Posts Tagged ‘Populism’

Is this an accurate portal of Trumpean future? How did we reach a stage where socio-economic equality has become a secondary priority to nationalism? I understand that the recent western anti-establishment movement seemed initially to fight for the “people” or the ordinary worker. However, I feel that those people have become deliberately detached from this initial message and have taken arms against the rise of the ‘SJW’. This isn’t particularly directed at the populist Alternative Right, but more about the source for this divisive atmosphere that has captured today’s political culture. What happened to discussions of ‘equality of opportunity’, what happened to idea of taking on the Big Banks and Wall street? Whilst there was a movement that was mobilised around social mobility, this has gradually been replaced by a rhetoric that justifies the inflated wealth of the elite.

This is particularly reflected in Trump’s decision to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act (the piece of legislation that regulated the Banks after the 2008 financial crisis). In his own words ‘We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because frankly I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses and they can’t borrow money … They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank. So we’ll be talking about that in terms of the banking industry,’. Does this sound like a man who is using radical measures to fight the establishment? It is clear that a vast section of Trump supporters have adopted a blissful ignorance to the fact that Trump is a product of a broken system. A system that seeks to protect the lucky winners of the banking and finance industry, whilst the losers – primarily those middle income earners whose mortgages were  devalued by the banking crisis, that Trump is meant to appeal to – are left a heavy financial burden to fix the economy.

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Which one will you be?

One could also argue that here in Britain, any discussion of the economic consequences of Brexit have been minimal with immigration concerns remaining dominant. But there is emerging evidence that certain MPs who backed Brexit, were not doing so to restore ‘power to the people’. Earlier last week, brexiteer Kwasi Kwarteng spoke to RT and was reluctant to criticise the sanction scheme for British welfare, but seemed quick to defend the ‘bail-out’ of the banks based on the reasoning that ‘if the banking sector fails, everything fails’. This wilful negligence to acknowledge the contribution of the working classes to the economy is indicative of the way the conservative party are ensuring that Brexit works for the establishment. The big question here is, how we the public respond to this manipulation of public opinion.

Jeremy Corbyn has warned us about the dangers of Britain becoming an off-sure tax haven for the rich. “Theresa May has dangled the threat of turning Britain into a bargain basement tax haven….Far from taking back control, that would mean an assault on our public services, our standard of living and our quality of life.” As Disraeli said back in the 19th century, this would create a two nation England, where the corporations would reap the benefits of less financial red tape and the losers will suffer from a poorly funded public services.

Brexit and Trump were meant to deliver an eagerly awaited revolution that could potentially transform the relationship between ‘people’ and authority. Instead of focusing on ensuring that that revolution is realised, the populace in both America and the US have become distracted by the May’s and Trumps ill-thought immigration strategy. This is not to say that immigration is not an important discussion, but I believe it is being used as a smokescreen so that the ‘establishment’ can realign themselves on the right side of these populist results. It is our responsibility to make sure that we hold these outcomes to account and not to be distracted by sensationalist headlines.

 

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‘Man in the High Castle’ – MITHC

The influence of popular culture on our day-to-day lives is incredible and subtle at the same time. Last year, I managed to catch up on a Boxset from Amazon Prime called ‘Man in the High Castle’. Based on the Phillip K. Dick novel of the same name , the show depicts a 1960s world where the Nazis and the Japanese Empire win the Second World War and then go on to dominate the world, both politically, economically and socially. America in particular, is divided from the the Japanese Pacific States on the West to the Nazi-Occupied forces on the East. Amongst the daily operations of the Totalitarian Nazi and Japanese authorities, we witness a resistance movement emerge from the depths of American society that aims to return America to what it used to be. The leader of this resistance, the ‘Man in the High Castle’ has produced a series of video tapes that literally portray a parallel universe where the Nazis actually lost the war. The Man in the High Castle is a mysterious and unseen figure, but his tapes provide hope for certain characters that dream of a world where ‘traditional American values’  have been restored. Whilst the world of ‘The Man in the High Castle’  is far from anything we have witnessed in our current society. I believe it presents some striking comparisons to Trump’s overall appeal to a vast section of America.

Firstly, it is important to mention that in ‘The Man in the High Castle’, the Nazi’s have political control over the entire world, their influence and reach stretches from South America to Africa and Asia. From a certain perspective, you could argue that the way in which the ‘The Resistance’ fights against against Nazi globalist force is similar to the way that Trump voters speak about the negative effects of globalization. Of course, the globalization of the 21st century is not tyrannical in the same vein, but many Trump voters feel that the authenticity of what it means to be American has been corrupted by the inter-connected and multicultural world that we live in. The Man in the High Castle talks of an ‘alternative’ dream where the world has been corrected to its natural state, and in some ways Trump sees himself as that ‘Man in the High Castle’ who offers Americans ‘a way out’ and a glimmer of hope to reverse these changes. Anti-establishment-ism can thrive in many different environments. Prior to Brexit and Trump’s victory , the idea of being Anti-Establishment was perceived as a philosophy that fights against authoritarianism and totalitarian regimes; Stalin’s Russia,  Hitler’s Third Reich and Kim John-Un’s North Korea come to mind.  These are just some historical and contemporary examples, but it is important to remember that these historical figures came to power because certain conditions existed that helped to create the desire for these kinds of leaders. Germany had suffered greatly from the  economic punishment they received from ‘Allied’ leaders after World War One and Hitler gave the Germans a sense of national pride to resist that international punishment at the expense of many minorities. Many Russians were in vast impoverishment during the rule of the Russian Tsars(royalty). Stalin portrayed himself as the leader of the working classes that seeked to lift the masses out of their struggle, again at the expense of many minorities. These men were the faces of two different types of revolutions; Hitler challenged the moderate and in some ways ‘defeatist’ Weimar Republic and Stalin was seen as someone who challenged traditional system of government. Both of these men simplified the origins of these problems, but this didn’t matter because they were seen as men who could  challenge the establishment, and Trump is operating in a very similar manner.  He doesn’t just manipulate fears and emotions, he distorts the historical causes of these poor conditions whilst placing himself as the man to solve them. Trump does not need to show how he will implement the changes, the people just need to a see a man who is willing to change things. Trump has thus created a sort messianic populism that has supported his campaign, his supporters will vote with passion and protest because Trump represents something new and enlightening. In this manner he is similar to the ‘Man in the High Castle’. The ‘Man in the High Castle’ distributes video tapes of an alternative world, and people will wholeheartedly believe and support him even-though they nothing of him simply because he symbolises a fundamental shift away from their current condition.

To say that Trumps electoral victory has create a wave of shock and and hysteria is probably an understatement. But this does the beg the question, if Trump appeared to be so abhorrent, repulsive and distasteful, then why did so many Americans vote for him as the 45th president of the United States? There can be no talk of a ‘silent majority’, as Trump’s campaign was one of the most passionate and vocal we have seen from an American Presidential campaign in decades. Personally, I believe the considerably low-turnout (which fell by 4% from 2012) demonstrates that people are gradually losing faith in a broken political system. And I believe it is here, where more parallels can be drawn with the Man in the High Castle. In the TV Show, people willingly adopt the principles of Nazism and are easily indoctrinated in their ideals. TV Critic Inkoo Kang makes a subtle similarity with the current state of our politics and MITHC by commenting ‘It’s quite possible to say we don’t have state-sponsored violence in the sense of institutional eugenics, but we have massive injustice all over this country and we’re kind of okay with it.’ Is it possible that the level of indifference in our current society has allowed corrupt political elites to take control of our democracy? I remember lots of people speaking out against the harsh austerity of the UK conservative party back in 2013, but the 2015 election displayed an even stronger level of support for the Conservatives.

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Man in the High Castle also shows how cognitive dissonance works on a larger scale. Wearing the Parteiadler (Nazi emblem) on the Statue of liberty is a clever use of political imagery. Although Nazism and the Statue of Liberty offer contrasting ideals, (Totalitarianism and Liberalism) it demonstrates how the use of traditional imagery can disguise the brutal policies of contemporary politics.

Have people decided to end their resistance towards these right wing neo-liberal parties, simply because they have given up hope? I’m not so sure, but there may be some truth to it. Both the UK and the US are now seen by many ‘western’ citizens as proponents of two-party states. Third parties are now being perceived as ‘pressure groups’ as opposed to parties that hold a realistic prospect of winning an election. Both UKIP and the US Green Party are examples of this. It is also important to note that funding and media exposure are both factors which have led to the inability of these parties to have consistent electoral success. People’s disillusionment with the system does not stem from an indifference to politics but more of a growing resistance to vote in a system that offers no true alternative in terms of policy or vision. Trump may be seen as a ‘different’ option, but the lack of diversity in presidential choices demonstrates the lack of diversity as a whole. I think cognitive dissonance plays a large factor in the reasons why Trump attracted the alternative vote despite operating in system that he has called rigged. Trump became an embodiment of radical values, this was mainly because the media built up a particular image of  Trump – as the man who would smash the establishment or “drain the swamp” – without any reference to his fairly conservative and establishment past. It appears that people were both repulsed and attracted to Trump’s apparent rebelliousness as the political scientist Runciman notes; ‘They wanted Trump to shake up a system that they also expected to shield them from the recklessness of a man like Trump.’ Surely this is an example of collective ignorance and contradiction, how people can have trust in a system that they inherently do not like? Furthermore, one could argue that the idea of Trump being controlled by the system draws dangerous parallels with Germans President’s Hindenburg’s famous 1933 quote from the  German President about Adolf Hitler. “we can control him”.

 

Trump’s victory may also represent an ambivalence about politics as a concept. Obama’s victory was seen as a momentous leap towards political and social change in America. Many commentators at the time hailed his electoral success as a symbolic triumph for progressive politics. But I would argue that Obama’s administration has been symbolic for the passive and compliant nature that our political culture consists of. Obama’s effective public-relations strategy as well as his charisma have pulled him through two presidential terms that have been wrought with various neo-liberal imperialist efforts as well efforts to bail out a central banking system that has plunged millions of Americans in to poverty. This is not speculation. These are facts. Still, Obama has faced very little opposition to his presidency. The Occupy Wall Street movement has received significant public attention but it has operated as a campaign against the system that Obama resides in, not Obama himself. How can a President that had offered so much be adored when he provided so little? You may say, ‘well the public vented their anger in the support for Trump’. But Trump does not have the constitutional power to deliver the changes that his supporters demand.  Could it be that our political passions are short lived during an age where we have so many other distractions? Is Trump just another politician that is jumping on the anti-globalist bandwagon? Time will tell. Perhaps, we should consider the possibility that a large section of society are happy to go along the political agenda that is presented to us. When I watched the MITHC, I witnessed how Americans could easily go about their daily routine despite the fact their homeland had been occupied by the Nazis. Somin, a Law professor claims that MITHC shows how ‘People in virtually any society in the right circumstances could go along with an oppressive and unjust regime.‘ It can not be doubted that revolutions and other political moments have the ability to create fundamental change. But we must ask ourselves, where exactly does this ‘fundamental change’ occur? And do we really have the power to intiate it it? If our recent history has taught us anything, it is that people will always vote for purposeful change and then fail to hold those politicians to account when that change does not occur. Is this political naivety or just human nature?

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Did Barack Obama create Donald Trump?

I also believe that Trump in very subtle ways has become the embodiment for people to escape their ‘apparent’ racial defeatism. It is here where I can witness Trump as a revolutionary. If there is one thing you can attribute towards Trump it is his notion of pride. He has restored a corrupted faith in the older white demographic, one that seeks to divide Americans on the basis of race and nationality. His alienation of the minority and his allegiance to the majority has enabled him to translate a very simple, coherent and clear message to his audience.  ‘I am the ideal but typical American ‘. This is very important, because politicians have struggled for decades to make themselves seem like one of the people. Where they have gone wrong is that they have envisaged themselves as the ‘perfect candidate’, one that is flawless and will serve the nation without the possibility of a mistake. trump’s consistent ‘gaffs’, his crude remarks and his haphazard comments on serious issues have made him appear not as a ‘political giant’ but as a human. One that may have prejudices, but a human nonetheless. He reminds me of those old eighteenth century cartoons (Punch), that features an overweight, middle aged man with receding hair. His name was John Bull and he was used as the national personification of the UK. Historian Irving has described him as “…plain, downright, matter-of-fact fellow…He excels in humour more than in wit..“, he was often shown in satirical geopolitical situations with him  making plenty of stupid mistakes but eventually winning through a sense of strength and ‘traditional values’. In a lot of ways Trump is also a national figure for many Americans. Non-Americans are constantly stereotyping the USA as nation full of fat, stupid and socially backward people. Is it no surprise that  that many Americans have used stereotype as sort of self-fulfilling prophecy with Donald Trump as their mascot? Trump has been more than happy to be the national joker as it suits his egotistical behaviour and his claim to be ‘one of us’. It is important to remember that national icons can be more important to an electorate than their political policies. In MITHC, the Japanese assert their domination over the US by using old American memorabilia as a gimmick, there are plenty of scenes where we see Americans being humiliated as the middle class Japanese laugh and scoff over old American toys. This is much in the same way when Americans used to laugh at Japanese art during the real 1960s. This is what I mean earlier when I discussed racial defeatism. Trump has given the older-white demographic the ‘impression’ that they are second class citizens in their own country. In Trump’s vision, the liberals and the ethnic minorities are the invaders who are ridiculing the ‘national conventions’ of what makes America great. Trump’s self portrayal as national icon transcends our conception of Right-wing and Left-wing politics. He attempts to portray himself as the national revolutionary to drag American out of its slump. But is this really about the fight against liberalism? Or is this about the restoration of divide and rule politics?

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A 1914 Postcard showing John Bull defeating Kaiser Wilhelm II during World War 1.                Is Donald Trump just an American version of John Bull?

 

Lastly, I would like to discuss the profile and the impact of Trump in relation to another piece of literature ‘Look who’s Back – Timur Vermes‘. This book depicts a fictional world where Hitler has mistakenly travelled forward in time to 2011 Germany. At first he is horrified and disgusted with the conditions and the culture, but eventually he manages to use his political ability to gain significant influence over large section of the German people. Initially people think that he is a comical impersonator or comedian. But eventually people begin to take him more seriously; he ends up having his own TV show where he provides ‘satirical’ political sketches, he also interviews other politicians. This in particular enabled Hitler to really gain a foothold (again!) in German political culture. But what I found especially interesting is the way Hitler was able to exploit the superficial nature of European political systems. He easily ridicules apparent ‘leftist’ politicians and uses his blunt and direct rhetoric to appeal towards his audience. I think some comparisons can be drawn to the way Trump has exploited the inequality in our political abilities. But secondly, the most significant point was the way in which the book discuss es political responsibility and how it affects our discussions on Far-right attitudes, socialism and liberalism. We need to ask ourselves who is responsible for allowing these sentiments to develop. The book argues that Hitler is a product of social decline; simply because in both worlds that he has resided in (1940s and 2011) he takes advantages of the political corruption in society. Perhaps, if we look at Trump’s rise in popularity we could argue that his growing political influence is down to the negative affect that neoliberal elites have had on society. However, if we look at this history of neoliberalism we could argue that it was encouraged by bourgeois members of society who were afraid of the growing inflation in the 1970s. So are all political principles simply a matter of how human nature reacts to difficult circumstances? Or could it be that politicians manipulate political ideologies for their personal ambition? Whatever the answer, we must be consider the fact that we all bare some responsibility for our political outcomes, and the denial of that responsibility (as witnessed through history) will only lead to darker political forces having control of our political destiny.

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Can Far-right politics slot easily in to our world that we conceive of as tolerant and liberal?

So as to we look towards an emerging ‘neonationalist’ world; it seems that there is a growing need to adapt, accommodate and respect. But not in the ‘multicultural’, ‘globalist’ sense of the term, it has become more about understanding the sentiments of  ‘ordinary workers’ and their needs. This idea, that ‘ordinary workers’ need to to be rescued is dangerously vague in my opinion. I will explain in my next blog post about the sort of cultural values that are cementing themselves in our society under a new form of political correctness that populist politicians will thrive under. One must also wonder about the future of constitutional politics under populist influence. We can already see that Trump’s attempts to protect american patriotism is conflicting with the US constitution’s first amendment. Also in Italy, the populist surge against their Prime Minister’s constitutional policies is also proving very problematic for the Italian national identity. I also believe that the growing desire to either protect or break down our political system coincides with the privatisation of our politics. With businessmen like Trump taking control of our politics, does this mean that experience in public office can no longer be used to measure a politician’s success? The abuse of public office by public servants can be witnessed throughout history, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised to see it exposed in so much detail. These themes of constitutional change, privatisation of politics and political correctness are all features of this neo-nationalist world. Popular culture and western literature have reflected on the darker elements of this emerging trend and I believe they have provide important insight about the motivations behind Trump, but more importantly they force us to look underneath the surface of the hysteria and mania of popular politics. As we search for new answers either in history or television, we must make sure that our questions are not dictated by political stereotypes, as we are the only ones who bare political responsibility for the world that we live in.