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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What the stunning success of AfD means for Germany and Europe

Cas Mudde writes: In 1991 Belgium had its (first) black Sunday, when the populist radical right Flemish Block gained 6.8% of the national vote. Since then many other western European countries have gone through a similar experience, from Denmark to Switzerland. And now, even the ever stable Germany has its own schwarzer Sonntag, and it’s blacker than most people had expected.

The populist radical-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party not only enters the Bundestag, the German parliament, but does so almost certainly as the third biggest party, with a stunning 13.3%, an increase of 8.8 percentage points according to the exit poll. Moreover, both the centre-right CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD scored their worst electoral results in the postwar era, with 32.5% and 20% respectively. This means that AfD got two-thirds of the SPD vote, and 40% of the CDU/CSU vote.

Polls from German state TV, showed that AfD has its Hochburgen (strongholds) in the former communist east of the country. While it scored on average 11% in west Germany, it got 21.5% in east Germany, more than twice as much. This is in line with its results in the regional state elections, in which AfD also gained its largest support in the east.

AfD got more votes from past non-voters (1.2 million) than from the CDU/CSU (1 million) or SPD (500,000). In many ways this is an anti-Merkel vote, reflecting opposition to her controversial Willkommenspolitik towards refugees, which not only pushed some voters of mainstream parties to switch but also mobilised previous non-voters. The same poll also shows, for example, that 89% of AfD voters thought that Merkel’s immigration policies ignored the “concerns of the people” (ie German citizens); 85% want stronger national borders; and 82% think that 12 years of Merkel is enough. In other words, AfD has clearly profited from the fact that immigration was the number one issue in these elections. [Continue reading…]

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Germany faces first far-right party in parliament since World War Two

The Guardian reports: Germany is bracing itself for a watershed moment in its postwar history, with an overtly nationalist party is set to emphatically enter the country’s parliament for the first time in almost six decades.

Rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland has strengthened its upward trajectory in the last week before the vote, with two polls published on Friday showing the party on third place.

Founded just four years ago as an anti-euro force, the AfD is polling on between 11% and 13%, with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Social Democrats dropping percentage points while the Left party slipped into fourth place.

According to polls by respected institutes INSA and Enmid on Friday, Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance was on between 34% to 36% and the SPD on between 21% and 22%. Die Linke was polling at between 10% and 11%, the pro-business Liberal Democrats on 9% and the Greens had crept up to 8%.

The results would pave the way for the continuation of a grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD or a so-called Jamaica Coalition between Merkel’s conservatives and the FDP and Greens, never before seen on the national stage.

AfD leaders have urged their members to act as election observers, keeping a close eye on the voting process amid mounting suspicions within the party that their results might be manipulated, citing the threat the party posed to the established parties.

The AfD, under their top candidates Alice Weidel, a 38-year-old management consultant – who has made much of her same-sex relationship in recent days – and Alexander Gauland, a 76-year-old German nationalist with strong anglophile leanings, have made considerable strides over the course of the campaign in spite of a rightward lurch in its rhetoric criticised even by the party’s leader.

Vowing in its manifesto to ban all mosques and minarets, prohibit Muslim calls to prayer and criminalise people wearing the veil, the AfD has also called for a change in attitude to Germany’s historic crimes in the second world war.

If polls are accurate, the AfD is expected to garner between 60 and 85 parliamentary seats, and would become the largest opposition group in parliament if Merkel’s conservative alliance and the SPD agreed to continue their coalition. [Continue reading…]

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Trump uses Putin’s arguments to undermine the world

Spencer Ackerman writes: The leader stepped to the podium of the United Nations General Assembly, as close to a literal world stage as exists, and issued a stringent defense of the principle of national sovereignty.

“What is the state sovereignty, after all, that has been mentioned by our colleagues here? It is basically about freedom and the right to choose freely one’s own future for every person, nation and state,” he said, attacking what he identified as the hypocrisy of those who seek to violate sovereignty in the name of stopping mass murder.

“Aggressive foreign interference,” the leader continued, “has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster.”

The leader was not Donald Trump on Tuesday, but Vladimir Putin in 2015. Whatever nexus between Putin and Trump exists for Robert Mueller to discover, the evidence of their compatible visions of foreign affairs was on display at the United Nations clearer than ever, with Trump’s aggressive incantation of “sovereignty, security and prosperity” as the path to world peace. “There can be no substitute for strong, sovereign, and independent nations, nations that are rooted in the histories and invested in their destiny,” Trump said, hitting his familiar blood-and-soil themes that echo from the darker moments in European history. [Continue reading…]

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Echoes of Charlottsville are hard to miss as truck driver threatens antifa protesters in Vancouver WA

Willamette Week reports: Police in Vancouver this afternoon arrested a man after a Patriot Prayer rally when he nearly ran his truck into a crowd of antifascist counter-protesters.

After a rally organized by the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, antifascist protesters marched north into downtown Vancouver along Columbia Avenue.

A black Chevy Silverado with Oregon plates and two large American flags and several small flags hanging from its windows (along with a Confederate flag decal displayed on the back window of the cab) drove up to the marchers. It was driving slowly down a street flanked by people dressed in black bloc clothing.

As the crowd parted to clear the way for the truck to move forward, protesters filled the street behind it and started throwing rocks and water bottles at the truck.

The driver suddenly put his vehicle in reverse and accelerated toward the protesters. As he sped up, people jumped out of the street. [Continue reading…]

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Why white nationalists love Bashar al-Assad

Mariam Elba writes: It shouldn’t be surprising that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has become an idol among white nationalists in the United States.

During the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally several weeks ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, Baked Alaska, an infamous far-right YouTuber, livestreamed an encounter with a demonstrator wearing a T-shirt that read “Bashar’s Barrel Delivery Co.” The shirt alluded to the Assad regime’s frequent, horrific use of barrel bombs — weapons employed to indiscriminately target rebel-held areas of Syria.

That rally-goer shouted, “Support the Syrian Arab Army!” and “Assad did nothing wrong!” They gloated over how Assad can “solve this whole ISIS problem” with just two chemical bombs. James Fields, the 20-year-old white supremacist who allegedly rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, posted a portrait of Assad, in military regalia and aviator sunglasses to Facebook. A superimposed caption read: “UNDEFEATED.”

There’s a simple explanation for how the American far-right became curiously infatuated with the Arab totalitarian leader: Their hearts were won over by the Assad family’s years-old propaganda campaign at home in Syria. Assad’s authoritarianism uses the same buzzwords as the far-right to describe the society he’s trying to build in his own country — a pure, monolithic society of devotees to his own power. American neo-Nazis see Assad as a hero.

As the chaos of Charlottesville and its aftermath was unfolding, Assad addressed a group of diplomats in Damascus about the ongoing war in Syria. “We lost many of our youth and infrastructure,” he said, “but we gained a healthier and more homogenous society.”

Whereas white nationalists aim to create a healthy and homogeneous society through racial purity, for Assad it means a society free of any kind of political dissent, excluding any Syrian living outside the territory his regime controls. Anyone who does not fit Assad’s specific definition of what it means to be Syrian is up for execution.

Alexander Reid Ross, a lecturer of geography at Portland State University and author of the new book, “Against the Fascist Creep,” said Assad is a figure that is central to a realization of “Eurasianism.” The notion “holds that Russia will lead the world out of a dark age of materialism and toward an ultranationalist rebirth of homogenous ethno-states federated under a heterogeneous spiritual empire,” Reid Ross said. [Continue reading…]

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Steve Bannon’s reaction to Charlottesville: ‘Just give me more.’

Steve Bannon phoned Robert Kuttner, editor of The American Prospect to discuss what Bannon regards as their convergent views on China. Having neglected to request his remarks be kept off the record, Bannon was later apparently dismayed that he was quoted. Even though in the course of the interview, Bannon usurps Trump’s authority by repeatedly speaking as though he is the president, others in the White House say Trump is afraid of firing him. Jonathan Swan at Axios predicts that if Bannon gets fired, Breitbart will go “thermonuclear” in its attacks on Trump for dumping their champion of white nationalism.

Kuttner writes: Bannon explained that his strategy is to battle the trade doves inside the administration while building an outside coalition of trade hawks that includes left as well as right. Hence the phone call to me.

There are a couple of things that are startling about this premise. First, to the extent that most of the opponents of Bannon’s China trade strategy are other Trump administration officials, it’s not clear how reaching out to the left helps him. If anything, it gives his adversaries ammunition to characterize Bannon as unreliable or disloyal.

More puzzling is the fact that Bannon would phone a writer and editor of a progressive publication (the cover lines on whose first two issues after Trump’s election were “Resisting Trump” and “Containing Trump”) and assume that a possible convergence of views on China trade might somehow paper over the political and moral chasm on white nationalism.

The question of whether the phone call was on or off the record never came up. This is also puzzling, since Steve Bannon is not exactly Bambi when it comes to dealing with the press. He’s probably the most media-savvy person in America.

I asked Bannon about the connection between his program of economic nationalism and the ugly white nationalism epitomized by the racist violence in Charlottesville and Trump’s reluctance to condemn it. Bannon, after all, was the architect of the strategy of using Breitbart to heat up white nationalism and then rely on the radical right as Trump’s base.

He dismissed the far right as irrelevant and sidestepped his own role in cultivating it: “Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”

“These guys are a collection of clowns,” he added.

From his lips to Trump’s ear.

“The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: [Bannon] said in an interview that if Democrats want to fight over Confederate monuments and attack Mr. Trump as a bigot, that was a fight the president would win.

“President Trump, by asking, ‘Where does this all end’ — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln — connects with the American people about their history, culture and traditions,” he said.

“The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it’s all racist,” Mr. Bannon added. “Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.”

Much of the party’s political class, however, was in shock. Former Presidents George and George W. Bush issued a rare joint rebuke of Mr. Trump’s stance, saying hate should be rejected “in all forms.”

And among younger Republicans there was a sense that the damage would be profound and enduring.

“The last year and especially the last few days have basically erased 15 years of efforts by Republicans to diversify the party,” said David Holt, a 38-year-old Oklahoma state senator running for mayor of Oklahoma City. “If I tried to sell young people in general but specifically minority groups on the Republican Party today, I’d expect them to laugh me out of the room. How can you not be concerned when the country’s demographics are shifting away from where the Republican Party seems to be shifting now?” [Continue reading…]

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The United States was never immune to fascism. Not then, not now

 

David Motadel writes: America is currently experiencing a wave of increasingly aggressive far-right and neo-fascist activism. Observers have routinely considered fascism an ideology alien to American society. Yet it has deeper roots in American history than most of us have been willing to acknowledge.

Consider the interwar period. The crisis years of the 1920s and 1930s not only gave rise to fascist movements across Europe – a moment captured in Ernst Nolte’s classic The Three Faces of Fascism – but around the globe. The United States was no exception.

Charlottesville reveals an emboldened far right that can no longer be ignored
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Across the country, fascist and proto-fascist groups sprang up. The most prominent among them was the paramilitary Silver Shirts movement, founded by William Dudley Pelley, a radical journalist from Massachusetts, in 1933.

Obsessed with fantasies about a Jewish-Communist world conspiracy and fears about an African American corruption of American culture, its followers promoted racism, extreme nationalism, violence and the ideal of an aggressive masculinity. They competed against various other militant fringe groups, from the Khaki Shirt movement, which aimed to build a paramilitary force of army veterans to stage a coup, to the paramilitary Black Legion, feared for its assassinations, bombings and acts of arson. [Continue reading…]

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When does a fringe movement stop being fringe?

Vann R. Newkirk II writes: Suddenly, the “far right” doesn’t seem so far. On Friday night, hundreds of protesters descended on a statue of Confederate hero Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. Carrying tiki torches, waving Confederate battle flags, and sometimes armed with clubs and shields and flanked by self-styled militiamen with heavier arms, the protesters, described by many as “white nationalists,” brawled with counter-protesters in Charlottesville streets, a situation that led Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency Saturday.

Still, the fallout, the latest in a year-long series of growing protests centered around that statue in Emancipation Park, sprawled into Saturday afternoon. A car plowed through a group of counter-protesters, who’d taken the streets to celebrate their perceived victory against the white-supremacist protesters. So far, reports indicate at least one person has died, and many more are injured. Officials have not yet said if they think the incident was deliberate.

Even before that most deadly incident, politicians responded to the crisis in Charlottesville. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Twitter that “the views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant,” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted that “the hate and bigotry witnessed in Charlottesville does not reflect American values.” In a statement Saturday morning, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe stated that he was “disgusted by the hatred, bigotry, and violence these protesters have brought to our state.” President Donald Trump has tweeted multiple times about the protests, and in a statement after the deadly car incident condemned violence “on many sides.”

These reactions, after a year of burgeoning demonstrations in the park, are remarkable both in their alarm and their vagueness.

Trump’s statements call out “many sides” for their contribution to violence. McAuliffe’s statement, especially, reads as if there’s something alien or novel about violent white pro-Confederate protest in Virginia—which, it can be said with confidence, is simply not true. Few notable statements from public officials put a name to the general “bigotry” that most leaders cited.

Journalists have also struggled with categorizing what’s happening in Charlottesville. Ever since the alt-right leader Richard Spencer first led groups of protesters in Emancipation Park against the prospective removal of the Lee statue, outlets have adopted his “white nationalist” label—one often used by members of his particular portion of the alt-right movement as a way to avoid the negative connotations of “white supremacist”—as a descriptor for the protests.

But the protesters, which now boast the endorsement of Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and the participation of Klansmen and Neo-Nazis—some armed and chanting “Jews will not replace us”—appear to be exactly the kind of mob that the term “white supremacist” evokes in its most commonly used connotation. [Continue reading…]

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These are your people, President Trump

Colbert I. King writes: President Trump’s mealy-mouthed mutterings on the terrorism let loose in Charlottesville on Saturday are worthy of the hypocrite and instigator of hate that he has proved himself to be. Trump knows what was at work on those streets and who was behind it. As well he should. They are some of the same forces that helped to put him in the White House.

On hand giving the clan of white nationalists a verbal boost was former Ku Klux Klan leader and preeminent white nationalist David Duke. Just as the bigoted Duke was on hand on election night exclaiming on social media that Trump’s victory was “one of the most exciting nights of my life.” Duke tweeted at the time, “Make no mistake about it, our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump.”

And Duke’s people — Trump’s people, also — were out in force in Charlottesville with their hate-filled minds, their guns, and a weaponized automobile. [Continue reading…]

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Trump refuses to condemn white supremacist terrorism

The Washington Post reports: President Trump on Saturday condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the spate of violence unfolding in Charlottesville and called for “a swift restoration of law and order” — but avoided placing blame on any particular party for the hate-fueled upheaval.

Trump spoke after hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members clashed with counterprotesters in the streets and three cars later collided in a pedestrian mall packed with people, killing one person and injuring at least 10 others.

In his remarks, at his private golf club here, N.J., Trump spoke out against “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

“It’s been going on for a long time in our country, not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time,” Trump said, adding that he wanted to study the episode to learn what is wrong with the country.

He ignored shouted questions from reporters about what he thought of the white nationalists at the event who said they supported him and were inspired by his campaign. [Continue reading…]

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The ugly history of Stephen Miller’s ‘cosmopolitan’ epithet

Jeff Greenfield writes: When TV news viewers saw Trump adviser Stephen Miller accuse Jim Acosta of harboring a “cosmopolitan bias” during Wednesday’s news conference, they might have wondered whether he was accusing the CNN White House reporter of an excessive fondness for the cocktail made famous on “Sex and the City.” It’s a term that’s seldom been heard in American political discourse. But to supporters of the Miller-Bannon worldview, it was a cause for celebration. Breitbart, where Steve Bannon reigned before becoming Trump’s chief political strategist, trumpeted Miller’s “evisceration” of Acosta and put the term in its headline. So did white nationalist Richard Spencer, who hailed Miller’s dust-up with Acosta as “a triumph.”

Why does it matter? Because it reflects a central premise of one key element of President Donald Trump’s constituency—a premise with a dark past and an unsettling present.

So what is a “cosmopolitan”? It’s a cousin to “elitist,” but with a more sinister undertone. It’s a way of branding people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation, and identify more with like-minded people regardless of their nationality. (In this sense, the revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine might have been an early American cosmopolitan, when he declared: “The world is my country; all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”). In the eyes of their foes, “cosmopolitans” tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with “untraditional” ideas and lives.

For a nationalist, these are fighting words. Your country is your country; your fellow citizens are your brethren; and your country’s traditions—religious and otherwise— should be yours. A nation whose people—especially influential people—develop other ties undermine national strength, and must be repudiated.

One reason why “cosmopolitan” is an unnerving term is that it was the key to an attempt by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to purge the culture of dissident voices. In a 1946 speech, he deplored works in which “the positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitanism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded.” It was part of a yearslong campaigned aimed at writers, theater critics, scientists and others who were connected with “bourgeois Western influences.” Not so incidentally, many of these “cosmopolitans” were Jewish, and official Soviet propaganda for a time devoted significant energy into “unmasking” the Jewish identities of writers who published under pseudonyms.

What makes this history relevant is that, all across Europe, nationalist political figures are still making the same kinds of arguments—usually but not always stripped of blatant anti-Semitism—to constrict the flow of ideas and the boundaries of free political expression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, has more and more embraced this idea that unpatriotic forces threaten the nation. [Continue reading…]

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Hungary’s PM claims EU and George Soros are trying to ‘Muslimize’ Europe

The Associated Press reports: European Union leaders and Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros are seeking a “new, mixed, Muslimized Europe,” Hungary’s anti-migration prime minister said Saturday.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said during a visit to Romania that Hungary’s border fences, supported by other Central European countries, will block the EU-Soros effort to increase Muslim migration into Europe.

While Hungary opposed taking in migrants “who could change the country’s cultural identity,” Orban said under his leadership, Hungary would remain a place where “Western European Christians will always be able to find security.”

Orban, who will seek a fourth term in April 2018, said Hungary’s opposition parties were no match for his government.

“In the upcoming campaign, first of all we have to confront external powers,” Orban said at a cultural festival in Baile Tusnad, Romania. “We have to stand our ground against the Soros mafia network and the Brussels bureaucrats. And, during the next nine months, we will have to fight against the media they operate.”

Soros has become a key target of Orban and his government. [Continue reading…]

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Trump is ushering in a dark new conservatism

Timothy Snyder writes: In his committed mendacity, his nostalgia for the 1930s, and his acceptance of support from a foreign enemy of the United States, a Republican president has closed the door on conservatism and opened the way to a darker form of politics: a new right to replace an old one.

Conservatives were skeptical guardians of truth. The conservatism of the 18th century was a thoughtful response to revolutionaries who believed that human nature was a scientific problem. Edmund Burke answered that life is not only a matter of adaptations to the environment, but also of the knowledge we inherit from culture. Politics must respect what was and is as well as what might be.

The conservative idea of truth was a rich one.

Conservatives did not usually deny the world of science, but doubted that its findings exhausted all that could be known about humanity. During the terrible ideological battles of the 20th century, American conservatives urged common sense upon liberals and socialists tempted by revolution.

The contest between conservatives and the radical right has a history that is worth remembering. Conservatives qualified the Enlightenment of the 18th century by characterizing traditions as the deepest kind of fact. Fascists, by contrast, renounced the Enlightenment and offered willful fictions as the basis for a new form of politics. The mendacity-industrial complex of the Trump administration makes conservatism impossible, and opens the floodgates to the sort of drastic change that conservatives opposed. [Continue reading…]

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Russia’s global anti-libertarian crusade

Cathy Young writes: One of the surreal twists of the past year in American politics has been the rapid realignment in attitudes toward Russia. Democrats, many of whom believe that Russian interference was key to Donald Trump’s unexpected victory last November, are now the ones sounding the alarm about the Russian threat. Meanwhile, quite a few Republicans—previously the keepers of the anti-Kremlin Cold War flame—have taken to praising President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader and Moscow as an ally against radical Islam. A CNN/ORC poll in late April found that 56 percent of Republicans see Russia as either “friendly” or “an ally,” up from 14 percent in 2014. Over the same period, Putin’s favorable rating from Republicans in the Economist/YouGov poll went from 10 percent to a startling 37 percent.

The dominant narrative in the U.S. foreign policy establishment and mainstream media casts Putin as the implacable enemy of the Western liberal order—an autocratic leader at home who wants to weaken democracy abroad, using information warfare and covert activities to subvert liberal values and to promote Russia-friendly politicians and movements around the world.

In this narrative, President Donald Trump is like the French nationalist Marine Le Pen, whose failed presidential campaign this year relied heavily on loans from Russian banks with Kremlin ties: a witting or unwitting instrument of subversion, useful to Putin either as an ideological ally or as an incompetent who will strengthen Russia’s hand by destabilizing American democracy.

At its extremes, the Russian subversion narrative relies on a great deal of conspiratorial thinking. It also far too easily absolves the Western political establishment of responsibility for its failures, from the defeat of European Union supporters in England’s Brexit vote to Hillary Clinton’s loss in last November’s election. Putin makes a convenient boogeyman.

Nonetheless, there is a real Russian effort to counter American—plus NATO and E.U.—influence by supporting authoritarian nationalist movements and groups, such as Le Pen’s National Front, Hungary’s quasi-fascist Jobbik Party, and Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Today’s Russia is no longer just a moderately authoritarian corrupt regime trying to maintain its regional influence. Cloaked in the mantle of religious and nationalist values, the Kremlin positions itself as a defender of tradition and sovereignty against the godless progressivism and the migrant hordes overtaking the West. It has a global propaganda machine and a network of political operatives dedicated to cultivating far-right and sometimes far-left groups in Europe and elsewhere.

Tom Palmer, vice president for international programs at the Atlas Network, has been actively involved in projects promoting liberty in ex-Communist countries since the late 1980s; he has taken to warning against a new “global anti-libertarianism.” Writing for the Cato Policy Report last December, Palmer noted that “Putin, the pioneer in the trend toward authoritarianism, has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into promoting anti-libertarian populism across Europe and through a sophisticated global media empire, including RT and Sputnik News, as well as a network of internet troll factories and numerous made-to-order websites.”

Slawomir Sierakowski of Warsaw’s Institute for Advanced Study and Emma Ashford of the Cato Institute have also warned about the rise of an “Illiberal International” in which Russia plays a key role.

Of course, for many libertarians, the post–Cold War international order that Putin seeks to undo is itself of dubious value. For one thing, that order is based on America’s role as GloboCop, which isn’t very compatible with small government. For another, it enforces its own “progressive” brand of soft authoritarianism, from over-regulation of markets to restrictions on “hate speech” and other undesirable expression. Yet for all the valid criticisms of the Western liberal establishment and its foreign and domestic policies, there is little doubt that the ascendancy of hardcore far-right or far-left authoritarianism would lead to a less freedom-friendly world. And there is little doubt that right now, Russia is a driving force in this ascendancy. [Continue reading…]

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‘Our world has never been so divided,’ says French President Macron at close of G-20 summit at which U.S. isolated itself

The Washington Post reports: President Trump and other world leaders on Saturday emerged from two days of talks unable to resolve key differences on core issues such as climate change and globalization, slapping an exclamation point on a divisive summit that left other nations fearing for the future of global alliances in the Trump era.

The scale of disharmony was remarkable for the annual Group of 20 meeting of world economic powers, a venue better known for sleepy bromides about easy-to-agree-on issues. Even as negotiators made a good-faith effort to bargain toward consensus, European leaders said that a chasm has opened between the United States and the rest of the world.

“Our world has never been so divided,” French President Emmanuel Macron said as the talks broke up. “Centrifugal forces have never been so powerful. Our common goods have never been so threatened.”

The divisions were most bitter on climate change, where 19 leaders formed a unified front against Trump. But even in areas of nominal compromise, such as trade, top European leaders said they have little faith that an agreement forged today could hold tomorrow.

Macron said world leaders found common ground on terrorism but were otherwise split on numerous important topics. He also said there were rising concerns about “authoritarian regimes, and even within the Western world, there are real divisions and uncertainties that didn’t exist just a few short years ago.”

“I will not concede anything in the direction of those who are pushing against multilateralism,” Macron said, without directly referring to Trump. “We need better coordination, more coordination. We need those organizations that were created out of the Second World War. Otherwise, we will be moving back toward narrow-minded nationalism.” [Continue reading…]

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The white nationalist roots of Donald Trump’s Warsaw speech

Jamelle Bouie writes: “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” said the president, before posing a series of questions: “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

In the context of terrorism specifically, a deadly threat but not an existential one, this is overheated. But it’s clear Trump has something else in mind: immigration. He’s analogizing Muslim migration to a superpower-directed struggle for ideological conquest. It’s why he mentions “borders,” why he speaks of threats from “the South”—the origin point of Hispanic immigrants to the United States and Muslim refugees to Europe—and why he warns of internal danger.

This isn’t a casual turn. In these lines, you hear the influence of [Steve] Bannon and [Stephen] Miller. The repeated references to Western civilization, defined in cultural and religious terms, recall Bannon’s 2014 presentation to a Vatican conference, in which he praised the “forefathers” of the West for keeping “Islam out of the world.” Likewise, the prosaic warning that unnamed “forces” will sap the West of its will to defend itself recalls Bannon’s frequent references to the Camp of the Saints, an obscure French novel from 1973 that depicts a weak and tolerant Europe unable to defend itself from a flotilla of impoverished Indians depicted as grotesque savages and led by a man who eats human feces.

For as much as parts of Trump’s speech fit comfortably in a larger tradition of presidential rhetoric, these passages are clear allusions to ideas and ideologies with wide currency on the white nationalist right.

Defenders of the Warsaw speech call this reading “hysterical,” denying any ties between Trump’s rhetoric in Poland and white nationalism. But to deny this interpretation of the speech, one has to ignore the substance of Trump’s campaign, the beliefs of his key advisers, and the context of Poland itself and its anti-immigrant, ultranationalist leadership. One has to ignore the ties between Bannon, Miller, and actual white nationalists, and disregard the active circulation of those ideas within the administration. And one has to pretend that there isn’t a larger intellectual heritage that stretches back to the early 20th century, the peak of American nativism, when white supremacist thinkers like Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard penned works with language that wouldn’t feel out of place in Trump’s address. [Continue reading…]

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