Monday, January 16, 2012


Another positive thing I'd like to say about the elections is how reasonable it all was. I don't just mean the subdued campaigns - nary a screaming siren political truck drove my by house and posters and flags were sedate and much fewer in number than in previous elections - but Taiwan as a whole.

Here is my dark secret: I have friends who are blue (shhh, don't tell anyone)*. I disagree quite strongly with them.  With most, we just don't talk about it. I have my strong beliefs, they have theirs, and I'll express mine but stop short of insisting that others must agree (even if I think they should, because of course I believe I'm right - I wouldn't have a belief if I didn't think it was the right one, but they could say the same).

With some - one especially - well, we do talk about it. We disagree strongly. Well, in some ways not so strongly: the main difference is that she's focused on what the election means for the economy and stock market, and while I agree that's important, my ideological beliefs about Taiwan as a nation and my feelings of under the surface rage at any political group that has not  apologized for mass murders it engaged in trump that (plus, I don't really think the KMT is all that great for the economy, but that's a different debate). As an Armenian whose ancestors survived a genocide that the Turkish government still has not apologized for, that's not something I can forgive or ignore in any group. You could say it's in my blood.

What matters, though, is not that we disagree. It's that we disagree, and we can talk about it - even heatedly, but never insultingly - and we can still be friends.

I can't do that back home. I'm actually not against "conservatives" in the classic small-government, fiscally conservative sense, although I'm not convinced of their economic arguments. The position itself does not offend me and I am happy to discuss it. Although I disagree with libertarian economic platforms, again the idea doesn't offend me.

What I can't condone is what a vote for the Republicans also stands for: a vote for homophobia, to some extent for racism (although that's an issue that is hidden deep inside Republican economic platforms and is too intangible to prove fundamentally without wading into a political correctness landmine), and for restriction of women's rights. A vote for basing American laws on "Christian"** morals that not every American shares. I certainly don't. I feel this way to such an extent that I really can't have a civil discussion about these issues with a non-moderate Republican. I can't respect someone who endorses homophobia or says "America is a Christian nation" when it isn't, or who uses perfectly good words such as "liberal", "socialist" and "feminist" as insults. I just can't. Those views are abhorrent to me. Even if a person votes Republican based on economic principles, they're still casting a vote for the party that holds all the disgusting views above.***

To the same extent, I can't condone what a vote for the KMT stands for ("it's OK to commit crimes against humanity and not apologize for them!"). The difference is that in Taiwan, I can talk about it. People can talk about it...mostly. I see more green-blue dialogue than Republican-Democrat. I see more green-blue friendships and relationships (I couldn't possibly date a Republican back home, but I know plenty of green-leaning Taiwanese who have blue-leaning partners). I see people mostly getting along. The flashpoints are the exceptions, and society as a whole can mostly deal with them.

And I can talk about this. As someone who is fairly deep green, to someone who is fairly deep blue. We know not to insult each other: I may dislike the KMT, but I don't dislike her. I may not respect Ma Ying-jiu, but I do respect her. It can't, and shouldn't, ever be personal (although the White Terror thing really hits a nerve with me due to aforementioned family history).

The difference, I believe, is the fact that the US has increasingly veered towards social issues in its civil discourse, even though polls show that people care about the economy and vote on that rather than social issues. I do vote based on social issues, but I do so as a reasonably successful and very lucky, privileged American who had most of the right breaks. I don't know if I'd feel the same way if I'd grown up at the ass end of the system. Deep down we Democrats and those Republicans hate each other because it's all about worldviews and morals - gay rights, women's rights, religion, what makes a real family, when does life begin and how is it that all men are created equal but don't have an equal shot at life?

There is some of that in KMT-DPP political discourse but it doesn't cut quite so deeply. A Taiwanese feminist activist could vote for either party and feel she did the right thing (although I personally feel that the DPP is a better bet for women). A proponent of gay rights could do the same. Religion doesn't even come into it, as I believe is right. The debates aren't about these issues. The one social issue that gets play is national identity, and even that seems to have reached a "let's agree to disagree" sort of detente.

A very intelligent friend of mine said that Taiwan is much better now: "four years ago you would hear something like 外省豬回中國 or 無知南部人****. It's better this time indeed." And I agree - it is better. Things are improving. The two sides ran a reasonably civilized campaign - as much as can be expected from politics - and the overall outcome was one of a mature society, not two angry sides growling at each other. I admire that.

These days, if you throw out either of the above insults you'll get shushed, not cheered on. You can state your views but few will encourage you to just hurl invective with no underlying message. Which is as it should be.

Of course, there are always outliers. There are always a few shouters rather than talkers, in any society. The difference is that in America they seem to have taken over our discourse, whereas in Taiwan they're being told to shoosh so people can get on with the business of electing a leader. They can say what they want, but few will them seriously. Even within the campaign - attacks against Tsai Ying-wen didn't seem to stick ("she's not really Hakka" got shouted down, so did "she's a lesbian!") and while people joke about Ma Ying-jiu, generally the underlying message is that he's weak and ineffective.

So I look at my home country and I see "elitist", "liberal", "lamestream media", "feminist", "socialist", "terrorist" all used as though they carry the same register. Since when is a "liberal" the same as a "terrorist"? Since a bunch of angry people decided it was. I hear personal insults, attacks, people who believe things like 'if you don't see it my way, then you're just an idiot'.  This is not shushed. This is not put in its proper place at the extreme ends. This is what makes it on TV or gets talked about online. And this is sad.

Back to Taiwan, and sure, people disagree strongly. Someone might think another person's opinion is wrong, but the insults don't come. It would be rare to actually believe that because someone disagrees with you, that they're an idiot. I disagree strongly with my dark blue friend, but she is certainly not an idiot.

I don't feel we Americans grant each other the same respect.

I admire that in Taiwan, people seem to be able to see the difference between a belief and a whole person.

I wish I saw more of that back home. Then again, I also wish the beliefs we were debating weren't ones that are tied so strongly to social values. I wish we could all agree that gay people are people too and deserve equal rights, or that women are, indeed, able to make decisions about their bodies, and get on with the business of debating the economy and foreign policy.

In this way, I could say that America has a lot to learn from Taiwan.

*I am joking, but you knew that

**As someone who is not Christian but was raised Protestant, I don't actually think that a lot of what these guys say is "Christian" really is at all. I don't think Jesus would have condoned banning gay marriage or contraception, or possibly even abortion, and definitely not tax breaks on the wealthy while the poor went without. But, that's what they say. A different debate, again.

***I know, I know, I should respect all views but I just can't do that when someone makes up a bunch of lies about the "sacred bond of marriage" to disguise homophobia or thinks he knows better than I do what I should do with my own body. NO.

**** translation: "Foreign-born (Chinese) pigs go back to China" and "Ignorant southerners".


Herman said...

I agree with practically everything you wrote, but to play devil's advocate, the Democratic Party was once the party that endorsed slavery and segregation. Granted, the White Terror is of more recent history and thus fresher in our minds, but it's not as though the Democratic Party doesn't have skeletons in its closet.
I'm about as green as you can get, but I do find it a bit counterproductive for the DPP to still be demonizing the KMT for its past sins. Yes, the KMT should be held accountable, but in practicality, the KMT is largely not the same party that it was under Chiang Kai-Shek. Emotional appeals to the DPP elder base about the KMT's reign of terror may result in short-term boosts in enthusiasm, but the DPP needs to be more forward looking. I love what Tsai has done to refocus and reinvigorate the party, but given the list of mostly retreads and DPP old guard that are being named as possible successors to the DPP chairmanship, I fear the party will lose its vision and momentum.

Jenna Cody said...

You have some good points (especially about the Democratic party), but my hatred of the KMT for what they did is rooted in the fact that the Turkish government did the same thing to my people in 1915, and have not yet admitted it or apologized.

Well, also just because it's bad but it hits a raw nerve especially because of the similarity of the events.

I do not actually think the KMT is all that different from the one that participated in the White Terror. I actually wrote a post about it months ago. I feel that deep down, if they *could* be the leaders of a single-party state again, they would.

I mean, just like before democratic reform, they are still the party of the wealthy and connected.

Similar to before democratic reform, their track record on passing legislation to benefit minorities (aborigines, Hakka) is lackluster: the main difference is that now people are not actively targeted and their languages aren't being actively erased.

Just like before democratic reform, their platforms disproportionally hurt the Hoklo population.

Most of the party leaders (Sean Lien, Hao Lung-bin) are the sons or grandsons of people who were around for the White Terror or served under the old, pre-democracy KMT (Ma Ying-jiu, in fact, but at least he served under Chiang Ching-kuo and not his evil father).

Improved since reform are press freedoms (although those sank under Ma Ying-jiu: they sank quite surprisingly once the KMT was back in executive power) and legislation on women's rights (passed quite interestingly just before, and not until just before, they were in danger of losing the next presidential election once Lee Teng-hui was on his way out. Not when they were securely in power).

Their platforms and policies still point to a party that looks to China more than to Taiwan. exactly have they changed all that much?

I don't see it.

Jenna Cody said...

And, as someone who comes from a family that survived a genocide and has still not even received recognition for it from the perpetrating government, I can't condone ending the demonization of any party that once participated in crimes against humanity.

Try being someone who is descended from those who lived through it and see how you feel.

Jenna Cody said...

Although I can see the point that demonizing the KMT about their past might not be a path to political success for the DPP. But my feelings on the matter aren't with an eye toward political victory, they're personal feelings.