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“Empowering The Ugliness”: The Strategies Elites Traditionally Used On Those Angry Voters Have Finally Broken Down

We live in an era of political news that is, all too often, shocking but not surprising. The rise of Donald Trump definitely falls into that category. And so does the electoral earthquake that struck France in Sunday’s regional elections, with the right-wing National Front winning more votes than either of the major mainstream parties.

What do these events have in common? Both involved political figures tapping into the resentments of a bloc of xenophobic and/or racist voters who have been there all along. The good news is that such voters are a minority; the bad news is that it’s a pretty big minority, on both sides of the Atlantic. If you are wondering where the support for Mr. Trump or Marine Le Pen, the head of the National Front, is coming from, you just haven’t been paying attention.

But why are these voters making themselves heard so loudly now? Have they become much more numerous? Maybe, but it’s not clear. More important, I’d argue, is the way the strategies elites have traditionally used to keep a lid on those angry voters have finally broken down.

Let me start with what is happening in Europe, both because it’s probably less familiar to American readers and because it is, in a way, a simpler story than what is happening here.

My European friends will no doubt say that I’m oversimplifying, but from an American perspective it looks as if Europe’s establishment has tried to freeze the xenophobic right, not just out of political power, but out of any role in acceptable discourse. To be a respectable European politician, whether of the left or of the right, you have had to accept the European project of ever-closer union, of free movement of people, open borders, and harmonized regulations. This leaves no room for right-wing nationalists, even though right-wing nationalism has always had substantial popular support.

What the European establishment may not have realized, however, is that its ability to define the limits of discourse rests on the perception that it knows what it is doing. Even admirers and supporters of the European project (like me) have to admit that it has never had deep popular support or a lot of democratic legitimacy. It is, instead, an elite project sold largely on the claim that there is no alternative, that it is the path of wisdom.

And there’s nothing quite like sustained poor economic performance – the kind of poor performance brought on by Europe’s austerity and hard-money obsessions — to undermine the elite’s reputation for competence. That’s probably why one recent study found a consistent historical relationship between financial crises and the rise of right-wing extremism. And history is repeating itself.

The story is quite different in America, because the Republican Party hasn’t tried to freeze out the kind of people who vote National Front in France. Instead, it has tried to exploit them, mobilizing their resentment via dog whistles to win elections. This was the essence of Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” and explains why the G.O.P. gets the overwhelming majority of Southern white votes.

Sooner or later the angry whites who make up a large fraction, maybe even a majority, of the G.O.P. base were bound to rebel — especially because these days much of the party’s leadership seems inbred and out of touch. They seem, for example, to imagine that the base supports cuts to Social Security and Medicare, an elite priority that has nothing to do with the reasons working-class whites vote Republican.

So along comes Donald Trump, saying bluntly the things establishment candidates try to convey in coded, deniable hints, and sounding as if he really means them. And he shoots to the top of the polls. Shocking, yes, but hardly surprising.

Just to be clear: In offering these explanations of the rise of Mr. Trump and Ms. Le Pen, I am not making excuses for what they say, which remains surpassingly ugly and very much at odds with the values of two great democratic nations.

What I am saying, however, is that this ugliness has been empowered by the very establishments that now act so horrified at the seemingly sudden turn of events. In Europe the problem is the arrogance and rigidity of elite figures who refuse to learn from economic failure; in the U.S. it’s the cynicism of Republicans who summoned up prejudice to support their electoral prospects. And now both are facing the monsters they helped create.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 11, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | Austerity, Donald Trump, Election 2016, France | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Paris Terror: What ‘Je Suis Charlie’ Should Mean To Us”: Restoring And Preserving Everything Decent That Distinguishes Us From Our Enemies

Not long after 9/11, leading figures in France’s champagne industry decided that they would hold their 2002 annual awards gala in New York City rather than Paris. At no little expense, they displayed solidarity with New Yorkers, and America, at a time of sorrow and fury – like so many of their compatriots. The first toast of the evening included the words, “We are all New Yorkers.” It was one more instance, symbolic but significant, when the French renewed the bond that has existed since this country’s founding.

And not too long after that, disagreement between the French government and the Bush administration over the invasion of Iraq led to a breach between us and our oldest allies. They tried in vain to save us from a tragic mistake or worse, and were rewarded with vilification from Fox News to the floor of Congress.

By now, of course, we know that the French never disagreed with us about the danger posed by Islamist jihad, only about the means and priorities in combating that adversary. Today the French military is supporting the U.S. and other allies by conducting airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq. That continuing alliance requires us all to repeat “Je Suis Charlie” in the aftermath of the atrocious terror attack on the Parisian satire magazine Charlie Hebdo.  Yet while we owe that gesture to our old friends, we still owe them, ourselves, and the world much more.

As an assault on liberty and security, the barbaric shootings that killed the editor of Charlie Hebdo, four cartoonists, a police officer and six more innocents cannot be excused or explained. The victims had every right to do what they were doing and what they had done, regardless of the violent anger they stirred among the perpetrators and their sponsors. It is criminal warfare by an implacable enemy that will not desist until it is destroyed.

To understand what is at stake in this struggle, it is important to look closely what we are defending. There is no equivalent to Charlie Hebdo in the United States, nor is there a tradition of the kind of anti-religious satire that has been among its specialties. Those killed had the kind of cultural stature of Doctor Seuss, Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau, the editors of Mad magazine or the producers of The Daily Show – except that their style is far more offensive and challenging than most Americans can imagine, not only in insulting Islam but Christianity, Judaism, and every other congregation of believers in France.

Rightists who regard the defense of Charlie Hebdo as merely another opportunity to bash Muslims ought to glance back at the magazine’s equally savage assaults on institutions they hold dear, since its anarchic sense of humor has spared no one. Nobody needs to approve of anything that the editors published, including the mocking cartoons of Muhammad, to reject the use of violence to suppress them.

Indeed, it is possible to reject the content of those drawings and still stand firmly with the Charlie Hebdo staff. In free societies, there will always be writers and artists who use their freedom in ways that the rest of us find obnoxious, ugly, even dangerous. The French imam who denounced the killings clearly and called the victims “martyrs” surely doesn’t care for those cartoons. But he knows the price of living under constitutional freedom that protects his right to worship – and to protest, without violence, words and pictures that offend.

If only the would-be persecutors of Islam in the West adequately comprehended that same principle. And if only they realized that such persecution is exactly what the jihadists desire.

Effective opposition to violent Islamism means neither denying that this grave challenge exists nor demonizing Muslims. It means seeking to make ordinary Muslims, by far the most common victims of Islamist terror, our allies as well. And in the aftermath of the Iraq war, the Senate torture report, and every other mistake and crime since 9/11, supposedly committed to defend liberty, it means restoring and preserving everything decent that distinguishes us from our enemies.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, January 9, 2014

January 10, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, France, Freedom | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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