Op-Ed: Even Trump’s Infrastructure Plan is Authoritarian

Trump has finally released his plan for infrastructure spending. He released it along with his budget proposal. In both documents, Trump suggests privatization of some public assets, which increases his similarity to other authoritarian figures.

While I am personally against privatization, I understand why some might believe it is beneficial in specific scenarios. However, I think Trump is using privatization in a more sinister way. He is attempting to use privatization to enhance his political power, and he is not the first leader to do so. After all, Hitler privatized when he got into power. Now usually comparing someone to Hitler is a cheap method to undermine them but in this scenario it has a purpose. Trump is nor merely attempting to privatize the International Space Station (ISS), or Dulles airport, or even air traffic control centres, he is acting more and more like an authoritarian leader.

Now do not misunderstand my point, wanting to privatize industry does not make one an authoritarian, a fascist, or a Nazi. It is the reasoning for the privatization that is important. The Nazi’s did not privatize enterprises for a single motive. According to Germà Bel, in his article Against the mainstream: Nazi privatization in 1930s Germany, the Nazi government privatized because they believed that it would give them more political power with industrialists and because they thought that it would aid Germany in its economic recovery. Bel states that “the Nazi government used privatization as a tool to improve its relationship with big industrialists and to increase support among this group for its policies.” Bel specifies that the economic context in the 1930s is very different from the one seen today and therefore it cannot provide us with understanding about the current privatizations. However, that is not what is important here. The critical issue is that the Nazis used privatization as a political tool. This tool allowed them to gain more support from the industrialists. And it would have been harder for the Nazis to govern without this support.

Thus, if we were confident that Trump’s reasoning was innocent, this topic would merely be about our economic difference. However, if we observe Trump’s record as president, there is a reason to be worried. Trump has attempted to befriend businesses since before he was inaugurated. It is true that most Presidents attempt to have good relations with business. Yet, most do not go to the extremes that Trump has. He keeps bragging that he has cut the most regulations of any administration at this point in their administration. He also passed a tax bill that gave huge tax cuts to businesses.

Furthermore, Trump has punished those companies that he believes have wronged him. For example, there are reports that the reason that the Trump administration is suing to block the merger between AT&T and Time Warner is because Time Warner owns CNN, a media company that Trump has derided as fake news many times. So, Trump is both aiding corporation and hurting those who he believes are against him. Thus, he has shown a history of using other political tools to win the support of corporations and we can assume that he is doing the same with privatization.

However, these actions in a vacuum would not be terribly worrisome. Trump is not the first president to privatize public assets. However, he is the first president with authoritarian tendencies to use privatization to gain political power from the most influential companies in the US.

Thus, in a time when Trump’s administration created scandal after scandal, it is important to remember that there is nothing new under the sun. Privatization was one of the tools that allowed Nazis to consolidate and grow their political power, and we must be vigilant that we do not let that happen again.

Donald Trump the Populist ?

In the face of seemingly endless blunders and national embarrassments it can be easy to lose sight of just how Donald Trump was able to win the White House. More importantly how the Democratic party and Hilary Clinton with their collective 1.4 billion dollars’ worth of fund raising were unable to address Trump’s populist rhetoric because of  their addiction to corporate funding and lost to a bombastic reality TV star.

Donald Trump’s State of the Union address put into focus the fear of American workers which handed Trump the same rust belt that had voted for the president Obama only 4 years earlier. Throughout the first year of his presidency Donald Trump abandoned his persona of the populist saviour of the common man in favour of the more comfortable role of the establishment Republican.

The man who had once railed against the influence Goldman Sachs, now fills his cabinet with their alumni.

The same man who had once preached against the wasteful neoconservative escapades in the Middle East has now escalated American military involvement in Syria and seven other nations to heights not even the Obama administration could reach.

With hypocrisy like this many could almost be fooled into thinking Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush had actually won the presidency if it weren’t for the consistent early morning twitter tirades. Despite this, the populist Trump was briefly resurrected for his State of Union address in order to remind both his supports and his detractors why so many Americans had fallen for him.

Throughout the hour-long speech three elements of the “Trump movement” came to light:
– The fear of the working class
– America’s desperation for solidarity

– The role of the saviour

Trump boasted his supposed efforts to save American manufacturing as well as to alleviate inner city poverty. At the same time, Trump condemned the sad state of America’s social safety net promising to invest in infrastructure and somewhat shockingly, fight for lower prescription drug costs and paid family leave. Trump’s populist rhetoric whether it is sincere or not, reflects the precarious state of American workers.

Wages haven’t risen in decades as unions were destroyed and replaced with precariously low paying part-time employment that lacks benefits which the American government uniquely fails to provide. This insecurity creates unimaginable terror amount working people and this fear creates the need for solidarity that Trump exploits. As Linda Gordan described in her examination of the Ku Klux Klan as a case study of right wing populism, populist movements are characterized by this designation of “the people” as victims, and the exploitation of the resulting anger and fear to demagogue against supposed threats.

The State of the Union reminded the America an “other” exists to fear which they must stand united against. In a particularly disgusting form of political theatre, Trump paraded the families of victims of gang violence during his speech showing his supporters that their fears are close to home and that they must stand in solidarity with their nation and their president. 

American society across political lines glorfies economic success and achievement of the “American Dream” as a sign of moral virtue. Trump exploits this fact by presenting himself as a virtuous saviour of the common man due to his position as a wealthy businessman.

In the face of the Trump movement, the establishment Democratic party is powerless to provide a meaningful resistance. Like its Republican counterpart the Democratic party is dominated by corporate and elite interests/money preventing it from serving working people. A Democratic supermajority under president Obama failed to provide Americans with paid maternity leave or universal healthcare. Instead the Obama administration bailed out the banks, expanded American military involvement to 7 countries, and made the Bush tax cuts permanent.

This leaves the Democratic party in a position where it has no answer to the fear of the American working class and can only figh Trump on his racism and incompetence. To the blue-collar worker who is crippled by fear the desire for solidarity trumps the natural sense of disgust towards Trump’s racism and to his most fervent supporters Trump’s flirtation with the alt-right is his greatest appeal.

 

Photos credited to Vox and Huffington Post respectively 

Bigger Than Watergate?

The memo that was released recently by the house intelligence committee headed by the member of congress Devin Nunes shows that the intelligence agencies of the United States used fake information to spy on a presidential campaign. These types of aggressive maneuvers have not been seen since the famous Watergate incident where president Richard Nixon was actively spaying on the Democratic National Convention (DNC). The only difference is that the memo realized on February 2, 2016, is much larger than Watergate and might include more than just high-ranking officials in the FBI.
The memo shows an active FBI, investigating a presidential campaign on no other basis than on lies that were paid for by the opposition (DNC). Furthermore, it was used to gather further research after the election by members of the FBI who were loyal to the opposition.
The memo provides an indictment of senior Republicans, Department of Justice (DOJ), and FBI officials of inappropriately and unlawfully using the biased and unreliable information to conduct surveillance and obtain warrants to violate the privacy of then-private citizen and presidential candidate Donald Trump. According to the memo, the data from the “Steele Dossier,” was essential to the acquisition of surveillance warrants on the Trump campaign.
It also claims that the FBI director, Andrew McCabe, told the committee that without the information from the “dossier,” no surveillance warrants for Carter Paige (member of Trump campaign and ex-FBI agent) would have been sought. Thus, indicating that the “dossier” was the sole basis of the investigation. The memo finishes by stating that the political origins of the “dossier” paid for by the DNC weren’t disclosed to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC or FISA) who signed off on the warrants.
Ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele compiled the “dossier,” that was used to obtain the warrants. The memo claims that the FBI had clear knowledge that Steele was profoundly biased and prejudiced against Trump. It even quotes Steele as saying that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not gets elected and was passionate about him not being president.”
The so-called “dossier,” should have never been considered legitimate or valid for purposes of granting the warrant. Even more shocking of all is that FBI without a mention of the origins of the document went to the federal judge when applying for the permit.
Even Vladimir Putin is left asking “where am I? Why am I not involved in the investigations? I bought some Facebook ads!”. The Democrats responded by saying that the memo was cherry-picked and that accusations were baseless and inaccurate with the intention to harm Robert Muller’s investigation. It is easy to see how concerned the democratic party was about the release of the memo. Instead of encouraging the unveiling of the document they went of full damage control. They desperately trotted out Rep. Adam Schiff out on CNN to explain how the record contained sensible material that the DOJ and FBI should have a chance to vet the report before release. They even began to suggest the Donald Trump hated the FBI. All to try to discourage and cover up the version.
In closing, the memo shows that high ranking members in the FBI let their political bias get in the way of their judgments. It will ultimately prove to be the nail in the coffin for those who were hoping to impeach president Donald Trump. Also, it puts doubts in the public’s mind about the reliability and the integrity of their institutions. What makes this memo even more damaging is that it gives credence to Donald Trump’s idea that he will drain the swamp of Washington D.C. The memo has wholly confirmed the re-election of Donald Trump for the upcoming 2020 race.

 

The Far Right’s Behavior Toward Women and Sex: Old Anxieties, Modern Settings

In the context of the worldview espoused through right-wing politics, women are definitely not valued to the degree that they ought to be. In the context of the worldview of the far right, the societal value of women amounts to little more than living property–house-bound baby-making objects of desire which need protection, especially from rape by men of other races. These attitudes are perfectly observable in the far right movements of the past as well as the present.

Let’s examine the word “cuck”, a popular insult among the alt-right. To be a cuckold involves deriving a masochistic pleasure from watching another man having sex with your wife. This concept is hardly a product of modernity, as we can find instances of cuckoldry in Shakespeare and Chaucer, but the meaning has been tweaked somewhat. In the context of modern pornography, cuckoldry involves a white woman having sex with a black man while her husband, who is almost always white, watches helplessly. Language being one of the many windows into the mind, this speaks volumes about the far right and alt-right’s mentality, especially about race–blacks being a threatening invasive species–perceived weakness–liberals being too weak to defend what is theirs, perhaps even enjoying the humiliation of it all–and women in general–helpless living sex dolls. This, of course, is hardly a new concept. Overblown (and propagandized) fears about black men raping white women can be traced back to the Ku Klux Klan.

The Klan, finding great inspiration in romanticized visions of medieval knights, believed in protecting the virtue of white women under their care, which meant protecting them from those depraved black animals that were roaming the streets. Heartfelt consent between two people did not mean anything to the Klan, especially with regards to interracial relationships, something which was only made legal in the United States in 1967. One example of the Klan taking it upon themselves to involve themselves in someone’s personal life took place in Canada, a country which had never taken a legal stand against interracial marriage, though it was frowned upon. In 1930, seventy-five hooded men marched through Oakville, Ontario and invaded the home of Ira Johnson and Isabel Jones–the former was a black man and the latter a white woman. The klansmen forced Ms. Jones into a car and delivered her to the doorstep of a Captain of the Salvation Army. Consider this section of the Canadian Klan’s creed:

“We believe that our white race has a ministry of supreme service to mankind, and that the introduction of elements which cannot readily be assimilated or fused into our racial stock will lead to the corruption of racial health and seriously impair the service we might render to our fellow men. We therefore avow ourselves to be ever true to the maintenance of our racial integrity.”

Such orders could have been found in the manifesto of an old knight order, perhaps even something more clerical or governmental. The unfortunate part is that despite the fact that Canada never had codified laws against interracial marriage, it was clearly considered taboo. The officer that was called to the scene of Ms. Jones’ kidnapping ultimately spoke highly of the Klansmen that kidnapped her and even shook hands with them. Making matters worse, the Mayor of Oakville, one A.B. Moat, complimented the Klansmen on how orderly their conduct was and that the town stood in objection to marriage between two people of different races.

Similar sentiments, though not always so bluntly stated, are still very much alive in racist and far-right groups and individuals as well. Take, for instance, Dylann Roof, the convicted ethno-nationalist terrorist who gunned down several African American parishioners during a Bible study.  Roof, who wore flag patches of the defunct Apartheid state Rhodesia on his shirt, who believed that current expressions of racial nationalist views and the Klan itself were inadequate, believed that blacks were taking over the world and “were raping our women”.

This obscene fixation on white women being raped by black men is a deeply rooted, arguably genetic (intellectually speaking) infection found only on the far right, whether they would like to admit as much or not. Proponents of the far right might look at this opinion piece and pull out one of their many buzz words–snowflake, libtard, perhaps even cuck, though that one does appear to have gone out of style. Such would be expected. Introspection is hard, I suppose.

 

Op/Ed: The German Populist’s Balancing Act

Populism has become a contending political ideology, not only in the United States, but all around the world.  In Europe especially, distrust of experts and anti-immigrant sentiments have risen since the refugee crisis in 2015, driving many native Europeans to far right populist parties.  The key feature in many populist parties has always been the personality that leads it.  The classic example being Donald Trump’s bombastic personality representing the populist ideas, rather than the Republican Party.  This feature remains consistent across Europe with politicians like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.  In contrast to this, German populism has seen a rise, but the leaders of this movement have been more divided on their stances, often preferring more moderate approaches to populism.  What does German Populism look like and how does the history of the country help us understand the 2017 election? To understand this we must look into the German electoral system, as well as to the history of German populism.

The 1919 German Constitution established universal suffrage, making the vast majority of Germans, including women and m

 

inorities able to vote.  Despite the surprisingly liberal policy for the early 20th century, it actually made democracy weaker because everyone was able to participate in politics, and anyone was able to make a party.  The result of this move was 40 parties being represented in the modern day Bundestag, Germany’s Parliament, after 1924 including the Nazi Party.  This gave rise to extremist parties being able to gain parliamentary seats, and power within the German government.  Despite the eventual rise of the Nazis and establishment of a dictatorship, the erosion to German democracy began with an over-representation of parties in politics, making it difficult to reach consensus.

 

After the Second World War, an attempt to prevent this issue was implemented into the new German constitution via the 5% rule which stated that each party must receive at least 5% of the national vote in order to be eligible for a seat in the Bundestag.  The intention of this rule was to prevent too

Bundestag
https://sputniknews.com/europe/201710241058494990-germany-bundestag-analysis-meeting/

many parties from being in the Bundestag and preventing extremist parties from gaining too much power.  Despite this, in 2017 Alternative for Germany (AFD) received 12.6% of the vote and 94 seats (out of 709) in the Bundestag, marking the first time they have been represented in the Bundestag and the first time since the Second World War that a populist party would break the 5% threshold.

AFD’s far right ideals of anti-immigration and distrust of experts are creating a party that appeals to many of the populist sentiments seen commonly across Europe and the United States.  Despite this, their party leaders have remained disunited and without a clear direction to follow.  Donald Trump runs the most powerful nation on Earth through a twitter feed while the leaders of AFD struggle to maintain a united leadership as ideas of whether the party should remain as a more moderate party, rather than an extremist one, caused the former chairwoman Frauke Petry to switch to an independent seat after the 2017 election.

The reason for the divide of AFD’s leadership can be understood through analyzing Germany’s history. Since the events of the Second World War, the German people have largely expressed remorse for their actions and see the Third Reich and its actions as a dark period in their own history.  Richard Von Weizsacker, the president of  what was then West Germany in 1985 referred to the Allied victory over the Nazi’s as a liberation of Germany. Politicians in the AFD like Björn Höcke are now calling for Germans to be proud of their past.  Because of the German people’s apprehension of their past, this has drawn significant controversy from not only the leaders of more moderate German parties, but also within AFD itself from powerful members like Petry.  Contrast this with the United States where many hold pride of some golden era of American past, exemplified by the slogan “Make America Great Again”.  The leaders of AFD do not have the popular support to be able to make such bold statements due to the skeletons in their closet.  Many Germans do not see the early 20th century as a golden age of German achievement that they must look to remake, but instead a point of national shame where they must be better moving forward.

 

Representing the Past Should Reflect the Understanding of the Present

Symbols have powerful meanings and associations. As history changes, symbols can come to have new meanings, and the acceptance of the symbol can change.

Lately, the statues of leaders in both Canada and the United States have come into question. The issue is: whether or not keeping these statues up is important in preserving history, or whether it would be better to take them down.

Recently, a statue of Edward Cornwallis was taken down in Halifax. Though this statue depicted the founder of the city, it was taken down because of his having placed a bounty on indigenous people. Jonathan Fowler reflects on this in his opinion piece in The Globe and Mail, “Advances in historical understanding have made the continued public celebration of Cornwallis problematic.” In response to those who defend these statues as history, he says that they need to accept the evolution of history and the fact that taking down a statue does not diminish history.

I agree with Fowler’s point of view. Taking down statues or symbols does not imply that they never existed and that they had no impact. Rather, it is showing respect to those that were victimised in history. This does not mean that they will be erased, but rather re-contextualised into a historical narrative.

To frame this historically, I will do so by examining a well-known symbol: the Nazi’s swastika. James Skidmore, a university of Waterloo professor, discusses the history of this symbol in an article in The Conversation. He discusses the fact that it was a benign symbol before the Nazis appropriated it. However, he also acknowledges the fact that what this symbol has become means that it cannot now be used in any context. The history behind this symbol is important.

The history of a symbol is important, because it informs its meaning. When symbols are associated with genocide, racist movements, or fascism, these symbols become problematic.

We all know that the swastika is associated with the Nazi regime and the genocide of the Holocaust. We now accept that this is not a symbol that should be worn or displayed now. However, we have in the recent past seen the problematic appropriation of these symbols by alt-right groups in the south.

How can this use of offensive symbols by hate groups be considered connected to problematized statues? By looking at the history of these statues, and who erected them. For instance, if we turn to the United States, and specifically the south, we can examine the way that the statues reflect history and a challenging past. These statues have also been in the news lately, regarding a movement to take them down. Those that do not want the statues removed defend them by saying that they represent history.

Historians in an NPR article discuss the true nature of these statues: that they were erected many decades after the civil war, during the time of the Jim Crow laws. These monuments were put up in order to glorify ideals of white supremacy.

I think that by defending problematic statues, people are either purposely or inadvertently supporting the ideals of groups. For example, the KKK is related to the creation of these monuments in the south. Though these monuments seem less questionable than a symbol like the swastika, upon further analysis it is clear that they too are based on a tradition of violence and hate.

The messages portrayed by individual symbols are important, as is their current context. By defending them as part of history, that individual fails to see the history of that symbol and why that symbol is now out-dated and offensive. The context for the creation of these symbols is important as well. Defending these symbols is clearly not a harmless defence of a nation’s history.

In relation to the monument of Edward Cornwallis, though he was not a populist leader or fascist dictator, his racism is still problematic. With the advanced understanding of our current society, it is easy to see why his statue was taken down. To return to Fowler’s comments, these statues clearly have important connotations and them being taken down does not diminish their value for historical education.

In the same way that Nazi symbols are not condoned in our society, we too should not allow the use of symbols of oppression. Symbols have power, so it’s important that we remove and contextualize the negative ones, while being educated about them.

Op/Ed I Desperate state of Affairs

What I see is people desperate for influence. The most dangerous thing in the world is desperation. The desperate will try anything. Desperation drives one to side with hate or fear; to ignore science, to ignore reason. The desperate will work together and make up their own narrative to justify a world view. The desperate will decide: immigrants are stealing our jobs, there is no consensus about climate change in the scientific community, and crime and gangs are epidemic. Unfortunately, for the desperate, the truth is not democratic. Current statistics strongly suggest immigrants are not taking the majority of jobs, climate change is accepted and occurring, and gangs and violent crimes are on a low trend—the state of the world is improving. The desperate, like the rest of us, are products of how our nervous system takes in, and processes information. The desperate, like the rest of us, are susceptible to errors in thinking which occur automatically, and almost beyond consciousness. Human cognition is adaptive, and well suited for what it does—finding patterns in the chaos. We take in large amounts of information, and search for narratives and structure amongst the otherwise meaningless universe. Despite the efficiency of human thought, the mind can be misled by how information is presented. Current cognitive-behavioral neuroscience is providing insight into cognitive mechanisms, conceptual limitations, how cognitive errors occur, and how cognitive errors can be overcome. The most obvious cognitive errors in our current political environment are: memory, serial order effect, and availability heuristics, among many other cognitive errors. Memory can be transient or changeable; memory has the ability to evolve. Reality as one may recall can be reconstructed along cognitive anchor points called ‘retrieval cues’. If asked “what did you do last week” you are retrieving information and constructing it alongside basic known information. It is important to note that new, conflicting, misleading information, and emotional salience can alter or influence memory. Serial order effect is the cognitive tendency to recall the first and last items in a series correctly, but being unable to recall information in the middle of the same series. Oftentimes, news networks will start and finish the a news cycle with extreme stories, but background and context is often presented in the middle, therefore, it is difficult to recall. This leads into availability heuristics. Availability heuristics are simple cognitive, or mental shortcut rules, which people use to form judgments and decisions. Although effective for simple information, or situations that only focus on one aspect of a complex problem, this results in displacement or omittance of other pertinent information. Availability heuristics are reinforced by our digital world.  For example, computer programs track online behavior, and by using statistical probability based on past content viewed, we are only shown consumer content that we are likely to approve of. Statistical models of probability increase the frequency of information we consume that will be tailored to us; a computer cherry-picking information for us. Therefore, by only seeing information that we agree with, we can develop a strong sense that our world view is correct, or obviously shared by others. If you follow news from ‘the alt-right’ or ‘fox and friends’ you will only be shown news and ads that relate to this.  Although almost all information processing occurs beyond consciousness, there is a way to defend ourselves from all the misinformation out there, and that is by simply being informed, and staying informed. By understanding the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of cognition, we are given more psychological tools that protect us from being taken advantage of. By being aware of cognitive processing we are protecting the only real freedom we have—how we choose to think and organize our internal thoughts and points of view. Sadly, the desperate, some of which who blindly support those such Donald Trump, have fallen prey with the loss of their cognitive freedom, fueled by desperation and perhaps learned helplessness. All is not lost however, we can study and learn from our current political situation. We are capable of moving towards a better way to govern ourselves, and becoming more informed consumers of information. We need to be open-up our minds, but remain vigilant, and critical of all information. Thus, this will allow us to meaningfully participate in the political process as informed citizens.

Italian Populism, Two Sides of the Same Coin

The upcoming Italian election features two populist leaders who became famous through the entertainment industry. The Five Star Movement, founded by actor and comedian Beppe Grillo, is poised to make a push in the upcoming Italian election.  The party is an alternative to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. He became a prominent figure in Italian politics by running on principles such as anti-corruption and elitism but has since contradicted them after spending time as Prime Minister.  The five Star movement now carries the message of anti-politics, anti-elites and anti-corruption that the voters want.  The comparisons that can be made about the groups are palpable, although FI and Silvio Berlusconi are now political professionals.

Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi are more similar than they want to believe, Berlusconi has changed but his political rise and populist origins are eerily familiar.  Both leaders had immense fame before entering into politics which helped them build an audience that could be converted into political followers.  Berlusconi got his start working on cruise ships telling jokes and singing and now owns Italy’s three largest private T.V. networks that he uses to spread his message.  Grillo, too, is a product of the entertainment industry – a comedian, satirist and impressionist who was a frequent face on Italian national T.V.  Both men also use video formats to communicate to their constituents, Berlusconi through his T.V. networks and Grillo through his YouTube channel.  The leaders held public spotlight before entering into politics making it easier for them to amass supporters.

Italy has a long history of embracing populist style leaders who used popular media to appeal to the common man.  Inoslav Besker characterizes the two leaders’ approach as ‘populism, anti-party attitudes, demonization of opponents and an approach to the public and to politics focused on the leader.  Silvio Berlusconi started as an anti-politician and has described the politicians in Italy as to have never ‘worked’ a day in their life.  Unlike them Berlusconi has worked for his status and is thus shows himself as a worthy leader.  Grillo also despises the political class and refers to politicians as ‘zombies’ and ‘corpses’.  He would have one believe that he is not a politician and that his FSM isn’t even a political party.  They also share the similar sentiment that the political system in Italy needs to be reformed.  Grillo proposes bans on candidates convicted of crimes and limiting terms in office.  Similarly, Berlusconi, positions himself as a business man who is not at all like the politicians and that proportional representation needs to be replaced with a majoritarian system with more emphasis on the role of the Prime Minister.

Despite these anti-political origins, something changed once Berlusconi took power.  He became the very elite that he campaigned against causing him and his coalition to lose the favour of the public.  Berlusconi used his time in office to create laws that protected his own business interests instead of promoting the small business entrepreneurship of which was his platform.   The once anti-political populist who emphasised how corrupt the politicians and elites were became the embodiment of what he once despised.  By embracing the throngs of political leadership, he contradicted his original message and alienated his followers.  He created a political vacuum that afforded the opportunity for a party to propose the same anti-political message except this time he is the politician.  The upcoming election provides the perfect backdrop for an inquisitive look into the state of Italian politics, with the Five Star Movement polling so high, do they offer something new or is it the similar story of using the populist message for personal gain.

The Five Star Movement winning 25% of the votes in the 2013 election showcases a wider issue in Italy, the public’s distrust of politicians causes them to elect anti-government populists.  A positive feedback loop is created when an anti-government party is elected, they become the government causing the need for more anti-politics parties.  The Five Star Movements success means that they will become serious politicians, contradicting their platform.  After winning the election with not much of a party structure, clear leadership roles have been created and the founder has stepped down being replaced by Luigi di Maio.  Beppe Grillo once said his party was not even a party, but one look at the Five Star Movement, you can see that is changing.

By: Riley Bowman

Op-Ed: The Women who cried wolf?

2017: the year feminists captured a golden opportunity to fight and silent victims flocked out of their closets; the ‘me too’ campaign gave women a pedestal to wreak havoc on their male counterpart. It was a year in which Harvey Weinstein went from hero to zero. It was the year in which Kevin Spacey got exposed as being his own creepy character from House of Cards. The names do not stop emerging.

But, where will it end? First things first: I am an ardent supporter of all campaigns against sexual assault, as any self-respecting human would be. The men who have been convicted this year deserve their due comeuppance.

What I am against is the use of social media to ruin the careers or reputation of actors, politicians, presenters and many men in between by making vague, unsubstantiated claims that equate them to the heinous Weinstein.

The defamation of Ed Westwick, star of TV series Gossip Girl, in November of 2017 has been a fitting example of this.

He has been accused of sexual assault by three women, all of which he has denied. In January 2018, two months after the allegations, he was fired from his role in BBC’s ‘Ordeal By Innocence’. Since, they have stopped filming television comedy ‘White Gold’ which he starred in. Yet, this is the least of his problems. His name has been defiled, regardless of whether or not he committed the crimes. Many, including myself, have always admired and respected Ed Westwick as an actor, but our opinion is being criticised by fellow ‘me too’ campaigners for being ‘anti-feminist’, despite the claims being untested. Twitter has attacked anyone who still holds these once proliferated opinions of him; the hashtag #EdWestwick trended on twitter, with one tweet reading ‘RIP Ed Westwick, he ain’t dead but he is dead to me’. In our current climate, to be accused is to be convicted.

 

Why should the media and the public treat him in a differently to how the supreme court treats its criminals: innocent until proven guilty? Ed has been a victim of a hate campaign. If his name is cleared, the media has made him a monster. His life has been turned upside down, his reputation slaughtered. He will struggle to get back on to mainstream television.

Women have begun jumping on the ‘me too’ bandwagon as victims of incomparable claims to those who have been sexually abused. Lucy Hall from London responded to a NY times Op/ed on the matter. I quote: ‘as a recent survivor of rape, I have felt infuriated and confused by the laziness in the language of the topic’. What Lucy is trying to convey is that you cannot conflate rape with everyday sexual advances. To lump together sexual assault, sexual harassment and even unreciprocated flirting is to draw focus away from the true victims.

In my opinion, the campaign has lost the credibility it initially thrived on; women are using the hashtag as a method of legitimisation over men. They are personifying the cliché ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’. If we are not careful we will lose all the gains that have been made by turning it into a farce.

One only needs to look back to the 1970s to see how prominent feminists, such as Andrea Dworkin, polarized the effort by taking it in an extreme direction that lost the popular vote. She became a symbol for ‘anti-sex’ and found enemies in free speech campaigners. After the publication of an open letter in French publication Le Monde, signed by 100 influential French females, the ‘me-too’ campaign is set to go the same way. It is losing integrity. But at its core it carries an incredibly important message which we need to save from distinction: that women should not be objectified and disrespected by men at any level.

The campaign has gone too far but it has not gone far enough. The Weinstein revelations highlighted how power and influence can be utilised by men, but also by women when they are in positions of power. This continues to happens every day we talk about it. However, what we should not do, which the campaign is doing, is create a taboo around sexuality. We live in a sexualised society in which men are predominantly expected to make advances on women first. If this has the capacity to be reported as ‘sexual assault’ just because a female does not replicate the feeling, the line will become increasingly hazy and uncomfortable for both sexes.

Sexual assault needs to continue to be treated with the utmost severity and the mobilisation of all women against all men is only going to worsen our situation rather than improve it. The ‘me-too’ campaign must change and adapt if it wants to make a lasting difference to women’s rights.

Op-Ed: “Greek and Polish nationalism is playing with fire”

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Places like Greece and Poland are on a slippery slope. By ignoring or not feeling concerned with these issues going on in the world, we turn a blind eye to history and what this has led to before.

Earlier this month in Athens, far-right demonstrators marched and shouted with torches, holding flags of the Golden Dawn – Greece’s right wing nationalist party. They were protesting the Greek government and its negotiations with the Republic of Macedonia, as they and many Greeks believe the name “Macedonia” should only belong in Greece.

By the end of it thousands of anti-fascists and police were present, an anarchist squat was burned down and a Holocaust monument vandalized.

You might ask yourself, why should I care? Perhaps you feel the nationalist rhetoric being thrown around more and more frequently and confidently in places like Greece or Poland is far away and unimportant.

You should be worried, and here’s why. History shows us that fascism (and far-right populism) takes hold by normalizing its behavior using national and political myths to replace history. This comes from Federico Finchelstein’s book, “From Fascism to Populism in History.”

I was told once by an old mentor that it is not history that repeats itself, but the patterns of history. It’s not Germany or Italy this time, and that should not reassure us.

The “Polish death camps” law

The new law that was declared just last month in Poland punishes anyone who argues that there was Polish collaboration with the Nazi’s in WWII. At first, this does not appear problematic. Poland’s suffering during the years of Nazi occupation was enormous and remains impossible to reconcile.

The reason this law is alarming has to do with what it means for Polish nationalism and its thriving far-right movement.

Poland is currently dealing with a surge of ethnocentric nationalism that is on the rise. This is most easily recognized with the anti-immigration protest that occurred in Warsaw last November. 60,000 people attended, many espousing racist views. The mayor, a member of the ruling nationalistic Law and Justice Party (PiS) even paid for some of the activists travel.

The law represents an attempt to cleanse a nationalistic heritage and take the moral high ground moving forward. In spite of this, historians warn of the dangers of simplifying history. Events such as the murdering of Jews by the villagers of Jedwabne in 1941 or the expulsion of thousands more during the 1968 “anti-Zionist campaign” are at risk of being ignored.

Finchelstein’s book makes this danger clear, that fascism and modern populism will bend history and normalize nationalistic ideas in order to eventually overthrow the democratic system. Timothy Snyder’s book (On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century) similarly shows that fascism constructs creative myths over history in order to further agendas.

For far-right nationalists in Poland, this law may very well serve as a lightning rod to endorse and promote Polish nationalism to a higher degree.

Greece’s “Macedonia” issue

A similar situation is unfolding here. The Golden Dawn party currently holds 16 seats in the Hellenic parliament. The far-right protestors at the demonstration rallied against the leftist government and used a nationalistic agenda to advocate the historical Greek claim to the name “Macedonia.”

Greek nationalism runs deep on this issue and has been a problem for decades. The far-right nature of this demonstration reveals how Greek nationalists are utilising historic grievances and normalizing aggression to get their views across with success.

Maybe that’s why so many of us don’t seem to bat an eye at issues like these.

The patterns of history repeat themselves

What all of this means is that we are not safe from fascism in the 21st century.

Finchelstein’s book clearly states that modern populism is in many ways a direct reincarnation of traditional fascism, only this time working more closely with democratic institutions.

What’s going on in Greece or Poland may be far away, but that doesn’t mean the possible repercussions will be distant either. Populist movements at home are taking notes.

If southern and eastern European nationalism is playing with fire, who’s to say we won’t be susceptible either?

Works Cited

Davies, Christian. “Poland’s Jews Fear for future Under New Holocaust Law.” The Guardian, February 10, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/10/polands-jews-fear-future-under-new-holocaust-law-nazi-atrocities.

Eglash, Ruth and Avi Selk. “Israel and Poland Try to Tamp Down Tensions after Poland’s ‘Death Camp’ Law Sparks Israeli Outrage.” The Washington Post, January 28, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/01/27/it-could-soon-be-a-crime-to-blame-poland-for-nazi-atrocities-and-israel-is-appalled/?utm_term=.18fe02d470e5.

Finchelstein, Federico. From Fascism to Populism in History. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2017.

Kelly, Lidia and Justyna Pawlak. “Poland’s Far Right: Opportunity and Threat for Ruling PiS.” Reuters, January 3, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-politics-farright/polands-far-right-opportunity-and-threat-for-ruling-pis-idUSKBN1ES0BK.

Noack, Rick. “How Poland Became a Breeding Ground for Europe’s Far Right.” The Washington Post, November 14, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/11/13/how-poland-became-a-breeding-ground-for-europes-far-right/?utm_term=.a57f74c3bb12.

Snyder, Timothy. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017.

Strickland, Patrick. “Tens of Thousands of Greeks Protest Macedonia’s Name.” Al Jazeera, February 5, 2018. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/tens-thousands-greeks-protest-macedonia-180204141039260.html.

Strickland, Patrick. “Tensions High in Athens Ahead of Nationalist Rally.” Al Jazeera, February 3, 2018. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/tensions-high-athens-nationalist-rally-180203221505840.html.