The new Great Wall of Trump looks a lot like the old Iron Curtain

Josephine Huetlin writes: The president of the United States is determined to build a massive barrier along the Mexican frontier. But it’s now clear his Great Wall will have a lot of not-so-great gaps in it. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly announced last week that no, despite President Trump’s campaign promise of an impenetrable border wall, “it is unlikely that we will build a wall from sea to shining sea.” This week a prosecutor labeled the immigration plan laid out by Attorney General Jeff Sessions as “fucking horrifying.”

Here in Germany we’ve been watching all this with a mixture of amusement and disgust. After all, we know a few things about walls from the days when Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain, which cut our country and our capital in half.

There used to be a section of particularly thick and grey concrete slabs next to the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of this city, and until one night in 1989 they jutted out of the ground like a giant middle finger, as if deliberately intending to freak the living daylights out of any East Berliner who just so happened to be passing by the city center.

We all know the pictures of overjoyed people dancing on top in this section of wall on the 9th of November, 1989.

Axel Klausmeier, who directs the Berlin Wall Foundation, still has a special sense of rage toward the “martial construct,” as he calls it. “It was a conscious show of force to signal the core task of the East German border troops: no one is coming through.”

So, why didn’t the East German government just put up a fence or barbed wire here, as it did in so much of the countryside outside Berlin and along the border between East and West Germany in order to prevent people from fleeing its socialist utopia? (Even back then, fences were frequently judged a more practical barrier, because they allowed guards to see who was coming at them.)

“Everyone understands a wall,” Klausmeier replies. [Continue reading…]

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Freeing up the rich to exploit the poor – that’s what Trump and Brexit are about

George Monbiot writes: Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value, such as faith, or patriotism. Anyone who questions it puts themselves outside the circle of respectable opinion. The sacred value is used to obscure the intentions of those who champion it. Today, the value is freedom. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought.

When thinktanks and the billionaire press call for freedom, they are careful not to specify whose freedoms they mean. Freedom for some, they suggest, means freedom for all. In certain cases, this is true. You can exercise freedom of thought, for instance, without harming others. In other cases, one person’s freedom is another’s captivity.

When corporations free themselves from trade unions, they curtail the freedoms of their workers. When the very rich free themselves from tax, other people suffer through failing public services. When financiers are free to design exotic financial instruments, the rest of us pay for the crises they cause.

Above all, billionaires and the organisations they run demand freedom from something they call “red tape”. What they mean by red tape is public protection. An article in the Telegraph last week was headlined “Cut the EU red tape choking Britain after Brexit to set the country free from the shackles of Brussels”. Yes, we are choking, but not on red tape. We are choking because the government flouts European rules on air quality. The resulting air pollution frees thousands of souls from their bodies.

Ripping down such public protections means freedom for billionaires and corporations from the constraints of democracy. This is what Brexit – and Donald Trump – are all about. The freedom we were promised is the freedom of the very rich to exploit us. [Continue reading…]

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Marine Le Pen’s tricky alliance with Donald Trump

The Washington Post reports: In the early hours of Nov. 9, Marine Le Pen was the first foreign politician to congratulate the new U.S. president-elect.

In the weeks that followed, the leader of France’s far-right National Front did everything she could to tie her presidential campaign to the upset victory of Donald Trump, claiming that she would be the next chapter in a global populist revolt against the “establishment.”

On the morning after the U.S. election, she took to the stage at her party’s headquarters outside Paris, heralding Brexit and Trump as part of an unstoppable worldwide phenomenon — “democratic choices that bury the old order and steppingstones to building tomorrow’s world.”

But a month before the first round of the French elections, Le Pen’s tone has markedly changed: no more President Trump — at least not for now. [Continue reading…]

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The blind spots in Trump’s foreign policy

Javier Corrales writes: President Trump’s “skinny budget” might be a misnomer, because in foreign policy, at least, it is actually giving us fat nationalism. The biggest winners are the military, the Homeland Security Department and, of course, the wall. The biggest loser is the State Department and thus diplomacy. Mr. Trump is all about intimidating more and negotiating less. This is the hallmark of xenophobic nationalism.

Mr. Trump is also blending xenophobic nationalism with protectionism. The jury is still out on how protectionist the Trump administration wants to be. But in relation to Latin America, even before revealing his budget, Mr. Trump already showed a clear preference for protectionism.

He walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was as much about United States trade with Latin America’s rising Pacific economies as it was about trade with Asia. He has trashed Nafta, a trade agreement that is more important as a symbol of the reconciliation between the United States and Mexico than it is as a change in the economic fortune of the United States. His administration has expressed reservations about trade normalization with Cuba and the peace accord in Colombia, a nation with which the United States has a major trade agreement and a history of close cooperation.

One problem with nationalist protectionism is that as an ideology, it is prone to double blindness: It is blind both to its exaggerations and to its consequences.

Xenophobic nationalists exaggerate the extent to which the outside world takes advantage of the nation. The Chinese are manipulating their currency, Mexicans are taking jobs away, military allies are free-riding, and the rest of the world is misbehaving because it doesn’t fear you enough. And all of this happens “while we sit here like a bunch of dummies,” as Mr. Trump has tweeted.

Nationalists thus exaggerate both the relative gains that others make at their expense, and the relative costs their own nations incur. They are blind to the concept of mutual gain; they see only abuse. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s climate change shift is really about killing the international order

Amanda Erickson writes: President Trump has done what he promised: kneecapping America’s efforts to fight climate change. In a sweeping executive order Tuesday, the president rolled back rules limiting carbon emissions and regulating fossil fuel producers.

Trump explained this dramatic shift in economic terms, saying that he wants to put coal miners back to work and make manufacturing cheaper. His critics suggest financial motives, too, albeit more nefarious ones: that he’s interested in little more than lining the pockets of his rich friends in the oil and gas industry.

Really, though, Trump’s policy reflects a deeper truth. Climate change denial is not incidental to a nationalist, populist agenda. It’s central to it. And that’s not a coincidence.

Combating global warming requires international cooperation, multinational agreements and rules. Done right, no country is exceptional, and some might have to sacrifice for others. In other words, it strengthens the international order that Trump and his team are so assiduously trying to dismantle in the name of “America First.”

As Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, explains:

“Climate change is a highly inconvenient truth for nationalism, as it is unsolvable at the national level and requires collective action between states and between different national and local communities. Populist nationalism therefore tends to reject the science of climate change however strong the evidence.”

That reality is reflected in populist platforms around the world. In France, for example, the far-right National Front traffics in climate change skepticism. They’ve rolled out a “patriotic” environmentalist platform that opposes international climate talks as a “communist project. “We don’t want a global agreement or global rule for the environment,” the party’s Mireille d’Ornano told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]

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Once in the shadows, Europe’s neo-fascists are re-emerging

The New York Times reports: Head bowed in reverence, Robert Svec gently placed a bouquet of blood-red flowers at the foot of the only known statue of Jozef Tiso, Slovakia’s wartime fascist leader, in a weedy monument park known as the Pantheon of Slovak Historical Figures.

For years, Mr. Svec’s neo-fascist cultural organization, the Slovak Revival Movement, was a tiny fringe group. But now his crowds are growing, as 200 people recently gathered with him to celebrate the country’s fascist past and call fascist-era greetings — “Na Straz!” or “On the guard!” Mr. Svec is so emboldened that he is transforming his movement into a political party, with plans to run for Parliament.

“You are ours, and we will forever be yours,” Mr. Svec said at the foot of the statue, having declared this as the Year of Jozef Tiso, dedicated to rehabilitating the image of the former priest and Nazi collaborator, who was hanged as a war criminal in 1947.

Once in the shadows, Europe’s neo-fascists are stepping back out, more than three-quarters of a century after Nazi boots stormed through Central Europe, and two decades since a neo-Nazi resurgence of skinheads and white supremacists unsettled the transition to democracy. In Slovakia, neo-fascists are winning regional offices and taking seats in the multiparty Parliament they hope to replace with strongman rule. [Continue reading…]

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Dutch prime minister claims victory over anti-Muslim candidate Geert Wilders

The Washington Post reports: The Dutch political establishment appeared Wednesday to fend off a challenge from anti-Muslim firebrand Geert Wilders in a national election, according to exit polls, a victory that heartened centrist leaders across Europe who are fearful of populist upsets in their own nations.

The result confirmed Wilders as a powerful voice on immigration in the Netherlands. But it would leave in place Prime Minister Mark Rutte and do little to alter the fundamental dynamic in a country unhappy with the status quo but deeply divided among many political parties.

The vote in the prosperous trading nation was seen as a bellwether for France and Germany, which head to the polls in the coming months and have also been shaken by fierce anti-immigrant sentiment. The British vote to exit the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, a skeptic about NATO and European integration, have cracked the door to a fundamental reordering of the post-World War II Western order. [Continue reading…]

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How the Netherlands made Geert Wilders possible

The Atlantic reports: In the 17th century, Dutch settlers flocked to the southern half of what is now Manhattan to establish New Amsterdam, a fur-trading post that would welcome Lutherans and Catholics from Europe; Anglicans, Puritans, and Quakers from New England; and Sephardic Jews who were, at the time, discouraged from settling in America’s other nascent regions. Though its English conquerors would rename the city New York, the values of diversity and tolerance that the Dutch introduced would remain the region’s hallmarks for centuries to come.

In the modern-day Netherlands, however, the Dutch Republic’s founding pledge that “everyone shall remain free in religion” will soon collide with the ambitions of one of the country’s most popular politicians.

“Islam and freedom are not compatible,” claims Geert Wilders, the Party for Freedom (PVV) leader who campaigns on banning the Quran, closing Dutch mosques, and ending immigration from predominantly Muslim countries. “Stop Islam,” the phrase that sits atop Wilders’s Twitter page, aptly summarizes his party’s platform. In December, Dutch courts found Wilders guilty of carrying his rhetoric too far, convicting him of discriminatory speech for rallying supporters in an anti-Moroccan call-and-response. Nonetheless, Wilders is a leading contender to receive the plurality of votes in the country’s parliamentary elections on March 15.

The nation’s peculiar path from “live and let live” to “Make the Netherlands Ours Again” (as Wilders recently said) has as its guideposts a changing definition of tolerance, some instances of political opportunism—and a pair of grisly assassinations.

From the mix of faith groups that inhabited New Amsterdam to the peaceful coexistence of Protestants, Catholics, and socialists throughout the Netherlands in the 20th century, the Dutch brand of multiculturalism has often been more “salad bowl” than “melting pot.” Each sect of society had its own schools, media outlets, and social groups; tolerance was the act of respecting those boundaries.

“Historically, Dutch tolerance has been more of a pragmatic strategy,” said Jan Rath, a professor of urban sociology at the University of Amsterdam. “Tolerance has been a way to contain oppositions or complications.” [Continue reading…]

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Sweden, immigrants and Trump’s post-Enlightenment world

Anne Applebaum writes: The Enlightenment belief that we can know and understand reality — that we can measure it, weigh it, judge it, use reason to explain it — underlies all of the achievements of Western civilization, from the scientific revolution to the Industrial Revolution to democracy itself. Ever since René Descartes asked himself how it was possible to know that melting wax is the same thing as a candle, we have believed that reason, not mythology, sensibility, emotion or instinct, provides a superior way to understand the world. But is that still true?

If the strange case of Sweden and its immigrants is anything to go by, then the answer is probably no. This odd story began last month, when President Trump began ranting, memorably, about dangerous immigrants at a rally in Florida: “You look at what’s happening last night, in Sweden! Sweden! Who would believe this, Sweden!” The following morning, puzzled Swedes woke up to find the world’s media asking them what, actually, had happened last night. The answer — other than some road closures — was nothing.

In an Enlightenment world, that would have been the end of the story. In our post-Enlightenment world, things got more complicated. Trump explained that what he had seen “last night” was not a terrorist attack — though that was certainly implied in his speech — but a filmmaker named Ami Horowitz who was interviewed by Tucker Carlson on Fox News. The interview was indeed terrifying: For those unfamiliar with the techniques of emotional manipulation — and they are the same, whether used by Fox News or Russia Today — it should be mandatory viewing. As the two were speaking, a clip of an aggressive, brown-skinned man hitting a policeman, presumably in Sweden, alternated in the background, over and over, with a clip of a burning car. The repetitive, frightening images were bolstered by more clips from Horowitz’s film, in which Swedish police officers appeared to be confirming a massive rise in crime linked to immigration. Carlson, meanwhile, marveled at the stupidity and naivete of the Swedish nation helpless to confront this menace. No wonder the president was upset.

But the next day, the Swedish police officers protested: Horowitz had never asked them about immigration, and had cut their interviews to make it seem as if they were answering different questions. Moreover, while Sweden did — generously and admirably — accept 160,000 refugees in 2015, and while there are genuine problems absorbing and acculturating them, Swedish crime rates remain low, particularly if you compare them with crime rates in, say, Florida.

A faked film had inspired the president to cite an imaginary crisis — but the story didn’t end there. [Continue reading…]

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The spat between Turkey and the Netherlands is all about winning votes

Ishaan Tharoor writes: The escalating crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands is a startling example of how this year’s crucial election campaigns can flare into international incidents.

The Dutch go to the polls this Wednesday for a parliamentary election seen as a bellwether for Europe’s political future, and all eyes are focused on far-right, Euroskeptic, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders. Meanwhile, Turkey will hold a referendum next month on constitutional revisions that would scrap the country’s parliamentary system in favor of an executive presidency under the powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In their electoral bids, Erdogan and Wilders have found useful bogeymen in one another’s nations.

“The explanation for the Dutch-Turkish ‘crisis’ this weekend is pretty straightforward,” wrote Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde in a message to Today’s WorldView. “Both countries are currently engulfed in electoral campaigns that are dominated by authoritarian nativism.” [Continue reading…]

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Congressman Steve King endorses ‘Dutch Trump,’ Geert Wilders, in battle over ‘civilization’

The Daily Beast reports: The Republican Party has long been a comfortable home for anti-Europeanism, from the “America First” opponents of U.S. participation in World War II to the “let them eat Freedom Fries” movement responsible for renaming French fries in congressional cafeterias during the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003.

But as far-right political parties gain power and prominence on the Continent, many members of the Grand Old Party are cozying up to European politicos with unprecedented enthusiasm — well, nearly unprecedented.

Among the most fawning of the newly Europositive wing of the Republican party: Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a nativist hawk from the heartland with a long and unapologetic history of making incendiary statements regarding immigrants, Islam, and racial “sub-groups.” On Sunday, however, King surprised even his sharpest critics by tweeting what amounts to an endorsement of Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom who is days away from his potential election as prime minister of the Netherlands. [Continue reading…]

 

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Steve Bannon’s mission to destroy the European Union

Michael Crowley writes: It was the day after Britain voted to leave the European Union in June, and the Western world was still absorbing the shock. With no clear plan for what would come next, the globe’s fifth-biggest economy had abruptly announced a divorce from the neighbors it had been trading with for nearly 45 years. Markets plunged. “A calamity,” declared the New York Times. “Global panic,” proclaimed one London headline.

Steve Bannon had a different reaction. He booked the calamity’s chief architect as a guest on his radio show to celebrate.

This was then still weeks before Bannon emerged into the national spotlight as CEO of Donald Trump’s struggling presidential campaign. Bannon was an executive at Breitbart News, an activist-editor-gadfly known mostly on the far right, and the “Brexit” campaign was something of a pet project. He hitched onto the Tea Party movement early in Barack Obama’s presidency and noticed a similar right-populist wave rising across the Atlantic, where fed-up rural, white Britons were anxious about immigration and resentful of EU bureaucrats. The cause touched on some of Bannon’s deepest beliefs, including nationalism, Judeo-Christian identity and the evils of Big Government. In early 2014, Bannon launched a London outpost of Breitbart, opening what he called a new front “in our current cultural and political war.” The site promptly began pointing its knives at the EU, with headlines like “The EU Is Dead, It Just Refuses to Lie Down”; “The European Union’s Response to Terrorism Is a Massive Privacy Power Grab”; “Pressure on Member States to Embrace Trans Ideology.” One 2014 article invited readers to vote in a poll among “the most annoying European Union rules.”

Bannon’s site quickly became tightly entangled with the United Kingdom Independence Party, a fringe movement with the then-outlandish goal of Britain’s exit from the EU. In October 2014, UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, poached a Breitbart London editor to work for him. That September, Bannon hosted a dinner for Farage at his Capitol Hill townhouse. Standing under a large oil painting by the fireplace, Farage delivered a speech that left the dozens of conservative leaders in attendance “blown away,” as Bannon later recalled. [Continue reading…]

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Britain is an immigrant nation

Rachel Shabi writes: The central exhibit of the Museum of Immigration and Diversity is the building itself. Located in London’s East End, it straddles the Docklands to its east, where new arrivals to Britain once hit dry land, and to its west the city, whose shiny office towers stand as the symbols of wealth and opportunity that have attracted so many newcomers.

This unassuming Georgian building on 19 Princelet Street has migration written into its bricks and mortar. Built in 1719, the house was once home to Huguenots fleeing persecution from Catholic France, and then to families forced to leave Ireland during the potato famine of the 1840s. Later in the 19th century, Jewish refugees from pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe turned the garden into a small synagogue. In the 1930s, the Jewish East Enders used the basement to hold meetings for the movement that faced down the fascist Blackshirts in the famous Battle of Cable Street.

The period that followed bequeathed one of the nation’s most enduringly positive immigration stories. Just before World War II, Britain took in some 10,000 mostly Jewish children through the Kindertransport rescue program. Last year, one of those children, Alf Dubs, a Labour member of the House of Lords, won popular support for his campaign to bring 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees into the country.

In the postwar period, the Princelet Street house and surrounding streets were home to new migrant communities — from Bangladesh, the Caribbean and, most recently, Eastern Europe. Much like New York’s landmark Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the Museum of Immigration and Diversity intertwines all these strands. Each room showcases a different aspect of the immigrant experience, narrating histories through objects, diaries and recordings.

In a larger way, of course, the very story of Britain has always been one of migrants. Poke around behind Britain’s currently rigid surface of chauvinism and a composite picture emerges — of Romans, Vikings, Celts, Normans, Jews, Indians, Chinese, Africans and more. The whole country is a living museum of immigration — if only its people would acknowledge it.

But Brexit Britain, you might suppose, is not a country much inclined to hear migration stories. Whatever else can be read into the referendum vote to leave the European Union, it was characterized by hostility about the flow of people to Britain and campaigning that played heavily on fears of immigration. [Continue reading…]

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The vote that could wreck the European Union

An editorial in The Economist says: It has been many years since France last had a revolution, or even a serious attempt at reform. Stagnation, both political and economic, has been the hallmark of a country where little has changed for decades, even as power has rotated between the established parties of left and right.

Until now. This year’s presidential election, the most exciting in living memory, promises an upheaval. The Socialist and Republican parties, which have held power since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, could be eliminated in the first round of a presidential ballot on April 23rd. French voters may face a choice between two insurgent candidates: Marine Le Pen, the charismatic leader of the National Front, and Emmanuel Macron, the upstart leader of a liberal movement, En Marche! (On the Move!), which he founded only last year.

The implications of these insurgencies are hard to exaggerate. They are the clearest example yet of a global trend: that the old divide between left and right is growing less important than a new one between open and closed. The resulting realignment will have reverberations far beyond France’s borders. It could revitalise the European Union, or wreck it.

The revolution’s proximate cause is voters’ fury at the uselessness and self-dealing of their ruling class. [Continue reading…]

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Geert Wilders, reclusive provocateur, rises before Dutch vote

The New York Times reports: He wants to end immigration from Muslim countries, tax head scarves and ban the Quran. He is partly of Indonesian heritage, and dyes his hair bright blond. He is omnipresent on social media but lives as a political phantom under police protection, rarely campaigning in person and reportedly sleeping in a different location every night.

He has structured his party so that he is the only official, giving him the liberty to remain, above all things, in complete control, and a provocateur and an uncompromising verbal bomb thrower.

Geert Wilders, far-right icon, is one of Europe’s unusual politicians, not least because he comes from the Netherlands, one of Europe’s most socially liberal countries, with a centuries-long tradition of promoting religious tolerance and welcoming immigrants.

How he and his party fare in the March 15 elections could well signal how the far right will do in pivotal elections in France, Germany and possibly Italy later this year, and ultimately determine the future of the European Union. Mr. Wilders (pronounced VIL-ders) has promised to demand a “Nexit” referendum on whether the Netherlands should follow Britain’s example and leave the union. [Continue reading…]

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The contagion of hatred Trump is spreading across America

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports: Stacy Silver prayed as she drove with her husband to Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia’s Wissinoming section Sunday: Please don’t let my mother and great-grandmother be among the victims.

When Silver, 50, of Cherry Hill, N.J., heard about the vandalism at the Jewish cemetery that occurred overnight Saturday, she rushed to her loved ones’ graves.

What she saw when she arrived was worse than she imagined — tombstone after tombstone, story after story, was toppled to the ground — including those belonging to her mother and great-grandmother.

“Your stomach just drops,” Silver said. “I mean it’s just horrible.”

Detectives canvassing the cemetery Sunday afternoon estimated that 75 to 100 headstones had been knocked over.

“It’s criminal. This is beyond vandalism,” said Northeast Detectives Capt. Shawn Thrush, as he walked the cemetery grounds. “It’s beyond belief.”

The vandalism, coming a week after a similar incident in St. Louis, prompted the Anne Frank Center to call for President Trump to make a forceful denunciation of anti-Semitic hate crimes.

“Mr. President, it’s time for you to deliver a prime-time nationally televised speech, live from the Oval Office, on how you intend to combat not only #Antisemitism but also Islamophobia and other rising forms of hate,” the organization posted Sunday on Twitter. “Whether or not your intention, your Presidency has given the oxygen of incitement to some of the most viciously hateful elements of our society.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center recorded 1,372 bias incidents between Trump’s inauguration and Feb. 7, the watchdog group reported. Among those, the group highlighted 57 incidents in 24 states of anonymous bomb threats being called in to Jewish Community Centers. The organization has also recorded that the number of hate groups in the U.S. grew in 2016 for the second straight year, with a threefold increase in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups. [Continue reading…]

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