The Media and the Rise of Populism

by Sydney Linholm

The media has become unbelievably relevant in politics in the last few years, with many people relying on the media to gain information about politics. With this, we’ve seen a surge in things like “fake news” contributing to this rise in populism and people shifting towards far-right points of view. The article by Des Freedman discusses how the media has become a vessel for this as they have failed to stop the spread of far-right ideas online.

I think that this idea is especially relevant in the United States, which is where we’ve seen both a rise in populist thought during the Trump era and extreme media polarization, with both sides of the spectrum seemingly spreading “fake news” depending on what side you’re on. This ties into last week’s topic of QAnon as well, and this is one of the ways that the connection can be made to Europe: QAnon has used the media attention to gain supporters in Europe, and media reporting on right-wing populist movements such as the Yellow Jackets or anti-lockdown protests has only contributed to media polarization.

The more polarized the media becomes, the more they contribute to the rise of populism. As different media outlets report things according to their political leanings, the information becomes more and more tailored to their audiences and these political leanings (take the example of Fox News and CNN). Eventually, it becomes hard to pinpoint which media outlet’s information is reliable which leads to a growing distrust of the media, which is often seen in populist thought.

QAnon’s European Vacation

by Sydney Linholm

The article by Mark Scott for Politico discusses how the American conspiracy theory QAnon has made it’s way to Europe and settled within populist groups and conspiracy theorists such as the Yellow Jacket movement in France, the anti-vaccine community in Italy, and the Brexit followers in Britain. The author alleges that the reason for this embracing of QAnon both online and in these movements in Europe comes from the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s true—the same people who participate in anti-lockdown protests across Europe are the ones who buy into QAnon theories about political leaders and secret government agendas.

With people spending so much more time online because of the pandemic, it’s easy for them to discover QAnon’s rhetoric and jump to the conclusion that COVID is a hoax and lockdown is just the new world order being pushed by crooked officials. QAnon is all about fighting against the elites: the basis for their theory is that Donald Trump was recruited by the U.S. Military to win a war against crooked democrats, and QAnon capitalized on those who already didn’t trust the government and bought into theories such as Pizzagate. The distrust of influential world leaders is what allowed them to gain such a strong following, and they take advantage of American fear.

While the movement is still small in Europe, it’s quickly spreading, and similar groups are emerging. QAnon has influenced things like Qactus.fr in France which promotes conspiracy theories about local politics, praises Trump, and supports the Yellow Jacket movement. In the Netherlands, QAnon has influenced social media accounts that support far-right politician Geert Wilders. In Britain, movements like “Citizens Unite UK #wakeup” borrow from QAnon’s theories and make allegations about secret pedophile rings, the global elite, and the government limiting their rights and freedoms through COVID lockdown. QAnon’s global reach was sped up by the pandemic and the conspiracies that emerged from it, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

The Nouvelle Droite’s contradicting ideologies

by Sydney Linholm

This week’s readings explore the French and Portuguese Nouvelle Droite, which was an ideological movement born in 1968. The article by Tamir Bar-On discusses how the Nouvelle Droite created the culture of the revolutionary right, and how these views have been shaped by transnationalism. Particularly, Bar-On points out that one of the factors that produced the transnational impact of Nouvelle Droite ideas was the decline of the European left after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The political space that was left open after the fall of the Soviet Union, as Bar-On suggests, allowed space for the ND movement to flourish. People were wary of the political left because of the harsh legacy of communism, and arguably, villanized socialism and similar ideologies, and this made room for right-wing ideological groups such as the ND to grow and spread. This train of thought is interesting because while the ND rejected left-wing ideologies, they were heavily influenced by the ideas of Antonio Gramsci and applying his ideas to the right. This is just one example of the somewhat contradictory nature of the movement, with another being that the Bar-On claims that the ND has been shaped by transnational influences and shaped right-wing transnationalism, however the ND rejects multiculturalism in its fundamental values. I realize that these aren’t the same thing, however I feel as though transnationalism and multiculturalism have some ideological elements in common.

In short, the Nouvelle Droite’s views are contradictory in nature because of their rejection of certain ideologies yet they draw ideas from these ideologies that they claim to reject.

How QAnon’s embracing of American paranoia will ensure that Trump stays in the political limelight

by Sydney Linholm

The Storm is coming—at least, that’s what QAnon supporters believe is happening, and Trump will be the face of that reckoning. QAnon has emerged as a new and popular far-right set of conspiracy theories that are centered around the core belief that the world is run by Satan-worshipping pedophiles, some of which include influential people such as the Obamas, Joe Biden, the Clintons, Ellen DeGeneres, Pope Francis, and more. According to this theory, Donald Trump was recruited to run in 2016 by high-up military generals to serve justice on the members of this group, and imprison them. They also believed that President Trump would refuse to leave office on Inauguration Day, and that he instead would exercise martial law and stage a coup d’etat in order to serve justice upon the Democrats. Additionally, they encourage other popular conspiracies, such as the events surrounding 9/11, the existence of aliens and UFOs, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. According to the New York Times, they have also become a stronghold for the false theory that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from President Trump, and maintain that he is the rightful president.

So what is “The Storm”? This is a reference to a remark that Donald Trump made in 2017, in which he said “You guys know what this represents? Maybe it’s the calm before the storm” as he posed for a photo with military generals. As mentioned before, QAnon supporters believe that President Trump is the heroic figure in the middle of all this, brought to power in order to rain justice down on these alleged Satan-worshipping pedophilic figures. The election was stolen from him, as they say, and he’s planning a triumphant comeback. This kind of rhetoric is dangerous in that it has the ability to fire up Trump’s fanbase once again—and keep him in the political loop.

There are some visible parallels between Trump supporters and QAnon supporters, and one of the most prominent ones is paranoia. Both groups’ supporters seem to capitalize on the paranoid side of American brains in order to convince them that some of these well-respected world leaders have ulterior motives, and use this as a way to gain supporters. Any skepticism that American voters may have is a target for Trump and QAnon’s similar rhetoric, and together they create a culture of fear. Of course, this isn’t news to anyone: Trump has repeatedly been accused of fear-mongering.

This isn’t the first time that influential politicians and far-right groups have capitalized on paranoia. If you were being bold, you could even compare Trumpism and QAnon supporters to Nazism. The Nazis were a far-right group who introduced a culture of fear into their administration, and then capitalized on that fear in order to further their own agenda. For example, during the persecution of Jewish people under the Nazi regime, people living in Germany were too scared to disobey Nazi laws, which allowed them to maintain control over the state. The Nazi party began as a group of radicalized Hitler supporters that saw Hitler as the divine leader of the movement and supported his philosophies.

Having said this, the situation with Trump and QAnon is nowhere near this dire, however it is escalating—some QAnon supporters participated in the storming of the United States’ Capitol on January 6, 2021. While Donald Trump is no longer in office, they refuse to let go of the belief that he is the heroic figure at the centre of this conspiracy, and continue to push their agenda that influential democrats are leading secret, criminal lives. Radicalized Trump supporters, or any far-right sympathizers, agree with this notion or at least are inclined to believe QAnon and Trump’s claims.

QAnon continues to gain supporters, which in turn means that Trumpism isn’t dead. It means that Trump will continue to be a prominent figure among American politics, as he represents both the demographic of people who don’t trust Joe Biden and the people who believe that the election was robbed from him. Both Trump and QAnon, and other far-right sympathizers, use this distrust of political figureheads as a vessel for their own agendas, and with QAnon having lots of overlap with Trump and his supporters ideological beliefs, they will continue to push their cause: which means Trump isn’t going anywhere.

Transforming Memories

by Sydney Linholm

The article by Helmut Walser Smith discusses Hugo Spiegel and his efforts to reunify German and Jewish communities while simultaneously honouring the memory of Jews in small-town cemeteries that were destroyed by the Nazi regime. The article focuses on communities that were affected by Kristallnacht and Nazism, and how Germans and Jews have come together to help German communities face their unsavoury pasts and focus on a future that moves away from the throes of the Second World War while commemorating those who lost their lives.

This article presents a really intriguing perspective on rebuilding small German communities following the Second World War. More often than not, this is overlooked in favour of larger-scale issues, such as the prosecution of Nazis. Helmut Walser Smith’s article highlights the importance of community in the commemoration of the Jewish graves that were destroyed during Kristallnacht and the bonding between small-town Germans and Jews who have returned to their hometowns after the war. This enforces that it is vitally important that Germans must work together with Jews in order to present an honest, critical reflection on German history and that this comes in the form of local German and Jewish actors repairing cemeteries and synagogues, putting up plaques, and other commemorative actions.

While the author points out that Germany’s past was hardly its own, the repairing of divides is still crucial to the honest and critical retelling of German history. The hometowns that once egged on Nazis while they destroyed Jewish graves and synagogues have, and must continue, making strides to repair the relationship with Jewish citizens that they had once wronged. In accepting and bringing their separate accounts of history together, they commemorate those whose lives were lost under the Nazi regime and move forward in transforming Germany’s nefarious past.

The rise of women in Europe’s right-wing movements

by Sydney Linholm

In the article by Angelique Chrisafis, Kate Connolly, and Angela Giuffrida, an investigative look is taken at why right-wing populist parties have begun to attract more and more women. The authors focus on how the surge in right-wing populism seen in Europe over the last twenty years has largely been male-dominated, and how this is now changing because of an increase in women that support these parties. Many right-wing European political parties are led by women, with examples being Marine Le Pen, Alice Weidel, and Giorgia Meloni. But why are women becoming more drawn to supporting parties that do not traditionally support feminism and embody patriarchal ideologies?

As the authors hypothesize, one of the explanations for the supporting of right-wing populist parties could be their belonging to marginalized groups in society such as the working class. They use the disillusioned retail staff and grocery store employees as an example, as one of them interviewed in the article details how the elite in power does nothing to support those who can’t make ends meet. Interestingly, she says” We’ve never tried Le Pen before, so why not give her a chance?”

As is pointed out later in the article, it is ironic how far-right movements are allowing women to have a louder voice yet their attitudes towards women have not changed. For example, the AfD’s gender ratio is 87% male and 13% female, yet female voters still firmly believe that they are a better alternative to the current elite in power because they feel as though the right-wing movements are worth a shot in order to improve the lives of the women who belong to marginalized groups. What doesn’t make sense is the notion that a right-wing populist political party that doesn’t even support the women within its party would support women outside of it, and this is the irony of the entire movement.

The “Anti-Putin”: Navalny’s Attempt to Save Russia from a Fascist Future

by Sydney Linholm

“I have deeply offended him by surviving the assassination attempt that he ordered”. This is what Alexei Navalny said of Vladimir Putin from the glass cage inside the courtroom where he was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison on February 2. Navalny was arrested for violating parole terms from his 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement, and the period in which he was said to have been violating these terms was when he was seeking treatment in Berlin following his August 2020 poisoning. But why is Navalny’s outspokenness so important to the future of Russian society?

While many of us are appalled and horrified at the injustice surrounding this situation, Navalny’s push back against the Kremlin sparks an ideological conversation about the corruption that has defined Russia’s government since the beginning of the Putin years. Putin’s 21-year rule has seen corruption, fraud, unlawful arrests, convictions, and deaths of those who openly disagree with their policies and practices. An example of this is the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose death is detailed in Bill Browder’s 2015 book Red Notice and is the driving force behind the Magnitsky legislation. Implemented by Canada, the U.S., Britain, the EU, and others, the legislation imposed sanctions on foreign individuals involved in human rights violations. Mr. Magnitsky’s death is just one of many brutal deaths of those who chose to openly disagree with the Kremlin’s practices.

Increasingly, the Kremlin’s regime is being described as a fascist one, and that might just hit the mark. A fascist regime is a far-right, authoritarian dictatorial regime that can be characterized by forcible uniformity of society and the economy, and by the continued repression of opposition—which is what we have seen in recent events surrounding Alexei Navalny. This is not unlike the strict authoritarianism seen under Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union, although ideologically, they opposed fascism. In fact, a better historical parallel for Russia’s current situation could be Fascist Italy: under Mussolini, Italy saw censorship laws, forcible suppression of opponents, and the implementation of the Acerbo Law that would rig elections in favour of the Fascists—all a part of Italy’s former fascist political dictatorship that is beginning to bear more and more affinities with Putin’s Russia. Effectively, Russia has done a 180 in their ideological leanings—in moving away from the Soviet Union’s communism, they found themselves entangled in a corrupt, fascist system that is exactly what Stalin opposed during the USSR.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Putin years, Putin and his gang of oligarchs have proved they’ll stop at nothing to ensure they remain in power, like any good fascist would. The Kremlin’s brutal and never-ending drive to remain in power and strict control over society and the economy is exactly what has allowed Russia to be categorized as being run by a fascist regime, and if the recent protests by Russian citizens were any indication, people are tired of it. But how does Alexei Navalny fit into this status quo?

The Russian opposition leader’s outspoken criticism of Putin has thrown a wrench into the Kremlin’s staunch control of the country in the form of hope. The mass protests that immediately followed Navalny’s arrest are fuelled by anger towards Putin’s suppression of the opposing voice. Navalny presents hope for a future that moves towards an ethical and non-corrupt democratic government, rather than one where citizens continue to be oppressed and silenced. He was called the “Anti-Putin” by CBC news, because of his goal to break Russia away from its fascist regime under Putin and instead, along with his Russia of the Future party, decentralize power, end censorship and repression, and battle corruption. Having been described as having David versus Goliath bravery, Navalny represents for the citizens of Russia someone who is willing to challenge the looming authority and fight for democracy in Russia. His power struggle against the Kremlin is a phenomenally important one, and because he does not fear speaking out against Putin, he presents a challenge for the future of the regime. Navalny is pushing hard for a future without fascism for Russia and being that he is one of the few brave enough to do so, he presents a ray of hope for those that have had enough of corruption.

Gender as Hegemonic Power in the Third Reich

by Sydney Linholm

Kuhne’s article approaches the topic of masculinity amongst soldiers in the Third Reich and investigates the challenges that different men faced that resulted from the ambiguity surrounding the ideals of manliness and the subsequent clinging to a definition of manliness as being aggressive, strong, and able to exercise control over himself and others. The article also talks about Walter Hauck (“Bloody Walter”) and how he was the embodiment of the ideal man in the Third Reich because of his ability to, as the author puts it, adopt feminine roles without undermining his manliness.

The idea that each ideal of masculinity across varying cultures and religions are in a constant struggle for broader social approval and power is an interesting one. What I found especially interesting was the article’s contextualization of this phenomenon as being a struggle for hegemony. This is interesting because my understandings of hegemony have always been related to the overwhelming soft and material power of a state, however when discussing the idea of ideological power under the Nazi regime it does make sense given the rigid enforcement of gender norms that was seen during this time.

Gender norms are extremely prevalent in our society, and have been in many other societies including during that of the Third Reich. They fall under the definition of soft power because of their ideological connotations, and because they hold so much influence over society in that if they’re not adhered to, that automatically makes you less worthy. The hegemonic power that gender norms held in the Third Reich were the same: men had to be aggressive and brave and strong, and could not do things such as pushing a baby stroller without being categorized as weak or feminine (back them, a synonym to weak). Women were seen frail, modest, and quiet and their primary task was to care for their children and home. These gender norms possess such hegemony because of the ideological (soft) power that they exercised under the Nazi regime, and part of the power that the Nazi regime held was enforcing these norms onto its soldiers.

The Culture of Fascism

By Sydney Linholm

Shelley Baranowski’s article Strength Through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich investigates the connection between the Nazi regime and mass consumerism, and how this created a controversy surrounding the Hitler movement. The author discusses how the Nazi party was skeptical of the socialist and American routes to raising living standards through consumption, and instead pushed for mass production to ensure Hitler’s vision of material abundance despite the party’s suspicion of consumption. This discriminated against consumer production and curtailed imports of consumer goods. When thinking about the Third Reich as a fascist regime, this is a classic example of its classification as such because of this phenomena that mass production would ensure material abundance and subsequent continental domination, and in doing so, purposefully rejecting the socialist idea of consumption to increase living standards.

Additionally, it is interesting to look at this when also thinking about Germany as a dominant global power in the 20th century because of the way that the idea of mass production influencing material abundance influencing continental domination functions with the idea of hegemony. Maybe I am just too much of a political science student, but this idea that having material power will directly influence having global power is similar to the realist idea of hegemony, which has a tendency to focus on the material component of hegemonic power and less so on the wilful exercise of leadership component of the theory. This is interesting because of realism’s connections with realpolitik, which was not unseen within Hitler’s regime. This is not to say that realism is an inherently fascist ideology: I am simply making a connection between the realist idea of hegemonic power and Hitler’s belief that material abundance will provide him with global power.

Nationalism and Internationalism

By Sydney Linholm

David Motadel points out the irony of the conflict between nationalism and internationalism in the statement “Internationalism, a concept that, after all, implicitly presumes the existence of the nation, and extreme nationalism are not necessarily incompatible.” He says that the far right depends on internationalism for the global cooperation of their groups and to increase their operations in transnational institutions, despite the far right’s repeated denouncing of internationalism. This is an intriguing point to make, as this can be seen within the Trump administration’s attitudes towards foreign policy. In a 2020 article for the Washington Post entitled “U.S. foreign policy might be too broken for Biden to fix”, Josh Rogin details the Trump administration’s distaste for funding American foreign policy, and has completely torpedoed international relations with his “America First” policies. For example, he has openly rejected multilateralism, tried to gut funding for diplomacy, and weakened some of the U.S.’s alliances. As a result, they benefit less from international cooperation because of their refusal to participate in it and threatening of neoliberal institutions such as NATO. In my mind, this is an example of a far-right politician being against internationalism, but in such a way that it is detrimental to their agenda. Motadel points out the history of far-right and fascist leaders engaging in internationalism, with examples being Conference of Fascist Parties convened by Mussolini, and the Nuremburg rallies in which the Nazis welcomed international like-minded groups. This is interesting to think about within the modern far-right group mindset that rejecting internationalism protects their agenda, with the Trump administration being an example, and forces one to think about why these groups feel the need to protect their agendas from internationalism when it was not rejected in the past.

References:

Rogin, J. (2020, October 08). Opinion | U.S. foreign policy might be too broken for Biden to fix. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/us-foreign-policy-might-be-too-broken-for-biden-to-fix/2020/10/08/b82cfcf0-09a0-11eb-859b-f9c27abe638d_story.html

Motadel, D. (2019, July 03). The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism – But They Depend on It. Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/the-surprising-history-of-nationalist-internationalism.html