Middle Finger Politics! A historical and contemporary analysis.

Posted: 23rd March 2016 in Uncategorised
Trump Middle finger

A T-shirt design with a literal symbol of Trump’s middle finger politics.

After recent discussions in the media about the development of an ‘increasingly dangerous’ right wing agenda in America, I believe we need to take a look at political radicalism and its ‘middle finger’. This mainly but not wholly means the radical sentiment surrounding the rise of the political beast that is more commonly known as Trump. Trump is often seen in the media as embodying a new shade of politics, one that pushes itself away from the ‘political correctness’ or the slimy indifference of those in authority. But I have other thoughts. In my opinion, Trump represents a long standing trait for politicians to use their charisma and persona to make themselves appear more radical than they actually are. It is a political trend that has occurred in both the US and the UK.

The reasons for which I have allowed myself so much time to write this blog post, was partially because I had a busy schedule, but also because I want to solidify my opinions on this subject. This is something I have thought about for a while, and I think that the current affairs of the Anglophile world support this. I believe that the Panama Papers have exposed the greedy streak in politicians across the spectrum; hence reinforcing the disillusionment within politics in general. The prospect of political radicalism in global politics has become very questionable because of these concerns.

Because politicians can no longer convince the populace with their principles, they must turn to other ‘less conventional’ methods if they wish to emphasize their radicalism. These methods are not symbolic of their ideology but instead pander to the electorate in a term I prefer to call reactionary populism. The term is very explanatory but reveals the underlying trends about the false radicalism that individuals like Trump and Farage like to engage themselves in. Trump and Farage are very good mobilizers of public opinion. They seek to respond to the pressures on society in a way that creates a sense of social panic. These figures see themselves as messiahs who wish to save the country from a period of governmental neglect but more importantly they thrive in situations where anger and frustrations can be channeled through more extreme solutions. One social scientist Carl Boggs who has written about reactionary populism in the mid 1990’s has commented that ‘Their sense of alienation and powerlessness, their paranoid feelings of being under siege, could be overcome only through the ultimate apocalyptic act‘, Trump has captured this essence of fear and danger in one statement about his opponents  ‘If you see ’em, do whatever you have to do to ’em, I don’t care.‘. Trump is claiming that we are living in a world of political anarchy where anything and everything is permitted. But if you look closely, Trump is purposely antagonizing and inflaming the hostile attitude of his supporters; this is very similar to the actions of the Nigel Farage and his party during last years elections, where UKIP sent an informant to the opposition in order to encourage vandalism and anti-social behaviour. In this instance UKIP were trying to incite an unsavory reaction from opposition groups, this is done to ensure that their party is portrayed in the better light. These reactionary methods can only be enforced by manipulating the popular attitudes in their favor.

UKIP SPY VANDALISM

Text message sent from a UKIP spy to his party headquarters asking if he should vandalize billboards whilst pretending to an Anti-Farage protester.

It is important to recognize that these reactionary populist methods are not original, there are several instances of these occurrences throughout history. Oswald Mosley, a British fascist who used the Global depression of the early 1930s to promote his heavily nationalist attitudes, created what was essentially a paramilitary force to protect him and his supporters during political rallies. However, Mosley’s young paramilitary force known as the ‘Biff Boys’ was often seen to be inciting violence as opposed to avoiding it. As one historian has commented ‘A meeting in Birmingham saw outbreaks of fighting, and the local paper blamed “the presence of the Youth Movement that immediately set a militant feeling in the few who were out for trouble“.’ Mosley was trying to jump on sentiment of despair and misery amongst young British people in the 1930s. This was particularly important as only 23 percent of boys and 17 percent of girls attended full-time schooling when registered as unemployed. Young people obviously feared for their future and livelihoods and Mosley was able to capture this fear and channel it for his own political ambition. Again, as can we witness, Mosley was mobilizing the popular but negative attitudes of the young people and forcing them to react in a manner that was hostile to Mosley’s opponents.

B.U.F Clash

Clash between Mosley’s ‘Biff Boys’ and Anti-Fascist protesters in London. 1938.

Reactionary populism can also be witnessed in the seventeenth century during the English/National civil war. This was also a period of uncertainty and instability, where many extremist socio-religious groups sprouted from non-existence, this was seen as a threat towards the authorities who felt that the status quo was being damaged by illegitimate radical forces. Many official figures sought to create a sense of panic and fear in order to discourage support against these new religious groups. One conservative writer Thomas Edwards described these new religious groups as heresies who sought to plunge Britain into anarchy and chaos. In one quote in which Edwards argues against non-conformism he states “It will not only breed divisions and schimis, disturbing the peace and quiet of churces and townes…but will undoubtedly cause much disturbance and discontent”. This is a slightly different version of reactionary populism, as Edwards was actually fighting against the popular support for religious toleration. Edwards used the insecure atmosphere from the civil war to create controversies against extremist groups. By creating this element of  instability he was able ignite a hostile reaction from conservative groups to oppose anything that could lead to social change in England. This is one report after an attack on an extremist social group in Kent

“They set fire to six houses, and burned them down, and burned likewise some of the household stuff… not pitying the cries of many little children, and their frightened mothers…. they kicked a poor man’s wife, so that she miscarried her child”

It is important to understand that the main feature of reactionary populism is to manipulate national sentiments in order to create a serious element of fear in an unconventional manner, and Edwards was able to do this by using pamphlets and inflammatory language (which was a relatively new method of addressing the population) to create a hostile atmosphere.

Another key feature of reactionary populism, is the how political figures portray themselves as radicals even though some of their principles seem to suit the current ‘establishment’. If we take Donald Trump for example, he makes his social immigration policies quite clear, deciding to go outside of the ‘political correct language’ to describe illegal immigrants as ‘aliens’, a type of rhetoric that has helped Trump to inflame the ethnic tensions to his advantage. But we must ignore the media temptation to just look at his sensationalist policies, we need to discuss all the angles of politicians if we are to consider whether they are a political radical or not. Trumps financial plan for the American society is actually quite conservative; his taxation policies for example would help to support the status quo; he would allow American citizens earning over $415,000 to pay the same tax as those earning $37,000. Now I am not saying that progressive taxation is the answer to solve America’s social problems(although there are plenty arguments to support it), but this will blatantly widen inequality amongst the classes in America. This policy will only seek to support the rich corporations that many citizens claim have exploited Americas wealth. In other words, his policies would help to maintain the social structure of America not change it. If being radical is defined as a ‘departure from what is usual or traditional’, then we have to question Trump’s credentials as a political radical. His taxation policy – which is a key tenet of Trump’s policy in making ‘America great again’ – seeks to support the current status quo.  If the status quo is seen as the fundamental structure of a society, then Trump can not be considered radical as he is not disrupting the backbone of his society. Trump has ignored this part of manifesto because it contradicts his vision for a ‘different America’, his immigration policies however will attract more audiences because of the racial tensions surrounding the crisis in the middle east.

Trump Tax Plan

Trump’s taxation plan for very wealthy Americans.

In my opinion Trump is better to be seen as reactionary; a political figure who is responding to the popular antagonistic sentiments of his society. His policies resemble those of a ‘knee-jerk’ nature, almost like a set of quick reactions that are conceived and executed without much depth and process, seeking only to appease some base desire in some portions of the American electorate. Whether it is national anger, envy or grief, Trump will manipulate it and utilize it to suit his aspiration towards power.

Moving on to the UK, and although UKIP leader Nigel Farage is more moderate in his attempts to radical, he represents two sides of the same coin. Whilst Trump could be described as violent and aggressive in his political demeanor. Farage aims to portray his political radicalism by giving us the impression that his principles, his culture and his vision are outside of ‘establishment thinking’. He operates within the sphere of reactionary populism, but in a different way. Because of the greater awareness in recent years towards class struggle, Farage attempts to capitalize on these tensions in order build a persona that the populace will approve of. During the 2015 UK elections, we witnessed Farage appearing in lots of pubs whilst ‘having a pint’ across the country. Obviously, with pubs having a historical and contemporary connection with the working class, he is trying to make himself relevant to large sections of the electorate.

Farage Pint

UKIP leader Nigel Farage appears to look indifferent as he ‘pulls a pint’.

Although, it must be made aware that his over-publicized cultural affiliations are not a symbol of his radicalism. His actual principles are actually in line with mainstream views. For example, he has repeatedly admitted he is pro-immigration and although his proposed policy of having 50,000 immigration cap is half of PM Cameron’s 100’000 cap, it still does not represent a fundamental change in UK policy as Farage has commented  ” we are not against immigration. we welcome immigration; we want immigration“, this quote does not signify a whole-scale change in immigration strategy, it follows the same pattern as other political parties. I say this because like the Labour Party, Tories and Liberal Democrats, Farage is placing an arbitrary cap on his immigration target, rather than proposing a ‘band’ on the amount of immigrants he thinks the UK should to take in. I perceive this in that he is making a promise which many experts understand will be hard to keep. Of course, Farage is trying to ignite a reaction amongst his political supporters, he wants to give the perception in that by applying an absolute immigration number he will appear as firm and decisive in his policies and he wants his voters to react the same way. By being firm and decisive when they reach the ballot box.

Secondly, Farage attempts to persuade us that his radical thinking his representative of his party and his position within it: “And we are challenging the establishment — we are challenging their very thought; we are challenging the very basis upon which they exist and operate.” This issue that Farage and Ukip are challenging the hierarchy and the authorities that dictate our lives is a point which must be questioned. If take the example of Farage’s background, the evidence shows that Farage went to an independent public school with alumni with likes of Edward George who was the former governor for the Bank of England, Raj Rajaratnam; former owner of what was one of the largest and most corrupt hedge funds in the world, as well as Peter Prescott who was a deputy High Judge who even worked for the Queen’s Council. I am not saying that Farage is an establishment figure because he went to the same school as these individuals. But the fact that he shared the same cultural environment with such financial, economic and legal heavyweights must make us question the so called”distant” relationship between Farage and the establishment.

Even if we analyze the history of the United Kingdom Independence Party, we can see that the party is far from anti-establishment. One of the key members who helped to found UKIP, was the multi-millionaire James Goldsmith who has strong financial and personal connections with wealthy and influential families across the globe; from Brazilian royalty to rich banking groups in South Eastern Europe and beyond. Goldsmith’s position within society and his advantageous relationship with such powerful authorities in the world of trade and economy really challenges the origins of UKIP as an anti-establishment party. There are other elements about UKIP, which undermine the ‘radical’ label that they place upon themselves. Firstly, if they oppose the very principle of ‘an ever closer union’  with the Europe, then why do they stand for elections within European Parliament? Other Uk political parties such as Sinn Fein do not take up their seat in the Houses of Parliament even though they contest General Election in the United Kingdom. If they really supported the campaign to leave the European Union, then shouldn’t they withdraw their political participation with the E.U as a symbol of protest? Their willingness to contribute in the European process despite their opposition towards it, reeks of hypocrisy and leads us to question their credentials as a radical party. Perhaps it may be better to look at the party as one that is reacting towards the recent growth of British nationalism as opposed to one that is genuinely concerned with British sovereignty .

The fact that there are politicians that like to manipulate nationalist sentiments is not a new phenomena but it is worth returning to such historical figures like Oswald Mosley in order to reveal some contemporary truths behind these reactionary populist groups. Mosley is frequently mentioned in accordance with his radical policies for employment, state control and the economy. But what isn’t really discussed is the fact that Mosley’s methods and support came from very established circles which inevitably challenges his identity as a extremist politician. As one political historian has noted “Oswald Mosley is an example of a renegade with a very questionable radical past…indeed it is open to question whether Mosely can be classified as an ex-radical at all“, Mosley was supported and funded by several members of the nobility; one of which was Lady Grace Pearson who particularly influential in her commercial reach. Mosley and his supporters are estimated to have gained £3000 from in subscription from supporters like those. They even had support from recognized military figures, Captain Gordon Canning who was awarded the military cross in the 1917 became Mosley’s foreign affairs advisor. But even if we look lower down the social ranks in society, we can see that Mosley support did not come from radical groups: “Fascism appealed to younger-minded middle class who are conservative by temperament”. Mosley may have spoken about dismantling the government and creating a new Corporate State, but the reality behind the situation was that his support was drawn from conservative and established audiences who were just reacting to the disastrous economic outlook of the 1930s. In some ways this is no different from Farage or even Trump who are manipulating popular attitudes against foreigners in order to garner political support. Indeed Mosley’s ambition to gain political support can not be understated as he flipped between both Conservative and Labour Parties in attempting to find his best chance of political success.

Trump, Farage and Mosley are all part of the same political animal. Reactionary Populism has resurfaced the political landscape due to ethnic and cultural tensions that arisen because of austerity, terrorism and nationalism. Because mainstream politicians are sticking to the same mundane and ineffective solutions to these problems, a space has formed for right wing politicians to broadcast their attitudes in a manner that is simultaneously alarming and fashionable. Their views seek to invoke an a reaction from the public that is steeped in negativity and  hostility but also helps to build up a base of support for the Far Right. Politicians use the ‘middle finger’ to appear down to earth and modern and the electorate seem them as radical figures because they are departing from a world of political correctness. But in reality, these so called ‘radical’ politicians are supported by the establishment and the elite. Their visions for society are ones that seek to uphold the status quo not dismantle it. Their actions and behaviour may be unorthodox, but their principles and their operations are conservative and moderate. Our electorate needs to learn to distinguish between the radical and the reactionary, if they don’t then the popular sentiments of society will continue to be manipulated.

 

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