Wednesday, May 29, 2019

"With Nationalists Topping the Polls in Two of Europe's Three Main Founding Nations, It's Hard to See How Any of This Is Worth Celebrating"

It's very foolish for us to stick our heads in the sand and pretend that what is unfolding around us is not actually happening, and that the recent European elections give us reason to breathe a sigh of relief and say that the hard fascist right is not making inroads in very many places in the world now — when this is simply untrue, and this development should intently concern us:

Rather than a victory for democracy, the European elections, and the responses to the results, show how much populism in general, and the populist radical right in particular, has become mainstreamed and normalised. We find it normal that a neo-Nazi party is the third biggest party in a member state, that a populist radical right wins more than half of the vote in non-democratic elections, and that the populist radical right is the biggest party in several EU member states. We celebrate that "the majority has voted for pro-European parties". We ignore that turnout in one in five member states was (well) below one-third of eligible voters.

They might use different words for it, but the conflict they've worked so hard to promote is finally at the center of French politics: President Emmanuel Macron refers to it as a clash between "progressives" and "nationalists," while Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally (RN), formerly the National Front, calls it a battle between "globalists" and "patriots." On Sunday, nearly half of all voters in France's election for European Parliament opted for one of these two camps—and it was Le Pen's side that triumphed. … 
Far-right parties also saw strong results in Poland, Hungary, and Italy. Some well-meaning liberals have cheered the fact that these forces didn't do even better—especially in Germany, where the Alternative for Germany party won just 10 percent of the vote. Still, with nationalists topping the polls in two of Europe's three main founding nations, it's hard to see how any of this is worth celebrating. The center may be holding, but it's not on solid ground.

It is ironic that Mr. Farage appeals to people who are besieged by precisely the kind of volatile financial capitalism that he champions. He is, like President Trump, that paradoxical figure: the capitalist populist. He made his money as a City trader during the boom years of the 1980s, reveling in its adrenaline-fueled, heavy-drinking culture. He is the Gordon Gekko of British politics. It's striking, to those who care to look, just how much his agenda is about class interest: He opposes extended maternity leave, raising the minimum wage and reducing the retirement age — anything that inconveniences his nouveau riche confederates. If he had his way, many of his supporters would be working harder, longer, for less money, with less protection. ... 
Far from impeding Mr. Farage, racism is his ticket to success. It puts him on the same side as his poorest voters. 

Jane Coaston, "The intersectionality wars": 

As Crenshaw detailed in an article written for the Baffler in 2017, critical race theory emerged in the 1980s and ’90s among a group of legal scholars in response to what seemed to Crenshaw and her colleagues like a false consensus: that discrimination and racism in the law were irrational, and “that once the irrational distortions of bias were removed, the underlying legal and socioeconomic order would revert to a neutral, benign state of impersonally apportioned justice.” 
This was, she argued, a delusion as comforting as it was dangerous. Crenshaw didn’t believe racism ceased to exist in 1965 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, nor that racism was a mere multi-century aberration that, once corrected through legislative action, would no longer impact the law or the people who rely upon it. 
There was no “rational” explanation for the racial wealth gap that existed in 1982 and persists today, or for minority underrepresentation in spaces that were purportedly based on “colorblind” standards. Rather, as Crenshaw wrote, discrimination remains because of the “stubborn endurance of the structures of white dominance” — in other words, the American legal and socioeconomic order was largely built on racism.

I also found that the common view of left-wing horizontal groups as being associated with internet use did not fit the mold. It was the opposite. Right-wing groups that were hierarchical in their decision-­making structure were the top users of the internet. This embrace of digital media by right-wing groups seemed to go almost wholly unnoticed outside of their immediate circles at the time. The popular perception of internet use, fed by the media's focus on the use of technology by left-wing protest movements, had people looking in one direction while a wave was cresting from just outside this field of vision. 

The wild, eye-popping result is that the "Brexit Party", founded only months ago and now led by rightist provocateur Nigel Farage, got the most votes almost everywhere in England outside of London and the most seats overall – 29 seats and 31.6% of the vote, far more than the Tories and Labour combined. 
But the picture looks very different if you step back a bit. … 
An analogue to Trumpism is that Brexit support seems to be clearly a minority position in the UK (albeit a very large minority). Supporters of "no-deal Brexit" are definitely a minority. Yet they make up a large enough percentage of the electorate and are unified and coherent enough that they can drive the political agenda, even if they can't necessarily carry their core policy to fruition.

One of the points to note about where we find ourselves now is, of course, that it's dangerous to play numbers games in which we pat ourselves on the back that hard-right movements win "only" a third of votes here and there — when those movements are seizing control of national and international conversations and determining the parameters of those conversations. Polling data  have suggested for some time now that Trump does not enjoy solid support among a majority of American voters — among his true-believing disciples — and that support may be rock-solid among little more than third of voters.

Hitler rose to power with only a minority of German voters backing him initially. The belief of the "good" people in Germany who were fellow travelers of the Nazi party but who deplored the raw racism and violence to which a "bad" minority inclined was that they could control Hitler and get what they wanted out of him, channeling that raw racism and violence to their own ends while not getting their own hands dirty. We can look back and see how that worked out. 

Another point to note is that it's fatuous and self-serving to imagine it can't happen here, not in our "good" society, and that people who come from "bad" societies should keep their mouths shut about us and not try to tutor us based on their experiences of dealing with the "bad." One of the key experiences many of us who grow up in the "bad" societies have is that we inevitably have to come to terms with the fact that many so-called "good" people will unmask themselves as not so very good, when the raw racism, or misogyny, or xenophobia, or homophobia of the "bad" minority begins to have a wave effect.

While we've been transfixed by the numbers game, assuring ourselves that most people in our "good" society are basically good and well-meaning, and are not swayed by things like racism (though racism is deeply embedded in the economic and judicial structures of our own society)…. Then the wave we refused to see because we were transfixed by the notion of our own goodness and our own society's goodness begins to crest….

To quote Rev. William J. Barber, "There's a lie going on somewhere." Surely our job, if we care about truth and justice, is not to be people of the lie ourselves.

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