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.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Hurricane is Coming. . .

I haven't blogged since Trump lost the vote but won the election. Like many people, I have been disheartened. But I have been disheartened before, and I had very little faith in humanity to begin with. But at this point it all seems so absurd, so surreal, that blogging seems to me almost silly. I know intellectually that it is important to continue the fight, to maintain the struggle, particularly in the face of these terrible developments. But I am having trouble getting the gumption to keep thinking about it or even considering doing anything. I suppose it is because I feel like we are in a historical eddy, the kind of backwash that occurs every few generations, driven by fear of a changing world, in which the worst kinds of human emotions come to the fore and the barbaric philistines try to take us back in history using hate and anger to inspire their troops. The pessimist in me suggests that there is really not much we can do. I look back to Nixon as an example. Nixon was a horrible, profoundly corrupt and damaged human being. But for all the anti-war, and anti-Nixon efforts on the part of activists, what brought Nixon down was his own misdeeds, an informant, and two investigative reporters. And I suspect that the only way that Trump will fall is basically in the same manner. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine that someone with Trump's childlike lack of impulse control, someone with such a selfish and corrupt nature, can maintain himself in the position of president for very long without something going drastically wrong. And someone with Trump's self-centred manner is really not the type to inspire loyalty, so the rise of informants is pretty easy to imagine.

But, obviously there is something much bigger at stake here than Trump. All over the world, people are succumbing to their worst instincts and turning toward the dark side, so to speak. And if we are going to avoid an apocalypse and save civilization from people like Putin, Erdogan, Durerte, Paul Ryan, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Modi and others, we are going to have to work hard because, make no mistake, these people are determined to destroy everything with hate and violence. I have no idea what form this effort to save civilization must take, but the work has got to be done. It is work that depends on the up-coming millennial generation which, I very much hope, are beginning to learn the importance of the things my generation was foolish enough to take for granted.

There is no purity in politics. At any moment in history, even the very best societies are full of terrible shortcomings. But we hold on to what is good and we fight against the bad. It is the way it has always been done. The US was a nation born out of terrible crimes against humanity, slavery and genocide. And it has continued that blood-letting and ruthlessness throughout its history. But it is also a nation that has brought us remarkable people and ideas. And all the other nations of the world have their own dark-spots as well as inspirational individuals and notions. Of course, we are now facing potential extinction as a result of the new generation of dictators and rightwingers, people who have nuclear weapons and seem to have no intention of stopping climate change.

But, on the good side, the rise of these ruthless and horrible men and women, is a sure sign that they and their followers are deathly frightened. They know that society, and particularly the upcoming generation is more liberal than ever before, and over the past ten years or so the neo-liberal model of economic control has begun to falter and implode. Even in traditionally conservative and orthodox realms such and economics, people are saying that capitalism needs to be reformed or it will be a threat to its own existence. We are, undoubtably, in a dark moment. But dictators, autocrats, haters, and those who look backwards have a remarkable way of destroying themselves. When they have a free hand, they can't help but to reveal their true intentions and desires. And when they do that it is like the antagonist in a story who has gotten too comfortable and thus slips up by revealing who they really are, and when this revelation occurs all is lost for them.

None of us want the crisis at which we are arriving. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it is the only way that many people are going to see that what Trump and his ilk really want is a ruthlessly dehumanized society where most people have nothing and the select few enjoy unbelievable wealth and decadent prosperity. My dad used to say that history has a remarkable way of turning around and bitting the powerful in the ass just when they think that they are home free. You can be active with the activists or sleeping with the sleepers, but either way, the fight isn't over, it's just beginning anew.