“Every form of government tends to perish by excess of its basic principle. Aristocracy ruins itself by limiting too narrowly the circle within which power is confined; oligarchy ruins itself by the incautious for immediate wealth... But even democracy ruins itself by excess-of democracy. Its basic principle is the equal right of all to hold office and determine public policy. This is at first glance a delightful arrangement; it becomes disastrous because the people are not properly equipped by education to select the best rulers and the wisest courses... The upshot of such a democracy is tyranny or autocracy; the crowd so love flattery, it is so ‘hungry for honey,’ that at last the wiliest and most unscrupulous flatterer, - calling himself the ‘protector of the people’ rises to supreme power.” — Will Durant
“Those who love peace must learn to organize as well as those who love war.” — Dr. Martin Luther King
As we’ve watched the rise of China as a threat to succeed the US as the next superpower, while still experiencing the Democratic Party of the left and Republican Party of the right fighting over familiar issues such as taxes, the role of government, entitlements (Social Security, Medicare), gun control, immigration, healthcare, abortion, environmental policy and regulation, we often ask at this point: has there been any mutual effort made to come to terms with the reality of the threat of China? Still, from time to time we need to remind ourselves these two parties dominate America’s political landscape, yet they differ intensely in their philosophies and ideals: the right puts more weight on individual freedoms, rights and responsibilities; the left is more invested in issues such as equality, social/community responsibility. Similarly, we need to educate the next generation of Americans in clear terms on the two parties’ fundamental differences in the role of government: the left, again, tends to favor a more active role for government in society, for they believe it can improve the quality of people’s lives leading to the larger goals of opportunity and equality; the right tends to favor a small government, be it the number of people employed, or the roles and responsibilities of government presides over societal well-being, for they strongly feel the idea of Darwinian capitalism, in that strong businesses should survive in a free market on their own rather than the government influencing—through regulation—who wins or loses in business, and so on.
Having created a new hybrid model, as we’ve come to realize of late, China has been able to strongly maintain a monopoly of their idea of a Leninist communist party rule, while from time to time allowing their business sectors to compete on their own in a similar free market economy as in the West, knowing, however, the growth of the middle class could potentially create individual wealth that leads to different ideas of individual freedom of voices, which can be seen as a threat to the life of the Communist party. While exploiting this hybrid model, China monitors very carefully when to use force to suppress the growth of this desire for individual freedom, as they did during the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989, and most recently in the ongoing crises in Taiwan and Hong Kong, since at least June 2019. This also applies to the rest of Southeast Asia at the moment. In knowing that in every communist or dictator-ruled country in the world, free-thinking individuals such as intellectuals, writers, poets, artists, and other creatives would be the first group suppressed, by being put in jails, labor camps, or even at times forcibly disappeared, as Putin has done with his opponents, critics, journalists alike, what are we to do then to be different from them? How are we to think of ways to strengthen our democracy, which has been abused and taken for granted by both parties, through their falling asleep at the wheel since the end of the Cold War in 1991?
As we all know, the most effective remedy is investing in our own human resources or human potentials, for they will be the key to rebuilding our infrastructures on all fronts through the arts, humanities, and sciences. The great question is how to make them accessible again to the middle and working class as they were during the Great Depression through the WPA and Federal Project One. Education has become an industry and the arts and humanities have been associated with the cultural elites for far too long. The great answer is for the rest of us in the arts, humanities, and sciences, to fulfill our roles as caring citizens by bringing education and extending its reach beyond the boundary of the academies. As our friend Rebecca Solnit, in her eloquent and urgent words in support of the 21st-Century Federal Writers’ Project Act (aka HR 3054), wrote “The United States’ most precious and overlooked resource is stories, the stories of all the people who live far beyond the spotlight, rural people, indigenous people, elderly people who hold memories of the past that will soon vanish...The idea of sending waves of writers out to connect to these stories and maybe preserve them, as the oral historians of the Federal Writers Program did, is gorgeous and would save innumerable stories from vanishing for good, the stories of who we really are.” Similarly, our other friend David Kipen (a former director of national reading initiatives for the NEA) has wonderfully argued why we need a new Federal Writers’ Project, for “during the Depression-era Federal Writers’ Project created jobs, fought disinformation, and gave voice to the voiceless. We need all of the above now more than ever.” This is a good example of how to invest in our human resources and human potentials indeed.
Onward and upward, with love and courage as ever,
Phong H. Bui
P.S. This issue is dedicated to our people in Puerto Rico along with our beloved board member Tony Bechera, a Puerto Rican born artist and community activist extraordinaire, who has recently been honored by El Museo del Barrio at the home of our equally beloved mentor and friend Agnes Gund. It was on the same day our River Rail Puerto Rico was published. We’d like to thank Catherine Olson for her brilliant contribution as an advertising director in the last two years. We wish her a beautiful journey in her pursuit as a full-time artist. Meanwhile, we’re thrilled to welcome Kathleen E. Cullen as Catherine’s successor. We would also like to announce the first installation of our immersive We The Immigrants project, which you can see at 68 Washington St. in DUMBO, Brooklyn. At the Rail, we’re inspired and more committed than ever to bring warmth and intimacy to our various creative communities. Please contribute to our $10 million endowment, which we need to grow, expanding our public programing while keeping everything we do free and relevant to our fellow human beings all over the world.