Tuesday, January 31, 2017

We Will Not Normalize Authoritarianism. . .

I think that one of the most important things to remember, particularly for our American cousins, in these troubled times, is that Donald Trump is only in the White House because of an antiquated electoral system. The very simple fact is that a not insignificant majority (by US electoral standards) of those who voted, rejected Trump - and that happened despite the fact that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, was herself fairly unpopular even with many in her own party. If the US presidential elections had taken place by the rules of almost every other republic in the world, Trump would not be president. This is important to remember, if only for the issue of our morale.

Remembering this electoral anomaly should encourage us because in tells us that despite Trump's success in taking over the Presidency, racism and misogyny are not necessarily undergoing a renaissance. Despite the new profile of racist discourse, the numbers of the 2016 presidential election should remind us that people are actually rejecting racism, homophobia, and misogyny. It is, I admit, a very slow process, but despite the return of these evils in the mainstream political discourse, I think change is taking place gradually, particularly with the younger generations.

The fact is that Trump didn't gain widespread support of the American population and he received a significantly smaller percentage of support than the last Republican president, George W. Bush. What got Trump elected was a growing disappointment with the Democratic Party, particularly in a small group of states that have suffered economic hardships in the wake of globalization, hardships that the Democrats have almost uniformly failed to address. Given this fact, there is a lot of talk that people have to "empathize" with the cohort of voters who voted for Trump because they felt "left behind." I think this is largely nonsense; not because empathy isn't important, but because those who have criticized the Democrats for the past 25 years for selling out to neo-liberalism, have been arguing all along that people were getting left behind in the new, globalizing capitalism. Furthermore, empathizing with the more deplorable elements in the Trump camp will get us nowhere. The racists and the misogynists have been voting for the Republicans for generations (particularly since the Democratic Party jettisoned its Southern racist elements during the 1960s). This is not going to change for the foreseeable future.

The real danger of the Trump presidency is not that there are suddenly a bunch of new racists and misogynists around. The danger is the normalization of these views. The Germans have a great word - Gleichschaltung - which is usually translated as Nazification. In English intellectual circles we often use the phrase "anticipatory socialization." These two ideas address the notion that change occurs through the socializing or normalizing of certain behaviors. In other words if nasty, violent racists see that their opinions are shared by political leaders, this gives them space to voice their opinions because they seem them as becoming "normal." You don't get rid of racism by convincing racists that they are wrong, you get rid of it by making it socially unacceptable to be openly racist so that successive generations see such opinions as abnormal and objectionable. In other words, you don't rationalize people out of racist beliefs, you socialize them out of them. The Trump administration, on the other hand, presents the very clear and present danger of socializing people into racism. Furthermore, it presents the danger of Gleichschaltung, of normalizing authoritarianism in the political system itself. The only way to avoid the dangers that this rightwing socialization presents is if the public as well as elected officials continually resist the normalization of the authoritarianism that the Trump regime is constructing. Already we are way ahead of our historical peers in the 1930s. Though people politically resisted fascism in the 30s, they did so in traditional political terms; these resisters were initially largely unaware of where fascism was really heading. But the discourse of resistance this time is armed with the knowledge of the past, we know what the outcome of this rightwing movement can be and a large portion of the population is coming to this fight with implied slogan of "not again." If forewarned is forearmed, we are in a fairly good position to resist being socialized once again into fascism.

Trump enjoys about the same level of popularity that Hitler did when he was elected. As long as the people of the US and other Western states don't allow themselves to be manipulated by fear of "the other," we stand a very good chance of not letting authoritarianism become once again normalized. This goes for us in Canada too. It is no small coincidence that a white, rightwing, fascist went on a shooting spree in a Montreal Mosque a day after the Trump immigration bans, and in the wake of the white supremacist rhetoric of Kellie Leitch. This is what happens when rightwing racists see their hate being normalized. It is not a large step from this to kristallnacht. Conditions demand vigilance.

In the meantime, let Keith Olbermann remind us that lots of Americans know what is going on and are actively resisting.


Lorne said...

Well-said, Kirby. I was just saying to my wife this morning that despite the terrible evil that is emanating from the Trump administration, I am heartened by the vigorous response of the people against his Muslim ban. As long as that response continues, and grows, I see some rays of light piercing these dark, dark times.

You might find this article of some interest: https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2017/01/31/coast-to-coast-protest-wave-challenges-donald-trump-and-democrats.html

Toby said...

What the Government of Canada should do is to place a warning about travel to the US on their consular site. https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/united-states So far their only warning is for the Zika virus.

What individual Canadians can do is to notify Chambers of Commerce in various US locations that we will not be visiting until Trump and his ilk are gone. A sharp reduction of Canadian tourists in Hawaii or Florida would be noticed.

Anonymous said...

Well said Kirby, it is great to read you blog again. Yes vigilance, and resistance to every step he takes. I hope they can keep it up and we must do our part in Canada by opting for another place to visit as long as Trump/Pence/Banon remain in power.


zoombats in Hong Kong said...

What Canadians can do is follow through with the promise of electoral reform so that we don't repeat the same mistakes that have happened in the past. It seems that we suffered through a flawed democratic process for years prior to our presently elected government. Years of no real choice and a damned if we do ,damned if we don't seems quite comparable to the U.S. situation.