Spreading Democracy, American-Style : To make newly freed Haiti just like us will require a hefty dose of homeowners associations, political media celebs and hostility toward government.
With enormous hope and a great deal of fear, I am leaving the world’s oldest democracy to help start the world’s youngest--in Haiti.
After a career as a congressional aide and political consultant based mainly in the San Fernando Valley, I’ll spend the next several months in Haiti as part of a humanitarian effort led by the State Department to help begin building democratic government.
Haiti has been held hostage for most of its life to dictators and the ravenous appetites of a ruling elite. The people have been left with little of what most of the West considers the necessities of daily life: electricity, running water, telephones.
The 16 of us will show, teach, instruct--hey, I don’t know--the citizens how to make a government that works for them.
I’m scared to death, and not for my safety. Even a cynical guy from Southern California is tremendously moved by the chance to help build a nation, and I’m scared I might tell them the wrong thing.
But how did anyone like me ever get this job anyway? I mean a guy from the United States of America ? This is the democracy, remember, where a recent book was called “Why Americans Hate Politics,” where politicians running government typically act as if they hate government, where a fat guy named Rush makes a fat living saying unspeakable things about the President on national television, where the surest way to get to Washington sometimes seems to be to want to burn it to the ground.
Well, I have to confess that occasionally I’ve become a little world-weary myself where politics are concerned. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that democracy’s the worst form of government except for all the others, and that a whole lot of people in other countries are yearning to come here.
I’ve been re-remembering these good things for the past few days, and I’ll shake off any lingering cynicism as soon as my feet touch Haitian soil. But in the meantime I can’t help making a nasty little list of things that a young country needs if it wants a real American- style democracy:
* The inalienable right of every property owner to do exactly what he or she wants with his or her property, plus the right to tell all the neighbors what they can and can’t do.
* Homeowners associations consisting mainly of attorneys, screenwriters and others with influence, so everybody can be against lots of different things at the same time.
* An environmental movement to protect the environment (of course) and make sure the last family to build a huge house on a scraped-off hilltop doesn’t have its view spoiled by a bigger one.
* Back yards in which things will be allowed to happen--not!
* Land developers to make things happen in people’s back yards by contributing heavily to the electoral campaigns of public officials.
* Unbelievably expensive electoral campaigns, so developers’ money is essential.
* Talk shows and broadcast “personalities” who can keep the public outraged against poor people, thereby maintaining social order.
* Code words for large groups of people you don’t like.
* Enough concrete to pave the whole country and the will to use it.
* Promises, promises, promises and the will to make them, even if they’re impossible.
There, now I feel better. So long, California! Haiti, Haiti, here I come!