I feel emotional as I watch the protests and violence on my screen taking place across the U.S. Even though it is called “the great melting pot,” America remains entangled in racial conflict. The latest spark to ignite conflict has been the death of George Floyd, an African American who was killed in Minnesota by a police officer kneeling on his neck. At the end of February, another African American man, Ahmaud Arbery, was killed in Georgia while he was jogging, shot by a white father and son who suspected he was a burglar. The shooters, however, weren’t arrested until May, after the incident received attention and condemnation across the U.S.
Actually, the nature of these incidents is similar to that involving Rodney King, a construction worker. In 1991, he was beaten on the side of the road by police officers. The incident happened to be filmed by a passerby, who sent it to a television station. Its broadcast received widespread attention and the police officers were charged. After the case was heard in court, however, the officers were acquitted of charges, sparking six days of rioting in Los Angeles that led to 63 deaths and the injury of more than 2,000 people. During the riots, in a television appearance, King spoke the famous words, “Can’t we all just get along?”
That is a good question, one that can be applied to the issues of race and partisan struggles in the U.S. It can also be asked of the partisan struggles in Taiwan, and even the relations between Taiwan and China. Within the struggles around different issues and groups, there is no shortage of leaders who use hate and opposition to mobilize people. For example, many of the comments by President Donald Trump have been viewed as adding fuel to the fire. Even Republican members of Congress and governors have wished that Trump would temporarily stop posting on social media.
In political science, the median voter theorem suggests that within a single-member district system of voting — in a presidential election, for example — a candidate will move toward a more moderate position to obtain support from the most voters. In practice, this theory has two problems: The first is that even if there are more moderate voters, the probability of such voters not voting is high. The second is the distribution of ideological beliefs within society. Ideologies are not necessarily distributed like a bell curve with the majority in the middle, but might instead be pushed to two sides, like a bimodal curve. As the power of social network mobilization becomes more apparent, more politicians are choosing to mobilize their base with one clear stance.
It is extremely difficult to be a leader like Nelson Mandela. Upon coming to power after 27 years in prison, he did not retaliate against his opponents. Instead, he emphasized reconciliation, and even gave up a chance for reelection. Nevertheless, he was attacked from both those on the right (who thought he was a terrorist) and the left (who thought he was too weak). Although he was unable to singlehandedly solve South Africa’s racial problems, one thing is certain: Without Mandela, the situation would have been worse.
Political hawks are generally thought to be brave, while doves are weak. I, however, believe the opposite is true. In an era when populism runs high, being a bold hero is actually easier. As long as you raise your banner high and chant your slogans loudly,people will soon applaud you. Doves, however, have a hard time convincing either side. They are viewed as the enemy by those outside the party and with suspicion by those within. Mandela truly possessed indomitable courage.
In the current circumstances, it’s no wonder that hawkish parties have gained political power while doves have declined. Meanwhile, society has become increasingly polarized. The problems at the root of longstanding racial issues in the U.S. cannot be resolved. This is evidenced by the fact that even though Americans have already elected an African American president, Barack Obama, African Americans are still discriminated against on a daily basis.
After watching some astonishing speeches and behavior from political leaders both in Taiwan and abroad, I remember wondering with friends whether the times had changed so much that the only way to make it in politics is to defy norms and be unconventional. It’s not, actually. Provoking conflict and engaging in political trickery may help politicians win an election or gain power for a spell, but such tactics are unsustainable and cannot create long-lasting security. Time and history are the ultimate test. Among nations, political parties, companies and even people, the right path in the long run can only be taken with good motives, rational judgment, moderation and altruism.
The author is chairman of FDC International Hotels Corporation.
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