The Relationship Between Journalism and Populism

As right wing populism has become more salient so too has the institution of journalism alongside social media. With this in mind, can we track the role that journalism has played in shaping the development of right wing populism? Moreover, can we distinguish between the role that specific journalists have played from the institution of journalism itself? 

In the case of Czech journalist’s depiction of roma peoples in the media as highlighted by Tess Slavíčková and Peter Zvagulis in their article “Monitoring Anti-Minority Rhetoric in the Czech Print Media: A Critical Discourse Analysis,” the media reported on Roma peoples in very derogatory terms. So much so that the Roma fight was ultimately put out of context. It takes the event out of context and provides fodder for racial tension. But is this reflective of the misgivings of actual journalists or problems in the institution of journalism in a broader sense? We ought to consider that journalists might not actual receive proper training to handle complicated events like the above mentioned. The article does pose this question, but maybe we can take it even further and ask if the institution of journalism itself is entrenched with racism that has not yet been addressed. 

The role of journalism and journalists is at the epicentre of “Populism and media policy failure” by Des Freedman. It addresses the way that the mainstream media affected the results and reactions to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Specifically, there was a shared atmosphere of shock and disbelief in response to the elections. However, these reactions failed to acknowledge the way that the media is often complicit, though not solely responsible for, the rise of right wing populism. The article particularly takes to task media “elites” and liberal news media who fail to represent these issues in a nuanced and diverse way. 

To conclude, while journalists and journalism should not shoulder the blame for the prevalence of right wing populism, it at least needs to be included in the conversation. In doing so, it can become a means with which to contest these movements.

Left Wing Populism and Feminism: For Who and At What Cost?

By: Julia Aguiar

Understanding populism is the political equivalent of trying to hold a fistful of sand. As you tighten your grip, it begins to slip through your fingers. Put another way, definitions of populism are widely debated making it almost impossible to derive its exact meaning. In general, populism can be characterized as malleable. The shape shifting ways of populism account for why it finds a place on both sides of the political spectrum. 

In an interview with Zack Beauchamp, populism expert Cas Mudde offers several definitions of populism. Mudde holds that populism builds itself on the notion that society is made of two opposing yet distinctly homogeneous groups — the elite who are inextricably corrupt and “the people” who are pure and often downtrodden. Where left and right wing populism diverge is in their understanding of “the people.” In right wing iterations of populism, conceptions of “the people”are based on race, class, and nativism in relation to a hardlined notion of national identity. How populist movements on the left define “the people” is generally perceived as more inclusive and based on the principle of anti-establishment.

Due to the unmistakable undertones of race and class imbued in populism, it is no wonder that more overt conversations on gender and sexuality have been pushed to the periphery. Swept under the populist rug as it were. 

For many, the adoption of left wing populism is promising for the way that it offers to advocate for the downtrodden in decidedly progressive terms. As with the example of Podemos in Spain, left wing populist movements are picking up on the current discourse on feminism which is increasingly entering the mainstream. But how feminist can the politics of populism ever be if operating on a bedrock of binary, opposition, and homogeneity? Principles that are the antithesis to meaningful feminism. While Podemos invokes the language of feminism, they adopt a type of mainstream feminism that is woefully benign and unproductive. Superficial as the feminism that Podemos espouses is, it is revealing of an inherently misogynistic political order and the general discomfort towards a more dissident type of feminism.

The left wing populist party, Podemos (We Can), was founded by Pablo Iglesias Turrión in 2014 in reaction to the anti-austerity movement that swept through Spain in May of 2011.

Podemos as a political party and member of the left wing alliance, Unidas Podemos, has not shied away from a discourse on gender and sexuality. In fact, they openly declare themselves a feminist political party. But Podemos’s embrace of feminism is revealing itself to be increasingly loose. Its limited understanding of feminism and perpetuation of toxic mainstream feminism suggests that maybe Podemos uses feminism as a buzzword to bolster its progressive image.

In an interview titled “A Feminist Movement For Us All,” Jacobin Magazine sat down with the Secretary of Intersectional Feminism and LGBTI of Podemos, Sofía Castañón. When asked critical questions of Podemos’s feminist stance, Castañón offered vague responses. She spoke of the supposed “feminist perspective” that Podemos utilizes without deconstructing exactly what that means. Most unsettling is that in the interview, and in the platform of Podemos more broadly, there is a profound absence on the LGBTQ community in Spain. This contradicts the supposed intersectional feminist approach of Podemos. They claim intersectionality, but the intersectionality they practice is for the benefit of cisgendered women. Podemos seems to have capitulated to the perception that Spain is accepting of the LGBTQ community. However, the very presence and support of the vitriolic anti-LGBTQ campaigns of Vox desperately require a response from a political party. In this regard, Podemos is failing. 

More troubling still is the fact that Castañón’s is posited as representing the whole of Podemos’s feminist politics. Here we can point to the highly criticized masculine makeup of Podemos. At the top, Podemos is filled with men of large personalities. That would be less a problem if leaders such as Turrión were more vocal and clear in their supposed feminist perspectives. Instead, we see that the discourse on feminism is shouldered almost exclusively by the female members of Podemos and is lacklustre at best. What’s more, in a series of anonymous interviews conducted by Johanna Kantola and Emanuela Lombardo, it was revealed that female members of Podemos feel politically disempowered in the party and practice self-censorship amongst their male counterparts. 

As was demonstrated in the results of the Spanish General Election earlier this month, the shortcomings of Podemos to even keep its seats has made way for the rise of Vox which almost doubled its seats. The failings of left wing populism provide a significant global lesson: not all progressive politics aid in the liberation of marginalized peoples.

Social Media and Right Wing Populism

By: Julia Aguiar

It can be said that contemporary right wing populist movements benefit from increased access and presence of social media. Social media is often used by ring wing populists to disseminate ideas and bolster legitimacy. However, in making use of social media, these populist movements engage in some paradoxes. Indeed, to consider the different ways in which populist movements utilize social media in their campaigns is to unearth some of the most deeply entrenched paradoxes in populist movements. 

Social media is based on the liberal principles of transparency and freedom of speech, which speaks to the way that the populist radical right often asserts their exclusionary politics through liberal values despite the fact that they often place themselves in opposition to left wing politics. A concrete example of this can be seen in the Charlie Hebdo debates wherein liberal democratic values of freedom of speech were used to speak out against Islam and immigration as demonstrated by Pietro Castelli Gattinara in his article “Framing Exclusion in the Public Sphere: Far-Right Mobilisation and the Debate on Charlie Hebdo in Italy.” 

In, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe,” David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar write about the way that social media campaigns have been employed by anti-gender activists and right wing populists. Social media is useful to these groups for the way that it allows their messages to reach a larger audience in addition to offering a different form of media than that of the mainstream. Mainstream media is viewed as elitist and against the interest of “the people” for whom right wing populists claim to be fighting for. 

Facebook plays an essential role in propelling the Pegida movement forward. Indeed, given that Pegida’s Facebook group was made only a day after the movement was founded, it causes speculation as to whether or not Pegida would be the same without the social media platform. As Ina Schmidt demonstrates in her article “PEGIDA: A Hybrid Form of a Populist Right Movement,” as much as populist movements like Pegida use social media to bolster their movements, the democratic nature of social media also means that the social media content published by right wing populist groups can be used to criticize and threaten the legitimacy of these populist groups. In many ways, social media offers a new type of rich data analyst for social scientists. 

To conclude, right wing populist groups utilize social media in order to disseminate their views and gain a wider following. In doing so they capitulate to liberal democratic values that social media is built upon including transparency and freedom of speech, which in many ways is paradoxical to their right wing agenda. However, as previously discussed, these paradoxes are not necessarily a bad think for right wing populists and are easily reconciled. It is important to keep in mind that as much as social media can be used as a tool by ring wing populists to spread vitriol, it can also be used as a tool of resistance.

Challenges in Preserving a Myth

By: Julia Aguiar

While mass migration in Europe is often put in the language of crisis and of the now, it is hardly a new phenomena. Indeed, we can track the migration of people throughout Europe alongside the creation of national borders back to the Middle Ages. In the contemporary context, mass migration has taken on a different shape as anxieties towards Islam have sprung. The myth of European autonomy and whiteness begin to falter not only as migration from the east continues throughout Europe but as these migrants become more established and vocal in their experiences. Moreover, as these readings call us to take a more intersectional approach, we must also consider how the meeting of gender, sexuality, and migration threaten the myth of European identity.

Migrants of colour are often placed outside of conceptions of nationhood and citizenship. This is true still for the children of migrants despite the fact that their birth is often the one that their parents migrated to. Ultimately, the very existence of the children of migrants challenges the country’s myth of whiteness. Moreover, as Nilüfer Göle writes in her article, “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam,” muslim women in particular contest the ideal of secularism in European Public Spheres through the practice of veiling. However, as Göle demonstrates as much as veiling is viewed as a symbol of oppression by mainstream society, muslim women associate veiling with professional opportunity and other ideas that do not jive with the European ideal to other and victimize them. As much as European countries like to put migrants in opposition to ideals of secularism, the hybrid existence and experiences of second and third generation migrants as well as the way that the practices of Islam changes with migration as exemplified through the experience of muslim women, demonstrate that the myths of nationhood are becoming tenuous.

The intersection of sexuality and migration in the experience of Queer migrants in several European countries challenges the ideals that neoliberal cities like to project. In her case study of Amsterdam, Fatima El-Tayeb makes clear the marginalization that Queer migrants face if they do not meet certain neoliberal criteria like having a coming out narrative. It becomes clear that to be freely Queer is something that is often relegated to white, middle class men. Importantly, this has not gone unchallenged as demonstrated by the work of the Strange Fruit collective.

Cracks in the myth of European identity have always been present. As migrants further establish themselves and make their, often intersectional, experiences known, these cracks will only grow deeper.

A Culture of the Nouvelle Droite?

Just as with Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, we can track the development of a distinct culture alongside the Nouvelle Droite (ND). Culture became not only a means of disseminating the messages of the ND and bolstering it, but also came to define the movement. An examination of the culture of the ND reveals the ambiguity between nationalism and transnationalism in the ND. One way we can maybe think about this is the way that ND movements throughout Europe refashion a culture of the ND that is both relevant and useful their own countries while being deeply pan-European.

In all four readings from this week, the importance of media loomed large. Journals were a particularly important cultural artifact in several ND movements throughout Europe. In the Portuguese case, several journals emerged as a space to engage in dialogues about Portugal’s political future post Estado Novo (New State) and were a way to gain support for the ND in Portugal. Journals like Política which is especially interesting for its interdisciplinary nature and invocation of science. It was not only the production of journals that helped to bolster the ND throughout European countries but also the role of specific journalists like Gilberte Comte as mentioned in Roger Griffin’s article: “Between Metapolitics and Apoliteia: The Nouvelle Droite’s Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the ‘Interregnum.’” Indeed, journalists like Gilberte Comte can be seen as making important contributions to the development of the ND having published articles like “Une nouvelle droite?”

Moreover, writers like Julius Evola played an indispensable role in the development of a culture of the ND in Italy. Evola played an important role in defining the sense of traditionalism that the ND would lean on in the future. In particular, tradition as a belief in a sacred order governed by the ruling class of priests and elites. Stories and beliefs like this reconciled the decadence of the present with the belied that a new world order was coming. 

It is important to address the “so what?” question that emerged with the theme of a distinct culture of the ND. The complicated, and somewhat paradoxical ways, that ND movements in different countries developed a culture that was both nationalists and transnational was important in managing perceived threats. Namely, by creating and perpetuating rigid notions of culture, these movements could manage the threats that immigration brought which something we are very much still witnessing.

The Complexities of Justice

The readings for this week make clear that the pursuit of justice for victims of the Holocaust expanded beyond the legal system. In his article “Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text,” Werner Sollors displays the wide reach that the project of denazification had to have as well as somewhat of its unrealistic expectations to altogether purge Nazism. The reading begs questions of what defines a Nazi and Nazism. While the questionnaire attempted to make perpetration of Nazi violence straightforward by establishing different levels of offenders, this very system actually took too narrow a focus on Nazi perpetration rather than seeing its various forms and levels. It was also contingent on people answering truthfully. This relates to an overall theme of Holocaust memory that I picked up on throughout several of the readings. This memory was something that had to be confronted by all those who experienced the Holocaust in addition to the next generation who lived under the shadow of the Holocaust as Mary Fulbrook contends. Memory was also imperative in seeking justice for victims which is something that Fulbrook complicates.

There is a certain duality in the expectation of Holocaust victims to at once relieve memories of the Holocaust, memories that are deeply entrenched with trauma, while looking into their futures and the future of their children. Fulbrook gets to the heart of how complex fair justice for all victims of the Holocaust has been. If we think of victimhood in terms of singularity rather than variation, we risk erasing certain victim groups. Fulbrook illustrates this by shedding light on the way that gay men struggled to be recognized as victims of the Holocaust. This element of the reading brought to mind our discussion of Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism and the absence of commemoration to lesbian victims of the Holocaust.

Ultimately, when considering the path to justice after the Holocaust, we need to think in terms of variation and nuance so as to properly recognize complexities.

How the PPC Pulled the Cover on Structural Racism in Canada

By: Julia Aguiar

Canada breathed a palpable sigh of relief when it was declared that the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader, Maxime Bernier, lost his riding of Beauce, Quebec. The public was quick to call the time of death on the PPC. Far too quick. If Canada writes off the PPC as a frivolous political experiment, then it fails to critically deconstruct the type of racism that the PPC made public. If we are to take the PPC’s resounding failure as a repudiation of the racism of right wing populism as has been suggested, then we fail to recognize the racism that the PPC propagated and indeed exacerbated, as a Canadian problem. A type of racism that is so acutely Canadian, so embedded in our institutions, yet constantly sidestepped.

For far too long, Canada has failed to acknowledge not only the place of racism in this country but its deeply structural nature. To be clear, this type of structural racism has existed in Canada for as long as Canada has been pursuing its fraught colonial project. For many Canadians, it is a lived experience.

As is typical with populist parties, the PPC was founded by breaking away from the established Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). There was a certain disillusionment with the way the CPC was perceived to be betraying its ring wing ideals. A similar genesis story can be seen in the formation of populist party Vox in Spain which had its roots in Spain’s more mainstream People’s Party. It is tempting to consider the PPC in a vacuum for the way that the party is more radical than that of the other four federal parties that made the national debate stage. However, this would be to discount the long established presence of populism in the country. Populism can be co-opted by parties that fall on both the left and right ends of the political spectrum. Canada has seen the populism of the Social Credit Party, the Reform Party of Canada, and the Canadian Alliance. All this to say, populism in Canada is not a new phenomena.

The PPC has been rightly condemned for its overt racism. But then again, the PPC was hardly the only political party that revealed itself to be racist during the federal election campaign. In many ways, throughout the election campaign structural racism in Canada was made explicit yet simultaneously pushed aside. The conversations around racism throughout the election were abysmal and deeply unsettling. Mr. Scheer frequently, and often nonsensically, deployed the language of racism to undermine the platform of Mr. Trudeau. Mr. Singh unfairly shouldered the burden of being the only candidate of colour often being the subject of deeply personal questions that his counterparts did not face. Moreover, Mr. Singh frequently had to steer the conversation away from himself and towards his platform. Mr. Trudeau continued to reveal to Canadians that he is not nearly as progressive as we were made to believe as photos of him donned in brownface and blackface emerged. Though, for how many times he did this, Mr. Trudeau is uncertain.

The way that racism has been spoken about in terms of individuals or in the more radical politics of the PPC rather than as a national problem further points to the failing of Canada to critically engage and dismantle structural racism. As much as Canada likes to think of itself as a haven for marginalized peoples, in actuality, it is something quite different. Moreover, the pronouncement of the PPC as irrelevant without deconstructing the hate they propagated against marginalized peoples should be taken as a profound failing on the part of journalists, political theorists, and Canadians writ large.

The violence and genocide of racism was woven into the fabric of Canada from the outset of its settler-colonial project. Structural racism in Canada was cemented with the building of the transcontinental railroad and continues to endure as Canadians put it off as something that happens down south.

As we are conditioned to see the racism of the PPC as an anomaly, and even un-Canadian, we must remember that these are not the issues of a populist party alone.

To dismantle systems of racism, Canada first has to acknowledge and interrogate them. In doing so, Canada will have to leave abstractions of Canadian niceties and goodness at the door.

Canadians said no to the PPC, but they still have yet to say no to structural racism. 

Women in Male Dominated Spaces: Considering the Place of Women in Fascist and Nationalist Regimes

By: Julia Aguiar

That fascist and nationalist regimes are male dominated spaces in leadership and practice has been a prevalent theme throughout the course. From the virile man in Mussolini’s Italy to the image of the protean soldier in the Third Reich, defining and enforcing notions of masculinity are of great concern to fascist and nationalist regimes. In elucidating the violence perpetrated by these regimes, understanding their makeup is of vital importance. However, if we let the buck stop at the masculine makeup of fascist and nationalist, we would be granting impunity to an often overlooked group of perpetrators within fascist and nationalist regimes. Indeed, while fascist and nationalist regimes might be male dominated spaces they are not without the presence and active participation of women. The role of women in fascist and nationalist regimes is the topic of Wendy Lower’s book Hitler’s Furies and Lopez and Sanchez’s “Blue Angels”. 

Lower’s book and Lopez and Sanchez’s article begs the question: what is the significance of women as active participants within fascist and nationalist regimes? Women took on a variety of different professional roles in Nazi Germany including teachers, nurses, and secretaries. Within these roles, women exercised different levels and types of violence. For example, a nurse was in a position to exert more physical violence against Jewish people than a teacher who perpetrated a less overt and physical type a violence through the indoctrination of youth within the Third Reich (Lower 41 and 39). Not to mention the action of lovers, wives, and mothers who often perpetrated Nazi violence in devotion to the men in their lives and fidelity to Germany. According to Lopez and Sanchez, Nationalist women during the Spanish Civil War were highly organized in their networks. They often achieved greater success and endured longer than male-controlled networks because of their female makeup; they could fly under the radar of Republicans for the way that they acted in ways that defied the gender norms assigned to them. In both cases, there was an expectation for women to participate and contribute to the regimes with a love for country while adhering to notions of domesticity and broader gender norms. Both Lower’s novel and Lopez and Sanchez’s article demonstrate a certain line that women in fascist and nationalist regimes had to toe. A line that was often paradoxical and difficult to manage which became manifest, in the case of the Germany, in the post-war trials. 

The Inextricable Link Between Gender and Race Within Fascist Germany

In remembering the Holocaust, the Final Solution and genocidal nature are often what comes to mind. While Hitler’s persecution of the Jewish peoples was certainly paramount to his regime, it was hardly where the oppressive practices of the regime ended. It is therefore important to widen the scope in considering victimhood of the Third Reich. Additionally, it is important to ask how such oppression was accomplished. In looking to the Nazi regime’s attitudes towards and campaigns against queer peoples, it becomes clear that gender and race are actually very closely linked in the regime’s final goal of racial purity as well as in the daily regulation of peoples lives. 

In “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: a Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943,” Marhoefer works towards a more inclusive understanding of Nazi victimhood than has previously manifested in commemorations of the Holocaust. She particularly looks at the memorial in Tiergarten for the way that it problematically excludes Nazi’s lesbian and overall gender nonconforming victims. Marhoefer discusses the way that by only considering state oppression, it ignores the lesbian and gender nonconforming victims who might not have been criminalized in the same way as gay men, but nonetheless faced violence and hostility. Moreover, anxieties over lesbianism and gender nonconformity in Nazi Germany were specifically linked to concerns over the regime’s goals of racial purity. Indeed, if women were permitted to love women or if women were to embody masculinity, how could the Aryan race be secured? Not only did lesbians threaten gender norms but they were perceived as acutely un-German, as Marhoefer writes. While lesbianism may not have been subject to criminal law, it was nonetheless under constant surveillance by party members and neighbours which often incited hostility and violence. 

The relationship between gender and race can also be seen in Kühne’s exploration of the malleability of masculinity in “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich.” That masculinity was necessarily protean under the Nazi regime brings to mind the theme of pragmatism which has emerged throughout the course. The way that soldiers could inhabit both traditionally feminine and masculine sensibilities was central to their role in building the Aryan race. To take an example, it was important for soldiers to represent a certain hardness that was contrasted with Jewish weakness. It was also important for soldiers to be hardened in emotions and morals so that they could be decisive and quell any concerns about killing in service of the larger goal of racial purity. 

By considering the wide reach of victimhood under Nazi Germany, we can move away from the limited study of the strictly hegemonic, though very real, state oppression and come to a more nuanced understanding of the way that violence under Nazi Germany was disseminated and against whom. 

Measuring the Successes, Failures, and Challenges of Fascist Regimes Attempts to Regulate of Leisure

Confronted with the task of unifying their respective nations under a burgeoning consumer culture, fascist regimes Germany, Italy, and Spain looked to the realm of leisure. By regulating the sphere of leisure, these fascist regimes could maintain a close hold on proper citizenship in addition to establishing a certain, often paternalistic, relationship between the state and the people. In turn, this further legitimized the practices of the regime. By instating different programs, practices, and systems, these fascist regimes often offered a veneer of freedom. The seemingly paradoxical relationship between individual freedom and fascism begs the question: to what end were these programs successful? Did citizens go along with these efforts or did they make displays of resistance?

in her book, Strength through Joy, Baranowski considers the way that tourism expeditions organized by Strength through Joy (kdf) were put in place to bolster the support of the Nazi regime. This was done by offering trips to working and middle class Germans to deliberately chosen countries wherein every day people clearly faced great deprivation so that German tourists could understand how the Nazi party greatly improved their lives. These trips were very methodically organized and offered an atmosphere of fun. In doing so, the Nazi party offered a semblance of individual freedom that brought Nazi Germany closer to its vision of racial purity. Despite their intentions, these trips did not always affirm a unified Germany as there was often differential treatment afforded to those of more affluent backgrounds. Indeed, it often came from members of the Nazi party themselves who would join these trips in high numbers and conduct themselves with great arrogance. Additionally, sometimes impediments to Nazi goals of the trips came from the tourists who would stay on the boat all day rather than interacting with the locals of the countries they visited.  

According to de Grazia, attempts to regulate leisure in Italy expressed great concern over class and regional divisions as they threatened a homogenous nation. In addition to tourism within the country that connected regions and showcased Italy’s natural beauty, the Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro (OND), coordinated and mediated sports and theatre to assert a unified nation. Like fascist Germany, Mussolini’s Italy was interested in maintaining a seemingly egalitarian society. Regulating such leisure activities and offering a veneer of freedom ensured conformity. In the Italian context, a high degree of state intervention and mass media including advertising help fascism flourish. As much as fascist Italy sought to blur the lines between class and differences by regulating leisure, they undermined their own work by seating theatre audiences according to class, to take one example. 

The case of Spain as explored by Crumbaugh is maybe most interesting for the way that it interacted with the “free world” and its invocation of democracy. Tourism to Spain brought a variety of foreign bodies. Most notably, it saw an influx of Americans to Spain. Given the spirit of democracy that  Americans are often thought to embody, this tourism offered a narrative of liberation. Tourism in Spain, affirmed the country as modern and also help to create self-disciplining citizens. Ultimately, the freedom that tourism offered was concluded as inauthentic.