Populism thrives when politics become about symbols rather than substance

Ivan Krastev writes: What is the best way to fight a government you loathe but that has killed nobody, arrested few (if any) and come to power fairly — yet threatens to transform liberal democracies as we understand them?

Where do you draw the line between living in a democracy in which the party you despise has won free elections and living in a dictatorship where the opposition may never be allowed to win again? Is “normalization” of populists the biggest threat facing Europe, or should we also fear the hysteria of populists’ opponents? And can the forms of resistance that worked against Communist and fascist dictatorships work against the democratically elected illiberal governments of today?

History, alas, does not provide many clarifying answers. The memoirs of those who survived the 1930s — Sebastian Haffner’s “Defying Hitler” is a great example — warn against normalizing dictatorships, particularly when new dictators are popularly elected. That makes sense. But there’s a useful counterexample to consider, too: In the 1970s, young leftist radicals were so obsessed with the idea that there were no major differences between Nazi Germany and the postwar German Federal Republic that they made profound errors in judgment and, at times, ended up as terrorists and enemies of democracy.

What is the lesson? Drawing the line between democracy and dictatorship requires passion and a readiness to defend one’s values. It also requires a sense of proportion. [Continue reading…]

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It’s the kultur, stupid

Timothy Garton Ash writes: “The reason we are inundated by culturally alien [kulturfremden] peoples such as Arabs, Sinti and Roma etc. is the systematic destruction of civil society as a possible counterweight to the enemies-of-the-constitution by whom we are ruled. These pigs are nothing other than puppets of the victor powers of the Second World War….” Thus begins a 2013 personal e-mail from Alice Weidel, who in this autumn’s pivotal German election was one of two designated “leading candidates” of the Alternative für Deutschland (hereafter AfD or the Alternative). The chief “pig” and “puppet” was, of course, Angela Merkel. Despite the publication of this leaked e-mail two weeks before election day, adding to other widely publicized evidence of AfD leaders’ xenophobic, right-wing nationalist views, one in eight German voters gave the Alternative their support. It is now the second-largest opposition party in the Bundestag, with ninety-two MPs.

Xenophobic right-wing nationalism—in Germany of all places? The very fact that observers express surprise indicates how much Germany has changed since 1945. These days, we expect more of Germany than of ourselves. For, seen from one point of view, this is just Germany partaking in the populist normality of our time, as manifested in the Brexit vote in Britain, Marine le Pen’s Front National in France, Geert Wilders’s blond beastliness in the Netherlands, the right-wing nationalist-populist government in Poland, and Trumpery in the US.

Like all contemporary populisms, the German version exhibits both generic and specific features. In common with other populisms, it denounces the current elites (Alteliten in AfD-speak) and established parties (Altparteien) while speaking in the name of the Volk, a word that, with its double meaning of people and ethno-culturally defined nation, actually best captures what Trump and Le Pen mean when they say “the people.” In Angst für Deutschland, her vividly reported book about the party, Melanie Amann, a journalist at the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, notes how some of its activists have appropriated the slogan of the East German protests against Communist rule in 1989: Wir sind das Volk—We are the people. Like other populists, Germany’s attack the mainstream media (Lügenpresse, the “lying press”) while making effective use of social media. On the eve of the election, the Alternative had some 362,000 Facebook followers, compared with the Social Democrats’ 169,000 and just 154,000 for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). [Continue reading…]

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The Nazi sympathizer next door

The New York Times reports: Tony and Maria Hovater were married this fall. They registered at Target. On their list was a muffin pan, a four-drawer dresser and a pineapple slicer.

Ms. Hovater, 25, was worried about Antifa bashing up the ceremony. Weddings are hard enough to plan for when your fiancé is not an avowed white nationalist.

But Mr. Hovater, in the days leading up to the wedding, was somewhat less anxious. There are times when it can feel toxic to openly identify as a far-right extremist in the Ohio of 2017. But not always. He said the election of President Trump helped open a space for people like him, demonstrating that it is not the end of the world to be attacked as the bigot he surely is: “You can just say, ‘Yeah, so?’ And move on.”

It was a weeknight at Applebee’s in Huber Heights, a suburb of Dayton, a few weeks before the wedding. The couple, who live in nearby New Carlisle, were shoulder to shoulder at a table, young and in love. He was in a plain T-shirt, she in a sleeveless jean jacket. She ordered the boneless wings. Her parents had met him, she said, and approved of the match. The wedding would be small. Some of her best friends were going to be there. “A lot of girls are not really into politics,” she said.

In Ohio, amid the row crops and rolling hills, the Olive Gardens and Steak ’n Shakes, Mr. Hovater’s presence can make hardly a ripple. He is the Nazi sympathizer next door, polite and low-key at a time the old boundaries of accepted political activity can seem alarmingly in flux. Most Americans would be disgusted and baffled by his casually approving remarks about Hitler, disdain for democracy and belief that the races are better off separate. But his tattoos are innocuous pop-culture references: a slice of cherry pie adorns one arm, a homage to the TV show “Twin Peaks.” He says he prefers to spread the gospel of white nationalism with satire. He is a big “Seinfeld” fan.

“I guess it seems weird when talking about these type of things,” he says. “You know, I’m coming at it in a mid-90s, Jewish, New York, observational-humor way.”

Mr. Hovater, 29, is a welder by trade. He is not a star among the resurgent radical American right so much as a committed foot soldier — an organizer, an occasional podcast guest on a website called Radio Aryan, and a self-described “social media villain,” although, in person, his Midwestern manners would please anyone’s mother. In 2015, he helped start the Traditionalist Worker Party, one of the extreme right-wing groups that marched in Charlottesville, Va., in August, and again at a “White Lives Matter” rally last month in Tennessee. The group’s stated mission is to “fight for the interests of White Americans.’’ [Continue reading…]

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The making of an American Nazi

Luke O’Brien writes: On December 16, 2016, Tanya Gersh answered her phone and heard gunshots. Startled, she hung up. Gersh, a real-estate agent who lives in Whitefish, Montana, assumed it was a prank call. But the phone rang again. More gunshots. Again, she hung up. Another call. This time, she heard a man’s voice: “This is how we can keep the Holocaust alive,” he said. “We can bury you without touching you.”

When Gersh put down the phone, her hands were shaking. She was one of only about 100 Jews in Whitefish and the surrounding Flathead Valley, and she knew there were white nationalists and “sovereign citizens” in the area. But Gersh had lived in Whitefish for more than 20 years, since just after college, and had always considered the scenic ski town an idyllic place. She didn’t even have a key to her house—she’d never felt the need to lock her door. Now that sense of security was about to be shattered.

The calls marked the start of a months-long campaign of harassment orchestrated by Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the world’s biggest neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. He claimed that Gersh was trying to “extort” a property sale from Sherry Spencer, whose son, Richard Spencer, was another prominent white nationalist and the face of the so-called alt-right movement.

The Spencers had long-standing ties to Whitefish, and Richard had been based there for years. But he gained international notoriety just after the 2016 election for giving a speech in Washington, D.C., in which he declared “Hail Trump!,” prompting Nazi salutes from his audience. In response, some Whitefish residents considered protesting in front of a commercial building Sherry owned in town. According to Gersh, Sherry sought her advice, and Gersh suggested that she sell the property, make a donation to charity, and denounce her son’s white-nationalist views. But Sherry claimed that Gersh had issued “terrible threats,” and she wrote a post on Medium on December 15 accusing her of an attempted shakedown. (Sherry Spencer did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the time, Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin barely knew each other. Spencer, who fancies himself white nationalism’s leading intellectual, cloaks his racism in highbrow arguments. Anglin prefers the gutter, reveling in the vile language common on the worst internet message boards. But Spencer and Anglin had appeared together on a podcast the day before Sherry’s Medium post was published and expressed their mutual admiration. Anglin declared it a “historic” occasion, a step toward greater unity on the extreme right.

It was in this spirit that Anglin “doxed” Gersh and her husband, Judah, as well as other Jews in Whitefish, by publishing their contact information and other personal details on his website. He plastered their photographs with yellow stars emblazoned with JUDE and posted a picture of the Gershes’ 12-year-old son superimposed on the gates at Auschwitz. He commanded his readers—his “Stormer Troll Army”—to “hit ’em up.”

“All of you deserve a bullet through your skull,” one Stormer said in an email.

“Put your uppity slut wife Tanya back in her cage, you rat-faced kike,” another wrote to Judah.

“You fucking wicked kike whore,” Andrew Auernheimer, The Daily Stormer’s webmaster, said in a voicemail for Gersh. “This is Trump’s America now.” [Continue reading…]

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‘White Europe’: 60,000 nationalists march on Poland’s independence day

The Guardian reports: Tens of thousands of nationalist demonstrators marched through Warsaw at the weekend to mark Poland’s independence day, throwing red-smoke bombs and carrying banners with slogans such as “white Europe of brotherly nations”.

Police estimated 60,000 people took part in Saturday’s event, in what experts say was one of the biggest gathering of far-right activists in Europe in recent years.

Demonstrators with faces covered chanted “Pure Poland, white Poland!” and “Refugees get out!”. A banner hung over a bridge that read: “Pray for Islamic Holocaust.”

The march organised by far-right groups in Poland is an annual event originally to mark Poland’s independence in 1918. But according to Nick Lowles, from UK anti-extremism group Hope Not Hate, it has become an important rallying point for international far-right groups.

“The numbers attending this year seem to be bigger and, while not everyone on the march is a far-right activist or fascist, it is undoubtedly becoming more significant and is acting as a magnet for far-right groups around the world.”

Some participants marched under the slogan “We Want God!”, words from an old Polish religious song that the US president, Donald Trump, quoted during a visit to Warsaw earlier this year. Speakers encouraged attendants to stand against liberals and defending Christian values. [Continue reading…]

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Totalitarian ideologies never die. Not even in America

Anne Applebaum writes: Nothing is ever over. No historic trauma is ever resolved. No historic villain is ever buried, and no historic lessons are permanently learned. Everything and everyone can be revived, and anything can be unlearned — even in the most settled civilizations.

Evidence of this is all around us. After two generations of atonement, an elected German politician — Björn Höcke, speaker of the parliamentary group of the new far-right party Alternative for Germany — wants Germans to stop apologizing for Nazi crimes; he describes the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a “monument of shame.” In China, a government once embarrassed by Maoism is peddling a sanitized version. Last year, 17 million Chinese made pilgrimages to the chairman’s home to pay homage to the man whose madness starved far more of his countrymen than that.

In Russia, Stalin has returned. Nearly half the country now views him with sympathy, respect or admiration. Stalin sent millions of Russians — and others — to die in labor camps, deprived millions of food so they starved to death, ordered hundreds of thousands executed, and left his country stunted and impoverished. In his own lifetime, Russians were terrified of him; soon after his death, he was denounced by his successors. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, it seemed, briefly, as if the victims of his terror might finally come to terms with his legacy.

Instead, a slow drip of imperialist propaganda, carefully supplied by the Kremlin, has successfully implanted a different memory. Over and over, Vladimir Putin’s government reminds Russians that under Stalin, Soviet citizens might have been poor and terrified, but the U.S.S.R. ruled half of Europe. Hagiographic biographies fill Moscow bookstores. An annual parade, complete with soldiers marching in Soviet uniforms and waving Soviet flags, now celebrates Stalin’s 1945 victory over Germany.

For a long time, Americans thought they were immune to this sort of thing. But are we really? In the United States of my childhood, there seemed no more settled question than the Civil War. In school I was taught that slavery had been defeated, that Lincoln was a hero and that the remaining wrongs were at least partly righted by the civil rights movement. Even the Old South/“Gone With the Wind” nostalgia had faded and shrunk to a small group of battlefield-visiting enthusiasts.

But it never faded away altogether — and now it’s back. With a president who looks at white-supremacist marchers and sees “very fine people” and a White House chief of staff who describes Robert E. Lee as an “honorable man” who “gave up his country to fight for his state,” we may not be as far as we once thought from a revival of Southern exceptionalism, and even treachery on a broader scale. Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the Senate in Alabama, has said repeatedly that the “law of God” is higher than the law of the Constitution itself.

In each one of these cases, the men who are carefully cultivating defeated ideas from the past think they can then control the impact. Putin wants Stalin to shore up his legitimacy; Xi Jinping hopes Mao can help him stave off opposition; Höcke thinks the shock value of his comments will win him votes. As for Trump and Moore, they think they can win power by appealing to the white-supremacist minority and offending the rest. But violent, racist, totalitarian emotions, once unleashed, can go in a lot of unpredictable directions. [Continue reading…]

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Sebastian Kurz’s audacious gamble to lead Austria pays off

The Guardian reports: By handing a convincing victory to the centre-right party of 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz on Sunday, Austria rewarded one of the most audacious political gambles in its recent history.

Until Kurz was announced as a candidate for chancellor in June, his Austrian People’s party (ÖVP) had been trailing by some distance in polls behind its senior partner in the governing coalition, the centre-left SPÖ, and behind the far-right Freedom party (FPÖ).

But on Sunday evening the man Austrian tabloids have affectionately dubbed wunderwuzzi or “wonderkid” could hardly make himself heard over deafening cheers as walked on to the stage at Vienna’s Kursalon, draped in the turquoise colours of his “movement”.

With the ÖVP winning more than 30% of the vote, Kurz is in a position to choose whether he wants to continue the “grand coalition” of the past decade under his leadership or enter an alliance with the nationalist FPÖ. [Continue reading…]

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As Austria heads to the polls, the far right eyes what may be this year’s biggest European success

The Washington Post reports: Austria could be set for a turn to the right, as voters there head to the polls on Sunday in an election that’s being closely watched across Europe.

One of the most likely results, according to polls, is a coalition between the right-wing populist Freedom party and the center-right ÖVP party. The Freedom party is expected to make significant gains, possibly paving the way for its best election result in over a decade.

What’s at stake?

When neighboring Germany held its election less than a month ago, the far-right Alternative for Germany made significant gains. The political center still held, however, putting Chancellor Angela Merkel on track for a fourth term. Her party’s losses were widely linked to her decision to allow more than one million refugees into the country within four years.

In Austria, the backlash against liberal policies has been much more pronounced. As a member of the European Union, Austria could resist efforts by Germany and France to reform the E.U. and to expand cooperation on issues such as immigration.

The center-right candidate considered most likely to win the chancellorship, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, has already rejected E.U. reform proposals by French President Emmanuel Macron. As foreign minister, Kurz also pursued policies designed to stop the influx of immigrants, even if some of those measures contradicted E.U. rules. Sunday’s elections could turn some of those measures into longer-term solutions embraced by the country’s political mainstream. [Continue reading…]

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White nationalism is destroying the West

Sasha Polakow-Suransky writes: In recent years, anti-immigration rhetoric and nativist policies have become the new normal in liberal democracies from Europe to the United States. Legitimate debates about immigration policy and preventing extremism have been eclipsed by an obsessive focus on Muslims that paints them as an immutable civilizational enemy that is fundamentally incompatible with Western democratic values.

Yet despite the breathless warnings of impending Islamic conquest sounded by alarmist writers and pandering politicians, the risk of Islamization of the West has been greatly exaggerated. Islamists are not on the verge of seizing power in any advanced Western democracy or even winning significant political influence at the polls.

The same cannot be said of white nationalists, who today are on the march from Charlottesville, Va., to Dresden, Germany. As an ideology, white nationalism poses a significantly greater threat to Western democracies; its proponents and sympathizers have proved, historically and recently, that they can win a sizable share of the vote — as they did this year in France, Germany and the Netherlands — and even win power, as they have in the United States. [Continue reading…]

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How collective narcissism helps explain Trump

Tom Jacobs writes: From the campaign of now-President Donald Trump to the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, an aggressive form of populism—deeply aggrieved, angry with the elite, and hostile to perceived outsiders—is on the rise in much of the world. New research suggests the roots of this disturbing trend can be found in a familiar psychological pattern.

It argues the perception that you are losing ground relative to your rivals evokes intense defensiveness—not only in individuals, but also in societies.

A team led by psychologist Marta Marchlewska of the University of Warsaw links populism with “national collective narcissism,” which it defines as “an unrealistic belief in the greatness of the national group.”

This shared sense of flag-waving grandiosity appears to grow out of two intertwined beliefs: the conviction that your group truly represents “the people” or “the nation,” and the perception that its power and influence has diminished compared to [other] groups.

This belief—that people like you, the “true patriots,” have been unfairly disadvantaged—prompts many to proclaim their group’s greatness all the more vociferously. From there, it’s a very short step to denigrating members of other groups, such as immigrants or minorities. [Continue reading…]

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Stephen Miller’s ascent powered by his fluency in the politics of grievance

The New York Times reports: Stephen Miller had their attention. That was reason enough to keep going.

Standing behind the microphone before a hostile amphitheater crowd, Mr. Miller — then a 16-year-old candidate for a student government post, now a 32-year-old senior policy adviser to President Trump — steered quickly into an unlikely campaign plank: ensuring that the janitorial staff was really earning its money.

“Am I the only one,” he asked, “who is sick and tired of being told to pick up my trash when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us?”

It appeared he was. Boos consumed the grounds of the left-leaning Santa Monica High School campus. Mr. Miller was forcibly escorted from the lectern, shouting inaudibly as he was tugged away.

But offstage, any anger seemed to fade instantly. Students were uncertain whether Mr. Miller had even meant the remarks sincerely. Those who encountered him afterward recalled a tranquillity, and a smile. If he had just lost the election — and he had, the math soon confirmed — he did not seem to feel like it.

“He just seemed really happy,” said Charles Gould, a classmate and friend at the time, “as if that’s how he planned it.”

In the years since, Mr. Miller has rocketed to the upper reaches of White House influence along a distinctly Trumpian arc — powered by a hyper-fluency in the politics of grievance, a gift for nationalist button-pushing after years on the Republican fringe and a long history of being underestimated by liberal forces who dismissed him as a sideshow since his youth.

Across his sun-kissed former home, the so-called People’s Republic of Santa Monica, they have come to regret this initial assessment. To the consternation of many former classmates and a bipartisan coalition of Washington lawmakers, Mr. Miller has become one of the nation’s most powerful shapers of domestic and even foreign policy. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration releases hard-line immigration principles, threatening deal on ‘dreamers’

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration released a list of hard-line immigration principles late Sunday that threaten to derail a deal in Congress to allow hundreds of thousands of younger undocumented immigrants to remain in the country legally.

The administration’s wish list includes the funding of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a crackdown on the influx of Central American minors and curbs on federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” according to a document distributed to Congress and obtained by The Washington Post.

The demands were quickly denounced by Democratic leaders in Congress who had hoped to forge a deal with President Trump to protect younger immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally as children. Trump announced plans last month to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era program that had provided two-year work permits to the dreamers that Trump called “unconstitutional.”

About 690,000 immigrants are enrolled in DACA, but their work permits are set to begin expiring in March. Trump had met last month with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and agreed to try to strike a deal, worrying immigration hawks who feared that Trump would support a bill that would allow dreamers to gain full legal status without asking for significant border security measures in return.

The list released by the administration, however, would represent a major tightening of immigration laws. Cuts to legal immigration also are included. And, while Democrats have called for a path to citizenship for all dreamers, a group estimated at more than 1.5 million, a White House aide said Sunday night the administration is “not interested in granting a path to citizenship” in a deal to preserve the DACA program. [Continue reading…]

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Why nation-states are good

Dani Rodrik writes: For many, the nation-state evokes nationalism, the extremes of which have meant war and death to millions. But a corrective is in order, to remember not just the ideological excesses of the ‘nation’ part, but also the transformative, historic role of the state component. As scholars of nationalism like to say, the state usually precedes and produces the nation, not the other way around. The best definition of the nation remains that of Abbé Sieyès, one of the theorists of the French Revolution: ‘What is a nation? A body of associates living under one common law, and represented by the same legislature.’ Ethno-nationalists, with their emphasis on race, ethnicity or religion as the basis of nation, have it backward. As the historian Mark Lilla at Columbia University put it recently: ‘A citizen, simply by virtue of being a citizen, is one of us.’

Robust nation-states are actually beneficial to the world economy. The multiplicity of nation-states adds rather than subtracts value.

A principled defence of the nation-state would start from the proposition that markets require rules. Markets are not self-creating, self-regulating, self-stabilising or self-legitimising, so they depend on non-market institutions. Anything beyond a simple exchange between neighbours requires investments in transportation, communications and logistics; enforcement of contracts, provision of information, and prevention of cheating; a stable and reliable medium of exchange; arrangements to bring distributional outcomes into conformity with social norms; and so on. Behind every functioning, sustainable market stands a wide range of institutions providing critical functions of regulation, redistribution, monetary and fiscal stability, and conflict management. These institutional functions have so far been provided largely by the nation-state. [Continue reading…]

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The far right is reeling in professionals, hipsters, and soccer moms

Quartz reports: Following the political earthquakes of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, commentators tried to get a better understanding of who was leading this seismic change in politics. A picture quickly emerged: angry, working class (“left behind”) men were the driving force of right-wing populism. But a year of bruising elections in Europe has highlighted an uncomfortable truth—support for the far right is far more widespread then angry, old, white working class men.

Last Sunday (Sept 24), German voters put a far-right party into parliament for the first time since the Second World War. Right-wing nationalists Alternative for Germany (AFD) won 13% of the vote, easily overcoming the 5% threshold needed to enter the German Bundestag. A previous study (link in German) showed that AFD supporters come from different social classes, including workers, families with above-average incomes, and even academics. The study concluded that what was common among AFD voters was their dislike for Angela Merkel’s so-called open-door policy to refugees.

A snapshot of where AFD voters came from highlighted the party’s ability to win over voters from a wide array of political affiliations. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (and its sister party the Christian Social Union) lost over one million voters to the AFD. But it wasn’t just right-wing voters who switched to the AFD; the center left Social Democrat lost over 500,000 (or 8.6%) of its 2013 voters to the AFD, the far left Left Party lost 420,000 (11%), and the Greens saw 50,000 defections (0.84%). Polling also showed that the AFD’s received the most votes among voters aged 33 to 44-year-old and that the party had done well with workers, and even managed to win over 10% of support from white-collar workers.

The AFD’s widespread support isn’t particularly surprising or unique. Far-right populism has always been dependent on a fragile coalition of voters—wealthy professionals, disaffected workers, and extremists—to break out of the margins and succeed. While white working class discontent is an important driving force for populism, so is anger from wealthy suburbanites and millennials. [Continue reading…]

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The future of life necessitates that we rise way beyond the nationalist viewpoint

Yuval Noah Harari writes: Though human beings are social animals, for millions of years they lived in small, intimate communities numbering no more than a few dozen people. Even today, as the evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar has shown, most human beings find it impossible properly to know more than 150 individuals, irrespective of how many Face­book “friends” they boast. Human beings easily develop loyalty to small, intimate groups such as a tribe, an infantry company or a family business, but it is hardly natural for them to be loyal to millions of strangers. Such mass loyalties have appeared only in the past few thousand years as a means of solving practical problems that no single tribe could solve by itself. Ancient Egypt was created to help human beings gain control of the River Nile, and ancient China coalesced to help the people restrain the turbulent Yellow River.

Nations solved some problems and created new ones. In particular, big nations led to big wars. Yet people were willing to pay the price in blood, because nations provided them with unprecedented levels of security and prosperity. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the nationalist deal still looked very attractive. Nationalism was leading to horrendous conflicts on an unprecedented scale, but modern nation states also built systems of health care, education and welfare. National health services made Passchendaele and Verdun seem worthwhile.

Yet the invention of nuclear weapons sharply tilted the balance of the deal. After Hiroshima, people no longer feared that nationalism would lead to mere war: they began to fear it would lead to nuclear war. Total annihilation has a way of ­sharpening people’s minds, and thanks in no small measure to the atomic bomb, the impossible happened and the nationalist genie was squeezed at least halfway back into its bottle. Just as the ancient villagers of the Yellow River Basin redirected some of their loyalty from local clans to a much bigger nation that restrained the dangerous river, so in the nuclear age a global community gradually developed over and above the various nations because only such a community could restrain the nuclear demon.

In the 1964 US presidential campaign, Lyndon B Johnson aired the “Daisy” advertisement, one of the most successful pieces of propaganda in the annals of television. The advert opens with a little girl picking and counting the petals of a daisy, but when she reaches ten, a metallic male voice takes over, counting back from ten to zero as in a missile launch countdown. Upon it reaching zero, the bright flash of a nuclear explosion fills the screen, and Candidate Johnson addresses the American public: “These are the stakes – to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other. Or we must die.” We often associate the slogan “Make love, not war” with the late-1960s counterculture, but already in 1964 it was accepted wisdom, even among hard-nosed politicians such as Johnson. [Continue reading…]

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Macron lays out vision for ‘profound’ changes in post-Brexit EU

The Guardian reports: The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has set out his plans for a “profound transformation” of the EU with deeper political integration to win back the support of disgruntled citizens, but suggested a bloc moving forward at differing speeds could become somewhere the UK may “one day find its place again”.

Macron, a staunchly pro-European centrist who came to power in May after beating the Front National’s Marine Le Pen, pleaded for the EU to return to its founders’ “visionary” ideas, which were born out of the disaster of two world wars.

In what was hailed on Tuesday as one of the most pro-European speeches by an EU leader in years, he spoke up for common EU policies on defence, asylum and tax, called for the formation of European universities, and promised to play Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

He said time was running out for the EU to reinvent itself to counter the rise of far-right nationalism and “give Europe back to its citizens”.

With Brexit looming, Macron warned the rest of Europe against the dangers of anti-immigrant nationalism and fragmentation. “We thought the past would not come back … We thought we had learned the lessons,” he told a crowd of European students at Sorbonne University in Paris.

Days after a far-right party entered the German parliament for the first time in 70 years, Macron said an isolationist attitude had resurfaced “because of blindness … because we forgot to defend Europe. The Europe that we know is too slow, too weak, too ineffective”.

Macron said he was deliberately not saying much about Brexit in his speech, but a reinvigorated EU with various levels of integration and cooperation was somewhere the UK may “one day find its place again”. He left the suggestion deliberately vague. [Continue reading…]

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Far-right AfD enters German parliament: What it means for German politics

Jefferson Chase writes: For the first time in the modern history of the Federal Republic of Germany, voters have elected a far-right party to the country’s parliament. But what does “far-right” mean and how will political culture change? The answers are both very complicated and really simple.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) promotes itself as a patriotic, democratic, conservative party. However, critics from across the political spectrum say it’s an association of right-wing extremists. In a pointed reference to the AfD, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel bemoaned the fact that “true Nazis” would once again be part of the Bundestag.

Speaking to foreign journalists, Germany’s leading academic expert on political parties, Oskar Niedermayer, defined the AfD as follows: “The spectrum of positions represented in the AfD cannot be summed up by one word. I call them a nationalist-conservative party with increasing connections to right-wing extremism.”

That’s the complicated bit. The simple one is the AfD’s lone effective issue. The official party platform may be 76 pages long and offers many positions on everything from taxes to public TV to animal rights, but a recent study by the respected Bertelsmann foundation found that the only topic upon which significant numbers of Germans believe the AfD had any expertise was immigration. [Continue reading…]

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Germany’s slide to the right

Klaus Brinkbäumer writes: The one side says things like: “We will hunt them down. We will hunt down Ms. Merkel or whoever else and we will take back our country and our people.” That is what Alexander Gauland, the self-proclaimed guardian of the German people, said shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday evening when the first exit polls were made public.

The other side strikes a different tone: “We had hoped for a slightly better result.” That is what Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday evening. She also said she “wasn’t disappointed.” It was a unique display of exceedingly unsuccessful political dissembling.

This year’s general election in Germany has been heralded as an epochal shift. Merkel’s “grand coalition,” pairing her conservatives with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), was voted out of office and the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) became Germany’s third-strongest party. In the search for reasons for the shift, the language of politics is a good place to start. The AfD professed to be clear and decisive, their language was explicit — and voters rewarded them for it. The chancellor, by contrast, sought to avoid discussions and to completely ignore major issues focused on by the populists: foreign migrants and German uneasiness. Merkel’s political style, which is characterized by avoiding clashes, was punished to the greatest possible degree. [Continue reading…]

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