I think that nations and men always show from a very young age
the traits of their destiny.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville* --
NOTE: this article is a follow-up on our prior post.
Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, and his political party Alianza PAIS took two huge hits Sunday. The voters crushed Viviana Bonilla, his candidate for mayor of Guayaquil, and Augusto Barrera, his mayoral candidate for Quito.
Unofficial results: Bonilla received 38% of the vote; Barrera, 39%. Their opponents, Jaime Nebot and Mauricio Rodas, scored 60% and 58% respectively. We are looking at a 20% loss margin.
Amateurish campaigns for major offices invariably produce the same result: candidates are not defeated; they are humiliated. There is a world of difference.
As the vote tallies relentlessly rolled in, President Correa adopted a pensive posture on TV, promising to learn from the outcome. He attributed the stunning loses to "sectarianism."
Correa´s opponents have always claimed he has Cuban political advisors. His word choice tends to give that allegation credence.
"Sectarianism" was in vogue on the island decades ago (along with "micro-faction" and "New Socialist Man"), when I wrote my M.A. thesis on the political values of the Cuban leadership. Among other things, I read every speech ever delivered and every writing ever published by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
"Sectarianism" was not confined to Cuba, however. Torn from its religious context, sectarianism was a mainstay of the hollow phraseology of the 1960s New Left in the U.S. and Europe. A forerunner of political correctness, the word was employed by middle class rebels seeking to marginalize fellow leftist rivals.
What it comes down to: in a political context, "sectarianism" is unabashed, unabridged gamesmanship. As Sephen Potter-style humor, it is great stuff. For purposes of serious political analysis, however, the term has zero explanatory power. Pseudo-social science, it is disregarded here.
Frankly, until Sunday I did not believe for a single second that President Correa had Cuban advisors. The reason was that, by all rights, any advising should be flowing exactly the opposite direction. Schools, highways, bridges, hospitals, sustained and equilibrated economic development: Rafael Correa has achieved more in 5 years than the Castro brothers in 55. I defy anybody to refute that statement.
All of which leads us to this critical juncture:
The question is not if Rafael Correa will learn from Sunday´s election debacle. The question: can he learn?
* * *
Let´s start at the beginning -- with Tocqueville´s observation cited above.
What is President Correa´s destiny? What did he show at a very young age -- "age" not in biological but political terms?
In 2011, while I was reading Correa´s otherwise-superb economics book, this anecdote jumped off the page:
"On several occasions I met with the representative of the World Bank in Ecuador...I will never forget his smile that combined mockery and pity, as if he were only waiting for me to understand how the world worked and who ruled it...In April 2007, weeks after my investiture as President of The Republic of Ecuador...I expelled from my country the World Bank representative and his sarcastic smile. It is time for that international bureaucracy to learn to respect us."**
There it is. The ancient Greeks identified it, named it ὕβρις -- hubris. Hubris creates, calls out, hubris.
Wikipedia defines hubris as "extreme pride or self-confidence. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power."
With hubris we are a world way from the nullité sonore of "sectarianism" blithely effused by a New Socialist Man with a cushy embassy job. We are giving our subject the real, crucial importance it merits, to wit: in Rafael Correa, we are staring at the makings of a genuine Greek tragedy.
Aristotle wrote that a fundamental element of tragedy is hamartia. Hamartia (ἁμαρτία) has been alternatively translated as fatal flaw, frailty, sin, trespass, mistake, miscalculation, error of judgment. The problem is, the more the meaning of hamartia is investigated, the more its meaning slips away. That is always the case when a word refers to a phenomenon deeply rooted in the unconscious. Scholars agree, however, that the most basic sense of hamartia is missing the mark.
Hamartia take various forms, e.g., ignorance of one´s origins ("Oedipus") and obsessive love ("Othello"). Hubris, however, seems to be the most common type. If hamartia is not always hubris, hubris is almost always hamartia.
Here is Aristotle´s analysis. Dramatists and critics around the world read it over and over and over:
"A perfect tragedy should...imitate actions which excite pity and fear, this being the distinctive mark of tragic imitation. It follows plainly, in the first place, that the change, of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear; it merely shocks us. Nor, again, that of a bad man passing from adversity to prosperity: for nothing can be more alien to the spirit of Tragedy...it neither satisfies the moral sense nor calls forth pity or fear. Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. Such an event, therefore, will be neither pitiful nor terrible. There remains, then, the character between these two extremes,—that of a man who is not eminently good and just,-yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous...The change of fortune should be not from bad to good, but, reversely, from good to bad. It should come about as the result not of vice, but of some great error or frailty..."***
Renowned -- in opinion polls of Latin Americans, Rafael Correa consistently scores 80%-plus favorability; neither an utter villain nor perfectly good -- a person like ourselves with family and friends; a man confronting a change of fortune from good to bad: so far, Correa fills the tragic hero role to perfection.
We come to the sine qua non of Greek tragedy:
Great error or frailty. Hamartia. Hubris.
We saw it in Correa´s encounter with the World Bank representative.
Hamartia appeared again when Correa chastised the world -- "el mundo nos ha fallado" (the world failed us) -- for not contributing $3.6 billion to his brilliantly inspired but poorly elaborated Yasuní ecology preservation project (see our post of September 2, 2013, "The Rise, The Decline, The Fall, and The Rise of Yasuní ITT").
Sidebar: will history date the start of Rafael Correa´s downfall with a grave error manifested not in Sunday´s elections but on August 15, 2013 -- the day he jettisoned his incredibly popular and creative Yasuní project and ordered the drilling of oil in the Amazon?
Every Saturday morning, his hamartia goes on display. In his 3-hour TV broadcasts President Correa routinely (obsessive-compulsively?) insults and humiliates not only political opponents and the media but also private individuals. That is not standard practice among presidents, and for two good causes.
(i) The average citizen will view such attacks as an abuse of power. He fears that if his president is free to humiliate anybody and everybody, the next target could be him.
(ii) A president by definition represents a country; he represents all its people. If he threatens or insults a citizen, it follows that the president does not -- or at least, might not -- represent him. Now, if the person occupying the president´s chair does not represent one citizen, who else does he not represent? A floodgate opens; a sea of doubts and questions of legitimacy rushes in.
Insults are always a grave, sometimes fatal, error. Machiavelli repeatedly warned against them:
"I hold it to be a proof of great prudence for men to abstain from threats and insulting words towards any one, for neither the one nor the other in any way diminishes the strength of the enemy; but the one makes him more cautious, and the other increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you."****
Sunday´s vote showed what happens when a public official breaks taboos -- there exists a trainload of them -- surrounding power. If given the opportunity, the people will come down hard -- with both feet.
* * *
I swear ´tis better to be much abus´d
Than but to know ít a little.
-- William Shakespeare, "Othello," Act III, Scene 3 --
Big men make big mistakes. How could it be otherwise?
Can Rafael Correa learn? Can he get rid of his hamartia and hit the mark? Or is his hamartia bigger than he is?
We know the answer of the ancient Greeks.
*« Je pense que les nations, comme les hommes, indiquent presque toujours, dès leur jeune âge, les principaux traits de leur destinée. » Alexis de Tocqueville, De La Démocratie en Amérique I, in Œuvres, Volume II, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris, 1992, p. 474. (II, X). One can be in agreement with Tocqueville while recognizing that, for both men and nations, there can be more than one destiny.
**"Varias veces me reuní con el representante del Banco Mundial en el Ecuador...Nunca olvidaré su sonrisa entre burlona y lastimera, como tan solo esperando que yo entendiese cómo funcionaba el mundo y quiénes eran los que mandaban...En Abril de 2007, semanas después de mi investidura como Presidente de la República del Ecuador...expulsé del país al representante del Banco Mundial y su socarrona sonrisita. Ya es hora de que esta burocracia internacional aprenda a respetarnos." Rafael Correa, Ecuador: de Banana Republic a la No República, Random House Mondadori, Bogotá, Colombia, 2011, pp. 184-5.
I can empathize with President Correa´s indignation. While working as a legislative aide to a governor, I suffered a similar fool.
We had worked four months preparing legislation on medical malpractice. A big cheese New York lobbyist for the doctors sauntered into my office, shoved a bill draft at me, implying "Here it is, buddy. Now, go along or go under!"
I already knew what his draft said; a dissident surgeon had slipped me a copy. It defined malpractice as an operation which (fill in the blank). Had it become law, all cases of negligence -- NOT performing a needed operation, giving a patient the wrong prescription (no operation there), etc. -- would have been exempt from medical malpractice lawsuits. The docs were trying to pull a fast one.
I gazed at the lobbyist´s bald/balder/baldest head that resembled a dollop of vanilla ice cream; I took in his dark $2,000-Brooks Brothers suit with white pinstripes that made your eyes and head move up and down, as if you were constantly agreeing with him. A thought crossed my mind: I would tear his draft into tiny pieces, and sprinkle them over his bald head while softly intoning "Next time send in the A-Team." Instead, I thanked him for his "contribution," smiled, shook his hand, benevolently escorted him to the door.
I could have made two quick phone calls to the House and Senate leadership and made the lobbyist persona non grata. On the contrary, we wanted him to stay -- and he did, for the full month the legislature remained in session. We knew all his arguments and easily derailed them. Our staff went to his parties, ate his food, drank his booze. Otherwise, we left him alone, knowing that for every lawmaker he talked to, he lost three votes.
Smirking Ice Cream Head was a convenient dupe. His legislation went nowhere. He made my job a lot easier; with few amendments, our bill became law. I felt sad when he left town.
***Aristotle, Poetics, Chapter 13.