What do Wisconsin and Egypt have in common? Recent events have raised some provocative parallels about what is a settled government and what is an unsettled one.
Few doubt that Egypt's democratically elected president ever attempted to fulfill the promise of even-handed democracy that got him elected June 30, 2012.
In contrast to that nascent democracy, Wisconsin's democracy is well established and hopes and patience ride high no matter who is elected and how they abandon promises of fair play made during a campaign. That acceptance of hypocrisy is an established tenet of established democracy, something the Egyptians have yet to learn.
Riding on the political power of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi proceeded to act dictatorially to impose his supporters' extremist views, overriding other coalitions, declaring his own primacy over the constitution, criticizing and probably taking violent action against opponents, turning back the clock on feminist advances, rejecting overtures from the White House (which is insultingly called "mother" by many factions in Egypt because of previous decades of interference) and generally abandoning quite defiantly the call to invite all sides into a new democratic government.
In Wisconsin, any such outrage toward constitutional principles, feminist advances, and federal oversight is muted now, since it's just standard procedure of how winners impose their will on the opposition in a narrow victory.
In Egypt, as a consequence came a growing escalation on the streets from people who had taken a major chance to take control of their own destiny over dictatorship. Cairo and other cities were crowded with citizens calling for Morsi's ouster because of his dictatorial echoes and their hopes to reestablish the democratic fever with new elections. The only power broker in these circumstances was the army, which stepped in, ousted Morsi as it had first let him in, and now says it will listen to all sides to negotiate a new democracy.
The military? The same military that powered Gamel Nassar into domination in Egypt and kept Hosni Mubarak in autocratic and growingly corrupt and anti-democratic rule for decades?. No wonder so many responsible observers are expressing skepticism over the military takeover, particularly as the army did instantly what Morsi was accused of doing, closing down press offices and opening fire on opponents.
Yet by default America has to hope the military will rise over such an ugly past in more than conciliatory rhetoric to urge Egypt into a true people's process, which must include the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leaders are being rounded up and jailed. As a sign of its new "balance," the military has embraced an even more extreme Islamist party as well as making overtures to less extreme ideological factors in Egypt. But the process is more than painful and slow. It is hard to believe. And harder to trust.
Conservative Americans as well as liberal ones don't know what to think. Some have said aloud and in print that Morsi's failure is a proof that "political Islam" cannot operate a democracy and that America should welcome the military intervention as a chance to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood by any means possible: "Those who believe in the authoritarian brand of radical Islam are incapable of running a healthy democracy," columnist David Brooks wrote, unintentionally (one hopes) echoing the sort of rhetoric that once dismissed feminists, civil rights marchers and even children of mixed marriage from participating in the political process.
Sen. John McCain, who by rhetoric alone would have had us engage in four more wars if he had won the presidency in 2008, feels that any continued support of a military that ousts a democratic leader would be a shame on the US. But even as he flatly stated "the United States should not be supporting this coup," McCain knows there's a legal reason the White House doesn't yet call it a coup because that triggers certain federal withdrawals of support even in a takeover that many including McCain actually sympathize with.
Yes, even McCain's statement, if you parse it, exposes some terribly mixed feelings, and he is using the events as more of a chance to criticize the Obama administration than to understand the bewildering process in Cairo.
Yet he is not alone, right and left. Commentators on MSNBC noted time and again that the US has less influence on Egypt policy despite the $1.6 billion in aid, mostly military, that the country started acquiring almost a year ago with full backing from Congress. But other pundits pointed out that this was largely true because we can no longer pick up the phone and call a brutal dictator like Mubarak to get his people under control.
In other words, the situations in the Mideast after the Arab Spring are much messier because the people's voices have grown and the military, now hailed as the saviors in Egypt, has been weakened. Washington didn't like it that the Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt's democratic voice, but it doesn't like the military as the decider, either. It was just such a situation we fought a revolution to prevent.
The Arab Spring not always bringing outcomes that have American politicians doing cartwheels. But it's actually the birth of people power that many have been praying for in the Middle East for decades. The result is a more chaotic reality, one without corrupt dictators propped up by US money who could control things more easily. But this is surely not all a bad thing. It reflects how people's revolutions erupt, do damage and take years to establish operative systems, as was true in France, the United States, and elsewhere around the world.
Diplomacy is needed in such minefields. Patience is a virtue in the long term. But don't forget there is also a place for impatience in the face of injury, though Wisconsin is not its headquarters.
And that is why many are drawing a parallel to Wisconsin. Here, after two centuries of growth and change, Americans can sit back and tsk-tsk about Egypt -- as if they haven't been snookered for the last few decades in the US. Here, almost unseeing, the historic pattern of opportunity for rich and poor evaporated. The gap in wealth is wider than it's ever been.
We can claim that we have so long an established democracy that we need not be so rash as to throw the bums out after a year of destroying our economy and personal freedom, or even after decades of slowly allowing imbalance to corrupt our system of fair and equal opportunity for all.
The events in Egypt shine a light on the complacency of Wisconsin. We have our own Morsi, a governor who has wounded our economy severely, has damaged our national reputation, has curtailed our personal freedoms and continues to pass laws that are the extreme minority Christian equivalent of Sharia law, imposing the will of a few faithful on the diversity of the many.
But ... we are so mature! Even the established redemptive processes of democracy such as recalls are scorned.
There is growing evidence that Scott Walker survived in 2012 not because most citizens like his policies but because many, including leading newspapers, bought into the anti-any-recall argument. However bad his regime was turning out, the argument went, let him complete his term before being shown the door.
Thank God, some Republicans say, we have the patience not being shown in Egypt, where a year of bad results led to mass riots on the street. Thank God, most Wisconsinites said last year, we have the maturity to take it four years at a time and let the power of big money and deceptive statistics give our own Morsi a chance to make things worse before we act, as almost everyone acknowledges his new budget is doing to us.
Yes, those Egyptians sure aren't ready for democracy. And we are. Aren't we?
Dominique Paul Noth served as senior editor for all feature coverage at the Milwaukee Journal after decades as its film and drama critic, then was appointed special assistant to the publisher and the company's first online producer. For the past decade he was editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press and website, milwaukeelabor.org. He now writes as an independent journalist on culture and politics.