Stopping the advance of the right-wing populists

In an editorial for Der Spiegel, Ullrich Fichtner writes: Populists like to claim that they alone have the courage to tell the truth. That only they are bold enough to say what the aloof elite and the politically correct mainstream deliberately hold back. The result are truths such as Mexicans are rapists and North Africans are gropers. And that no upstanding German wants a neighbor with dark skin. And more such nonsense.

Convicted racist Geert Wilders sought to win the Dutch election last week with the truth that Moroccans are “scum.” And now those who don’t share Wilders’ view are relieved that only 13 percent of voters agree with him.

But while Wilders’ election defeat may be pleasing, it is still too early to sound the all-clear. This election too delivered plenty of evidence that right-wing populists dominate the public debate.

As things currently stand, the multimedia circus frequently delivers absurdly distorted images of political reality, particularly here in Europe. In the weeks leading up to the Dutch election, a Geert Wilders festival was celebrated in print, radio, television and internet outlets, almost as though the other 27 parties participating in the Dutch vote didn’t even exist. The same can currently be said of France, where the press makes it seem as though only Marine Le Pen’s ideas are up for debate. And there is hardly an article about Italian politics that doesn’t include images of the slobbering populist Beppo Grillo. Here in Germany, entire media seminars could be held focusing on the hysterical attention being paid to the ups and downs of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The dual shock of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election may have magnified the tendency to exaggerate the ugly. In both cases, the inability to see what was coming increased the media’s self-doubt, shook the political classes and unsettled entire societies. But it would be a cardinal error to conclude from Brexit and Trump that the theories and tirades of right-wing troublemakers automatically represent the “voice of the people” and are thus the expression of justifiable concerns. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was funded and built

Matea Gold reports: The champagne was flowing as hedge fund executive Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah hosted a reception during the Cannes Film Festival last May to promote “Clinton Cash,” a film by their political adviser Stephen K. Bannon and the production company they co-founded, Glittering Steel.

The Mercers, Republican mega-donors who had spent millions on the failed presidential bid of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Bannon, then executive chairman of Breitbart News Network, were still weeks from formally aligning with Donald Trump’s campaign. But the festivities that balmy evening aboard the Sea Owl, the Mercers’ luxurious yacht, marked the growing influence of their financial and political partnership in shaping the 2016 campaign — and in encouraging the populist surge now reverberating around the world.

The Mercers’ approach is far different from that of other big donors. While better-known players such as the Koch brothers on the right and George Soros on the left focus on mobilizing activists and voters, the Mercers have exerted pressure on the political system by helping erect an alternative media ecosystem, whose storylines dominated the 2016 race.

Their alliance with Bannon provided fuel for the narrative that drove Trump’s victory: that dangerous immigrants are ruining the country and corrupt power brokers are sabotaging Washington.

The wealthy New York family and the former investment banker-turned-media executive collaborated on at least five ventures between 2011 and 2016, according to a Washington Post review of public filings and multiple people familiar with their relationship. The extent of their partnership has not previously been reported.

Through those projects, the Mercers and Bannon, now chief White House strategist, quietly built a power base aimed at sowing distrust of big government and eroding the dominance of the major news media. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg interview: ‘It’s not the best of times’

 

Facebooktwittermail

Bannon: Trump administration is in unending battle for ‘deconstruction of the administrative state’

The Washington Post reports: Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s reclusive chief strategist and the intellectual force behind his nationalist agenda, said Thursday that the new administration is locked in an unending battle against the media and other globalist forces to “deconstruct” an outdated system of governance.

In his first public speaking appearance since Trump took office, Bannon made his comments alongside White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus at a gathering of conservative activists. They sought to prove that they are not rivals but partners in fighting on Trump’s behalf to transform Washington and the world order.

“They’re going to continue to fight,” Bannon said of the media, which he repeatedly described as “the opposition party,” and other forces he sees as standing in the president’s way. “If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.”

Atop Trump’s agenda, Bannon said, was the “deconstruction of the administrative state” — meaning a system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president and his advisers believe stymie economic growth and infringe upon one’s sovereignty. [Continue reading…]

Michelle Goldberg writes: CPAC, the country’s largest annual conservative gathering, has long drawn energy from young people who are resentful about liberal hegemony on college campuses. Now, however, it’s flailing as it tries to establish its own moral boundaries on right-wing speech. Its trouble started when Matt Schlapp, CPAC’s chairman, invited professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos to give a keynote address, sparking a furious backlash from traditional conservatives, who dug up statements by Yiannopoulos justifying man-boy sex. That ultimately led to Yiannopoulos losing his book deal, as well as his CPAC slot, and resigning from his job at Breitbart. In the aftermath, CPAC is trying to distance itself from the alt-right. Yet top Trump aide Steve Bannon, who once boasted that his website, Breitbart, was the “platform of the alt-right,” still had a prime Thursday afternoon speaking slot. And many young people in attendance reveled in the alt-right’s rebellious frisson of fascism. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Wilders at Dutch campaign launch vows to crack down on ‘Moroccan scum’

Reuters reports: Dutch anti-Muslim, anti-EU party leader Geert Wilders promised to crack down on “Moroccan scum” who he said were making the streets unsafe and urged the Dutch to “regain” their country as he launched his election campaign on Saturday.

Wilders was surrounded by police and security guards during a walkabout in Spijkenisse, part of the ethnically diverse industrial area surrounding the vast port of Rotterdam and a stronghold of his Freedom Party.

“Not all are scum, but there is a lot of Moroccan scum in Holland who makes the streets unsafe,” he told reporters, speaking in English. “If you want to regain your country, if you want to make the Netherlands for the people of the Netherlands, your own home, again, then you can only vote for one party.”

Crime by young Moroccans was not being taken seriously, added Wilders, who in December was convicted of inciting discrimination for leading supporters in a chant that they wanted “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” Moroccans in the country.

Wilders – who has lived in hiding since an Islamist murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 – pledges to ban Muslim immigration, close all mosques and take the Netherlands out of the European Union.

Many of his supporters at the Spijkenisse market, however, said they cared more about his social welfare policies.

“The most important thing for me is bringing the pension age back down to 65,” said Wil Fens, 59, a crane operator at the port.

Wilders hopes a global upsurge in anti-establishment feeling that has already helped to propel Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency and to persuade Britons to vote to quit the European Union will propel him to power in the March 15 parliamentary election.

A win for Wilders would boost French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and the Alternative for Germany party, both hoping to transform European politics in elections this year. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Pope appears to back anti-Trump protests in letter condemning populism

The Guardian reports: Pope Francis has offered his unequivocal support to grassroots organisers and activists who are fighting for social justice, migrants, and environmentalism, saying he “reaffirms” their choice to fight against tyranny amid a “gutting of democracies”.

“As Christians and all people of good will, it is for us to live and act at this moment. It is a grave responsibility, since certain present realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanisation which would then be hard to reverse,” the pontiff wrote in a letter that was read to organisers this week.

The remarks can be viewed as a clear endorsement by the Argentinian pope of resistance against populist and xenophobic political movements. While he did not name Donald Trump, and stressed his remarks were not targeted at any individual politician, the letter, read at the opening of the US Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, California, seem to speak directly to protests against the Republican president.

“The direction taken beyond this historic turning point – the ways in which this worsening crisis gets resolved – will depend on people’s involvement and participation and, largely, on yourselves, the popular movements,” Francis wrote. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How Trump energized the extremists who dream of making America white again

Southern Poverty Law Center reports: After half a century of being increasingly relegated to the margins of society, the radical right entered the political mainstream last year in a way that had seemed virtually unimaginable since George Wallace ran for president in 1968.

A surge in right-wing populism, stemming from the long-unfolding effects of globalization and the movements of capital and labor that it spawned, brought a man many considered to be a racist, misogynist and xenophobe into the most powerful political office in the world. Donald Trump’s election as president mirrored similar currents in Europe, where globalization energized an array of extreme-right political movements and the United Kingdom’s decision to quit the European Union.

Trump’s run for office electrified the radical right, which saw in him a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man’s country.

He kicked off the campaign with a speech vilifying Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. He retweeted white supremacist messages, including one that falsely claimed that black people were responsible for 80% of the murders of whites. He credentialed racist media personalities even while barring a serious outlet like The Washington Post, went on a radio show hosted by a rabid conspiracy theorist named Alex Jones, and said that Muslims should be banned from entering the country. He seemed to encourage violence against black protesters at his rallies, suggesting that he would pay the legal fees of anyone charged as a result.

The reaction to Trump’s victory by the radical right was ecstatic. “Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor,” wrote Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website. “Make no mistake about it: we did this. If it were not for us, it wouldn’t have been possible.” Jared Taylor, a white nationalist who edits a racist journal, said that “overwhelmingly white Americans” had shown they were not “obedient zombies” by choosing to vote “for America as a distinct nation with a distinct people who deserve a government devoted to that people.”

Richard Spencer, who leads a racist “think tank” called the National Policy Institute, exulted that “Trump’s victory was, at its root, a victory of identity politics.”

Trump’s election, as startling to extremists as it was to the political establishment, was followed by his selection of appointees with anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT and white nationalist sympathies. To lead his domestic transition team, he chose Kenneth Blackwell, an official of the virulently anti-LGBT Family Research Council. As national security adviser, he selected retired Gen. Mike Flynn, who has described Islam as a “malignant cancer” and tweeted that “[f]ear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” His designated CIA director was U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who is close to some of the country’s most rabid anti-Muslim extremists.

Most remarkable of all was his choice as chief strategic adviser of Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet known for promoting the so-called “alternative right” — fundamentally, a recent rebranding of white supremacy for public relations purposes, albeit one that de-emphasizes Klan robes and Nazi symbols in favor of a more “intellectual” approach. With Bannon’s appointment, white nationalists felt they had a man inside the White House. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Popular support for the rule of law and democracy has weakened across America

Austin Sarat writes: There is much to celebrate in the court decision against President Trump’s immigration ban. It was a stirring victory for the rule of law and reaffirmation of the independence of the judiciary. Yet America faces a serious problem which that decision did not address: the erosion of public faith in the rule of law and democratic governance.

While we have been focused on partisan divides over government policy and personnel, an almost invisible erosion of the foundations of our political system has been taking place. Public support for the rule of law and democracy can no longer be taken for granted.

In 2017, the rule of law and democracy itself are under attack by President Trump and his administration. This is as much a symptom as a cause of our current crisis. Public Policy Polling has released the startling results of a national survey taken this week. Those results show significant fissures in the public’s embrace of the rule of law and democracy.

Only 53% of those surveyed said that they “trust judges more than President Trump to make the right decisions for the United States.” In this cross-section of Americans, 38% said they trusted Donald Trump more than our country’s judges. 9% were undecided. Support for the rule of law seemed higher when respondents were asked whether they thought that President Trump should “be able to overturn decisions by judges” when he disagrees with those decisions. Here only 25% agreed, with 11% saying they were unsure. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The man who could make Marine Le Pen president of France

Angelique Chrisafis writes: On the night of the US election, Florian Philippot, the closest adviser to the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, was watching the results from his apartment on the Left Bank in Paris. Before dawn, when Donald Trump’s victory was not yet official but the liberal establishment was beginning to panic, he tweeted: “Their world is crumbling. Ours is being built.”

Around 8am, Philippot phoned Le Pen to discuss the good news. She was in a jubilant mood at the headquarters of her party – the nationalist, anti-immigration Front National – preparing to deliver a speech congratulating Trump. His victory, on promises of trade protectionism and the closing of borders, looked like a major boost to her presidential campaign. Meanwhile, a car arrived to take Philippot, the party’s vice-president, to the village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, 250km from Paris, to lay a wreath at the tomb of France’s great postwar leader, General Charles de Gaulle.

Trump’s victory happened to coincide with the anniversary of the death of de Gaulle, who led the French resistance against Nazi Germany. Philippot idolises de Gaulle: his office, which adjoins Le Pen’s, is plastered with de Gaulle memorabilia – one of many things that sets him apart as an oddity in a party that has long regarded de Gaulle as a traitor for allowing the former French colony of Algeria its independence.

Philippot’s elite credentials should have been another strike against him within a party that proclaims its loathing of the establishment. A graduate of the exclusive Ecole Nationale d’Administration, which produces presidents and prime ministers, Philippot didn’t start out in the Front National in the traditional way – driving around the countryside sticking election posters to fences. Philippot is also gay, in a party whose co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen once called homosexuality “a biological and social anomaly”. And yet, at 35, he has become the voice of the party, its media star, and the first to claim Trump’s victory as a sign of a new world order. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Under President Trump, we’ll enter an age of global confrontation

Timothy Garton Ash writes: Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House reflects a wider phenomenon: a new era of nationalism. He joins Vladimir Putin of Russia, Narendra Modi of India, Xi Jinping of China, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and a score of other nationalist leaders around the globe.

While it might be unfair to describe Theresa May as a nationalist, her announcement that she’s going for a hard Brexit reflects the pressure of English nationalism on the British right, and will encourage the nationalism of others. Of course, eras of nationalism are nothing new. But precisely because we have experienced them before, we know that they often start with high hopes and end in tears.

For now, the nationalists are giving one another the Trumpian thumbs-up across the seas. Paul Nuttall, the Ukip leader, says he is “massively excited” by the advent of President Trump, who in turn tells Michael Gove in the Times that he thinks Brexit “is going to end up being a great thing”. In a photograph that should become notorious, the Brexiteer Gove gives Trump a sycophantic thumbs-up, with a curiously goofy expression on his face, making him look like a teenage Star Trek fan who has caught 10 seconds with Patrick Stewart. The vice-president of France’s Front National responded to May’s Brexit speech by declaring: “French independence soon.” And so it goes on. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The rise and fall of European meritocracy

Ivan Krastev writes: … it is loyalty — namely the unconditional loyalty to ethnic, religious or social groups — that is at the heart of the appeal of Europe’s new populism. Populists promise people not to judge them based solely on their merits. They promise solidarity but not necessarily justice.

Unlike a century ago, today’s popular leaders aren’t interested in nationalizing industries. Instead, they promise to nationalize the elites. They do not promise to save the people but to stay with them. They promise to re-establish the national and ideological constraints that were removed by globalization. In short, what populists promise their voters is not competence but intimacy. They promise to re-establish the bond between the elites and the people. And many in Europe today find this promise appealing.[Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Human Rights Watch: Trump, European populists foster bigotry, discrimination

Human Rights Watch: The rise of populist leaders in the United States and Europe poses a dangerous threat to basic rights protections while encouraging abuse by autocrats around the world, Human Rights Watch said today in launching its World Report 2017. Donald Trump’s election as US president after a campaign fomenting hatred and intolerance, and the rising influence of political parties in Europe that reject universal rights, have put the postwar human rights system at risk.

Meanwhile, strongman leaders in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and China have substituted their own authority, rather than accountable government and the rule of law, as a guarantor of prosperity and security. These converging trends, bolstered by propaganda operations that denigrate legal standards and disdain factual analysis, directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality, Human Rights Watch said.

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights not as an essential check on official power but as an impediment to the majority will.

“The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights,” Roth said. “Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism. They all claim that the public accepts violations of human rights as supposedly necessary to secure jobs, avoid cultural change, or prevent terrorist attacks. In fact, disregard for human rights offers the likeliest route to tyranny.”

Roth cited Trump’s presidential campaign in the US as a vivid illustration of the politics of intolerance. He said that Trump responded to those discontented with their economic situation and an increasingly multicultural society with rhetoric that rejected basic principles of dignity and equality. His campaign floated proposals that would harm millions of people, including plans to engage in massive deportations of immigrants, to curtail women’s rights and media freedoms, and to use torture. Unless Trump repudiates these proposals, his administration risks committing massive rights violations in the US and shirking a longstanding, bipartisan belief, however imperfectly applied, in a rights-based foreign policy agenda. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How Trump got his party to love Russia

James Kirchick writes: For decades, anti-communism united conservatives behind the Republican Party. An otherwise disparate collection of national security hawks, free-market enthusiasts and social traditionalists rallied to the GOP, resolutely committed to checking Soviet influence around the world. All of these constituencies had reason to despise godless, revolution-exporting Bolsheviks. Although Russia no longer subscribes to Marxist-Leninist doctrine, it still presents a threat to the United States, its allies and the liberal world order. Witness its aggression against Ukraine, its intervention in Syria and its support for extremists across Europe.

In Donald Trump, the GOP nominated the most pro-Russian U.S. presidential candidate since Henry Wallace, whose 1948 bid on the Progressive Party ticket was largely run by communists. Throughout last year’s campaign, Trump lavished praise on Russian President (and career KGB agent) Vladimir Putin, attacked NATO and encouraged the Kremlin to hack his Democratic opponent’s emails. He even proposed recognizing Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula — the first violent European land grab since World War II — a move that would put the United States in the company of Cuba and North Korea. Since the election, he has openly contradicted the intelligence community’s finding that Moscow tampered in our democracy, calling such claims a “political witch-hunt.”

In his victory, Trump is bringing other Republicans along with him. GOP attitudes toward Russia began improving dramatically after Trump announced his candidacy: In July 2014, four months after Putin annexed Crimea, only 10 percent of Republicans held a favorable opinion of Russia’s president, according to an Economist/YouGov poll. Today, that figure is 37 percent. A recent poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that, while 65 percent of Americans support a congressional inquiry into Russian election interference, a narrow majority (51 percent ) of Republicans oppose it. And a survey released this past week by HuffPost/YouGov showed that 82 percent of Hillary Clinton voters want to maintain sanctions imposed on Moscow in response to its meddling, while only 16 percent of Trump voters do. Now that Russia has dropped its official atheism and anti-capitalism, claiming to be the protector of traditional values and Christendom, a growing number of American conservatives are receptive to Trump’s Russian rapprochement. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail