we would have shrugged it off and told ourselves that America wasn’t ready for a black president. But kicking Obama out of the White House after a single term would have been a whole other matter. It would have been tantamount to telling the world that America is ready for a black president but just that the black guy can’t handle the job. It would have made the country look narrow-minded and small. In a way I was as much rooting for America as I was for Obama.

The Republican Party's top (only?) priority

But Obama didn’t really win the election — it was Romney who lost it. Post-mortems are heavily underway, as the Republican Party scrambles to find out what went wrong. Pundits and political analysts are blanketing the airwaves with their own explanations. To me, the reason for Romney's loss is as plain as day: the Tea Party movement. The weak American economy has fueled the rise of radical conservatism, which in turn has intimidated moderate Republicans into taking more extreme social and political positions. While the GOP speaks of fiscal responsibility and job creation, it seems far more interested in rolling back women’s rights and civil liberties. In the process, the Republicans have alienated women, blacks, Hispanics and other minority voters. The radicalization of the Republican Party troubles many Americans and baffles the rest of the world. Outside the U.S., we wonder how a country progressive enough to elect a black president can allow a bunch of red-neck whack jobs to hijack its national agenda. No wonder tourism in America is down and visitors steer clear of the Red States.

A tea partier having a grand old time

With Obama back on the job, all eyes are now on the next election. If my predictions are right, 2016 will see a run-off between Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Clinton has already stepped down as secretary of state to presumably make time for her White House bid. Christie, on the other hand, has been thrust to the national forefront after scoring major political points for his handling of Hurricane Sandy. To increase his odds against the most admired woman in America, the heavy-set WASPy governor will need to lose 100 pounds and learn a little Spanish. I've always wondered why America, a country that revels in political showmanship and invented reality television, doesn't have a first lady debate. It's about time we changed that, starting with Campaign 2016. Imagine the fireworks when Bill Clinton takes on little known Mary Christie on foreign policy in front of tens of millions of viewers. I can't think of a better prime-time entertainment.

Chris Christie and his wife Mary

To those who say that Obama has lost his mojo after a lackluster performance in the first presidential debate, look no further than the way he delivered his victory speech on Election Night. He still has plenty of fire in his belly. And to those who say that Western democracy is doomed because of wasteful campaign spending and paralyzing partisanship, look no further than what Obama said in his victory speech. He offered a cogent rebuttal.

“That’s why we do this,” he explained, “[because] people in distant nations are risking their lives just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”

Obama was talking about us. He was talking about the 1.3 billion Chinese who, just two days ago, were told the names of their new leaders after the National Congress convened behind closed doors. In his first public speech as the new paramount leader, Xi Jinping (習近平) spoke of reform and a better life for the poor. That’s all very kind of Xi, except that not one of us had voted for him.

The new leadership meets the press
__________________________
This article was published on SCMP.com under Jason Y. Ng's column "As I See It."

As posted on SCMP.com

Popular Posts

“As I See It” has moved to www.jasonyng.com/as-i-see-it

As I See It has a new look and a new home!! Please bookmark www.jasonyng.com/as-i-see-it for the latest articles and a better reading experience. Legacy articles will continue to be available on this page. Thank you for your support since 2008. www.jasonyng.com/as-i-see-it

From Street to Chic, Hong Kong’s many-colored food scene 由大排檔到高檔: 香港的多元飲食文化

Known around the world as a foodie’s paradise, Hong Kong has a bounty of restaurants to satisfy every craving. Whether you are hungry for a lobster roll, Tandoori chicken or Spanish tapas, the Fragrant Harbour is certain to spoil you for choice. The numbers are staggering. Openrice, the city’s leading food directory, has more than 25,000 listings—that’s one eatery for every 300 people and one of the highest restaurants-per-capita in the world. The number of Michelin -starred restaurants reached a high of 64 in 2015, a remarkable feat for a city that’s only a little over half the size of London. Amber and Otto e Mezzo occupied two of the five top spots in Asia according to The World’s Best Restaurants , serving up exquisite French and Italian fares that tantalise even the pickiest of taste buds. Dai pai dong is ever wallet-friendly While world class international cuisine is there for the taking, it is the local food scene in Hong Kong that steals the hearts of residents a

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 1 走在崎嶇的路上-上卷

There are things about America that boggle the mind: gun violence , healthcare costs and Donald Trump. But once in a while – not often, just once in a while – the country gets something so right and displays such courage that it reminds the rest of the world what an amazing place it truly is. What happened three days ago at the nation’s capital is shaping up to be one of those instances. From White to Rainbow Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-to-4 decision on same-sex marriage, the most important gay rights ruling in the country’s history. In Obergefell v. Hodges , Justice Kennedy wrote, “It would misunderstand [gay and lesbian couples] to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find fulfillment for themselves… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”  With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made ma

The City that Doesn’t Read 不看書的城市

The Hong Kong Book Fair is the city’s biggest literary event, drawing millions of visitors every July. The operative word in the preceding sentence is “visitors,” for many of them aren’t exactly readers. A good number show up to tsau yit lau (湊熱鬧) or literally, to go where the noise is. In recent years, the week-long event has taken on a theme park atmosphere. It is where bargain hunters fill up empty suitcases with discounted books, where young entrepreneurs wait all night for autographed copies only to resell them on eBay, and where barely legal – and barely dressed – teenage models promote their latest photo albums. And why not? Hong Kongers love a carnival. How many people visit a Chinese New Year flower market to actually buy flowers? Hong Kong Book Fair 2015 If books are nourishment for the soul, then the soul of our city must have gone on a diet. In Hong Kong, not enough of us read and we don’t read enough. That makes us an “aliterate” people: able to read bu

Brexit Lessons for Hong Kong 脫歐的教訓

It was an otherwise beautiful, balmy Friday in Hong Kong, if it weren’t for the cross-Channel divorce that put the world under a dark cloud of fright and disbelief. Asia was the first to be hit by the Brexit shock wave. BBC News declared victory for the Leave vote at roughly 11:45am Hong Kong time – hours before London opened – and sent regional stock markets into a tailspin. The shares of HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank, both listed on the Hong Kong Exchange, plunged 6.5 and 9.5 per cent, respectively... It ended in divorce ________________________ This article appeared in the 29 June 2016 print edition of the South China Morning Post . Read the rest of it on SCMP.com as " After Brexit, Hong Kong voters should take a careful look at what our own localist parties are really selling localist politics ." As published in the print edition of the South China Morning Post

The Beam in Our Eye 眼中的梁木

With 59 confirmed deaths and over 500 wounded, the Las Vegas mass shooting is the deadliest one in modern American history. Places like Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Sandy Hook, Orlando—and now Sin City—are forever associated with carnage and death tolls.  They don't get it Not a week goes by in America without a horrific gun attack in a shopping mall, a school or a movie theatre.People outside the U.S. can’t fathom why the world’s wealthiest country can be in such denial over a simple fact: more guns means more gun-related deaths. But they don’t get it, don’t now? Instead, they tell us foreigners to stay out of the debate because we don’t understand what the Second Amendment means to the Land of the Free. So the anomaly continues: each time a shooting rampage shocks the nation, citizens respond with prayers and tributes for a while, but their lawmakers do nothing to change gun laws. And we—the foreigners—shake our heads in disbelief and wonder how many more innocen

A Farewell to Arms 永别了,武器

America is a bizarre country. To be an American — or to live in America — is to accept a few things that defy common sense. For starters, pizza is considered a “vegetable” under federal law. Two tablespoons of tomato paste on the dough is enough to make the pie healthy enough to be served at every public school cafeteria. Speaking of health, emergency rooms across the country routinely turn down trauma patients who fail to produce proof of health insurance. Facing skyrocketing healthcare costs , the uninsured are left for dead and the insured are worried sick about rising deductibles and annual premiums. Not bizarre enough? Here's another good one: gun shootings have become so commonplace that the evening news no longer reports them unless they are deemed a “shooting rampage.” And each time after a massacre, gun enthusiasts line up outside Wal-Mart to stock up on assault weapons for fear of tougher gun laws. That’s right, in America you can buy a military-style semi-automatic rifl

Dining Out... - Part 1 出街食-上卷

The Michelin Guide published its first Hong Kong/Macau edition in 2009. Since then, the little red book has sparked spirited debate and sometimes even nationalistic rumblings among citizens. Hong Kongers balk at the idea of a bunch of foreigners judging our food, when most of the undercover inspectors sent by the guide can’t tell a fish maw from a fish belly or know the first thing about dun (燉), mun (焖), zing (蒸), pou (泡) and zoek (灼) – to name but a few ways a Chinese chef may cook his ingredients with steam. For many of us, it seems far wiser to spend the HK$200 (that’s how much the guide costs) on a couple of hairy crabs currently in season than on a restaurant directory published by a tire manufacturer. The launch Food is a tricky business. It confounds even the most sophisticated of cultures and peoples. The English and the Germans, for instance, excel in everything else except for the one thing that matters most. Young nations like America, Australia and Canada..

The Art of Profanity 粗口藝術

We react to life’s little vicissitudes – nicking the car door, dropping the phone on a concrete pavement or losing hours of work to a computer crash – with a curse word or two. If some brute walks by and knocks the coffee right out of our hand, the appropriate response is: What the fuck?  Swearing is one of those things that we do everyday and nearly everywhere. But like breaking wind and picking our nose, profanity is only bad when someone else does it. Most of us are too squeamish or sanctimonious to own up to it. Rarely in the human experience has something so universally shared been so vehemently condemned and denied. Turning society into a nanny state Profanity exists in every culture. Curse words are the first vocabulary we learn in a foreign language and the only one we remember years later. The linguistic phenomenon can be traced as far back as Ancient Egypt and Babylon. Literary giants like William Shakespeare, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw were known to u