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Volume II No.1


Published 12 January 2021

Dear Reader,

We had barely been able to say goodbye (and good riddance) to the horrible year that was 2020, and we had barely began to welcome the promise of a better, brighter and warmer 2021— when we were jolted back to the reality that the world had gone wrong in various ways in various places… and that a mob storming the US Capitol to disrupt a routine but vital constitutional process is just one of the ugliest and most disgusting expression of this turmoil.

We are on the threshold of the year 2021 of the Common Era and I am your Briefer, Jamil Maidan Flores, writing and observing the World, Region and Nation from Jakarta.

The Meaning of a Mob Attack

When a pro-Trump mob composed largely of white supremacists attacked the seat of American democracy in Washington DC to brazenly perpetuate the reign of a would-be despot who had been rejected by the people in a national election—I could not help but compare that moment to the mutation of a virus.

To my mind, a deadly virus has infected American society, a virus of hate. Hate that has been bred over the years by grievances and fears and the prejudice that nurtures the spread of lies and misinformation.

Capitol Police officers aim their firearms at rioters trying to barge through a barricaded door into the House Chamber at the US Capitol, Washington DC. (Photo: AP)

At that moment of mutation, the virus of hate became visible and took on a human face. A white face. The face of a white supremacist driven by fear. Fear of losing status and privilege as the US becomes more diversified. Fear of becoming inferior as people of color become more educated, wealthier and more conscious of their rights and their own worth. To be fair, it is often the case that they do have a real grievance over government neglect.

That grievance aside, the fear is irrational: nobody really becomes inferior because another human being with a different skin color lays claim to what is theirs. But the fear is there and it went viral. It almost killed American democracy. It did kill five people.

In the aftermath of the insurrection, many Americans, aghast at the shamelessness of it, have been saying: “This is not who we are.”

I beg your pardon. This is at least a part of who you are. And that part of you must be recognized and addressed.

A gruesome mock-up of gallows erected by insurrectionists outside the US Capitol matched shouts of “Hang Mike Pence!” by rioters who had broken into the edifice.

Indeed, there is a reverse symbolism in the fact that the Siege of the Capitol took place on 06 January, the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the revelation of the Christ to the gentiles represented by the Three Kings. On 06 January 2021, a negative kind of epiphany took place in Washington DC: the true face of racist hatred was revealed for all the world to recoil at.

If you want to read more about what happened in Washington DC on 06 January and what it means, go here.

Bad News to ASEAN (and to Everybody)

To be sure, the Capitol Hill insurrection of 06 January was not something that just came out of the blue. I recently had a video-recorded conversation with Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow at the New York-based Council for Foreign Relations and a regular contributor to WRN Pinter Politik. And in that conversation, I made this remark.

“It seems that the United States will be a divided nation for a long time to come. Trump will continue to lead a significant part of the population that is aggrieved and angry, while the progressive wing of the Democrats are also aggrieved and angry for a different reason.” I then made the case that an America weakened by internal division is bad news for ASEAN. (For example, such an eventuality could render the ASEAN-US Dialogue Partnership even more meaningless than it already is.)

Joshua’s response was to point out that Trump is the symptom of a larger problem, which he merely exacerbated, “a problem of intense polarization and a lot of other issues including misinformation, inequality and rage at the political system that fed his rise and that pre-existed him.”

Jamil Maidan Flores (left) interviewing PinterPolitik’s longtime contributor, Joshua Kurlantzick, who is a Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia at Council on Foreign Relations. (Photo: YouTube/PinterPolitik TV)

So the viral social disease that afflicts American politics pre-existed Trump and will survive his political demise. Already US historians and academics are telling us that white supremacist groups are increasing in number all over the country.

To find out more about what Joshua Kurlantzick has to say about how the Biden administration will deal with China and interact with the rest of Asia, view the video here.

The Virus in South and Southeast Asia

If democracy is in grave danger in the US, in “the shining city on a hill” that is the lodestar for humankind’s democratic aspirations, it isn’t much in a better state in South Asia and Southeast Asia.

In fact, democratic regression has been accelerating in the two regions in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaders in the region take advantage of the willingness of their constituents to sacrifice some personal convenience in the interest of public health and safety. They then impose limits to the people’s freedom to consolidate their political.

Pro-democracy protesters holding portraits of arrested activists at Victory Monument, Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: AP)

In the second installment of Joshua Kurlantzick’s paper on “Addressing the Effect of Covid-19 on Democracy in South and Southeast Asia,” he describes how various leaders in the two regions not only use the pandemic as a pretext for limiting their peoples’ freedom but as an occasion for spreading disinformation to hide their public health failures.

If you want to know more of how that is carried out, proceed here.

What Is Indonesian Exceptionalism?

In the first place, is there such a thing as Indonesian Exceptionalism?

There definitely is “American Exceptionalism.” The phrase has been in circulation since the 1920s when the Communist International was scrounging for an explanation why the US was not turning communist, and the explanation was that there must be something exceptional in American capitalism that enabled it to resist conversion into a communist system.

President Donald Trump wearing his merchandise – Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat – during a rally. (Photo: Getty Images)

Over the years, the meaning of the phrase has evolved and kept on evolving. From 2017 until recently its expression was in the form of a Trumpian bluster: “America first!” That is hubris, and it came to a hubristic end on 06 January 2021.

President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for National Security Adviser, a highly respected policy wonk named Jacob Jeremiah “Jake” Sullivan, writing just a year ago in The Atlantic, defined American Exceptionalism as “the idea that the United States has a set of characteristics that gives it a unique capacity and responsibility to help make the world a better place.” There’s nothing really objectionable in that idea. But let’s see how it plays out when the Biden administration finally unrolls its foreign policy after 20 January.


Former Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. (Photo: AP)

There is another kind of exceptionalism that is also making the rounds these days: Chinese Exceptionalism. Of course, China is not your garden variety of a country: it is at least 3,000 possibly 5,000 years old, and Chinese culture is globally pervasive. But in more recent times, its expression can be hubristic, as when the Chinese foreign minister, meeting with his ASEAN counterparts, tells them: “China is a big country, and other countries here are small countries. Think hard about that.” It took some time for Chinese diplomacy to live down that slip of jingoism.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) during the commemoration of the 75th Indonesian Independence Day. (Photo: Ministry of State Secretariat)

As to Indonesian Exceptionalism, it is obvious that the current administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has no appetite for playing a conspicuous role on the world stage—but that does not mean Indonesia is not exceptional at all. Indonesia does not need its own version of Jake Sullivan making a case that it has a “responsibility to make the world a better place.” That responsibility—“to contribute to the making of a better world of social justice”—is enshrined in the Preamble of the country’s 1945 Constitution.

For this issue Alfin Zulfikar Rizky, an Assistant Managing Editor at Pinter Politik and an international relations graduate from Universitas Airlangga, has set down his own take on Indonesian Exceptionalism. To share his thought on this burning issue, click here.

The Wages of Environmental Abuse

If you think the Covid-19 pandemic is already the worst suffering ever inflicted on humankind, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet until the full force of Climate Change descends upon us all. A country that recently experienced a painful preview of the ravages of Climate Change is Indonesia’s neighbor to the north, the Philippines.

A man watching the houses flooded as Typhoon Goni hit in Barangay Busay, Albay, The Philippines. (Photo: Sky News)

Within a three-week period late last year, a large part of the country’s main island of Luzon actually went underwater as five mega-typhoons pummeled the country. Eerily the deluge took place not only where the rains fell torrentially but also where there was little rain. Dennis Legaspi, a management engineer, author and political strategist who has worked extensively in the government and private sectors, cites the denudation of the country’s longest mountain range as a direct cause of the floods, which is also contributory to Climate Change.

To read more of Dennis’s account of the extreme weather conditions that laid the Philippines low last year, go here.

That’s all for now, dear Reader.

2021 began on a grim and harrowing note. Let’s hope the state of the human condition will get brighter as the year moves forward.


Addressing the Effect of Covid-19 on Democracy In South and Southeast Asia (Part 2)

“People are fearful of the virus and, sometimes desiring strong containment measures, are inclined to initially rally around their...

Is Indonesia, like the US and China, Imbued with Exceptionalism?

By Alfin Zulfikar Rizky “Exceptionalism” has been a frequently recurring word in the realm of international politics for a long...

Disasters Without Borders: How Climate Change Impacts a Developing Archipelagic Country

By Dennis Legaspi The virus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19, went global because of the free flow of...

The Indonesian Origins Of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

By Marty Natalegawa Arguably one of ASEAN’s recent most ambitious beyond the region undertakings has been the Regional Comprehensive Economic...

Addressing the Effect of Covid-19 on Democracy In South and Southeast Asia (Part 1)

By Joshua Kurlantzick South and Southeast Asia have demonstrated mixed results in combating the coronavirus pandemic, yet the COVID-19 pandemic...

A Call to Irish Solidarity with Peoples Who Suffer Oppression and Racism

By Lawrence McEvoy In my hometown of Mountmellick in the heart of Ireland, on Wolfe Tone Street, there stands a...