Resist Tactics to Turn Us Against Each Other

“Identity politics” are now being misused by the alt-right.

Let’s begin with a somewhat controversial statement: identity politics are not the problem here. Several terms have been taken by alt-right internet trolls and used to attack the very people they were invented to serve. See: ‘triggered’ and ‘safe-space’.

In fascism, individual identities and wishes are absorbed into the wishes of the whole. Allegiance and obedience to the state overrule any other desires. Societal problems, such as economic issues, are blamed on specific groups who do not fit into their idea of ‘proper citizens’. These people then become ‘un-pure’ and will corrupt the rest of society. The most obvious example of this was how the Nazis blamed the status of Germany (a struggling economy, lack of military) after the First World War on Jewish corruption. They then used this made-up narrative as an excuse to systematically murder six million Jewish people. Another example of antisemitism in European fascist states (not that there aren’t multiple books worth of examples) is anti-Jewish laws in fascist Italy. These laws were either supported or ignored by the larger population because Jewish people already were labouring under being viewed as inherently unable (read: unwilling) to conform. When identity becomes a detriment to loyalty to the state, identities that are already viewed as the ‘Other’ in society have been painted as inherently disloyal and open to being targeted.

Some people that would be also targeted for bigotry have tried to distance themselves from more marginalized groups. They may think that they can avoid oppression by allying themselves with the alt-right early. This is absolutely wrong. The alt-right, primarily online, have been trying to invoke this deliberately. Specific arguments are used as an attempt to divide up people who would otherwise be allied. One of the more widespread tactics is used specifically against Muslim people, something that Jasib Puar described as ‘homonationalism’ in the essay Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Neo-nazis with ulterior motives now are using homophobia in what they classify as ‘Muslim countries’ as an excuse to feel morally superior and in turn deny rights to Muslim people. Personally, this was used in full force at a rally I protested this summer. The rally was ostensibly against unfettered immigration but was full of Islamophobic slogans and speeches. In some of these speeches, men would talk about how Muslim people were homophobic and women-hating, complaining about the hypocrisy of the Canadian government for welcoming in refugees yet claiming to be for gay and women’s rights. Many, many more examples of neo-nazis suddenly finding a deep passion for queer liberation when the plight of the LGBTQ+ population in Saudi Arabia is discussed can be found online.

This strategy isn’t anything new. And unlike some voices, this is not at all a call to ignore intersectional analysis in activism. Quite the opposite: listening and elevating other experiences is crucial to presenting a united front in any sort of anti-fascist resistance. Authoritarianism often works by manipulating already-existing social prejudices as a strategy for gaining power. Struggling against each other to be accepted as an ‘in-group’ with the people in power hurts all of us in the long run. Despite the ability of some to find a place in the group oppression of others, this should not be seen as an actual option by any. Unlike in other historical contexts, supporters of fascism and white supremacy are still outnumbered. Letting them divide activists and set us against each other can happen when larger movements ignore the specific needs and realities of more marginalized members.

Identity politics is a dismissive term for acknowledging the specific experiences of different people and working to guarantee a decent life for all of them. Don’t let them turn us against each other: criticisms need to be there, but we need to keep in mind what can happen if we ignore the real danger. If we let them hurt one group of people because they aren’t us we open the door for whatever oppression they see fit to be turned on us.

America Reborn

We all know the slogan: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”. But where’s the appeal? Why the slogan hits home with so many people is the call to a ‘greater’ past. It’s the idea that America was once perfect but it was lost over time.

Anyone with a smartphone can Google ‘American history’ and find out that this past isn’t golden. But Trump’s call to a greater past implies that America lost something it used to have. “Looking back” is a strategy used in all kinds of places. Most notably in politics, but even subtly in places like malls and TV. It’s a trend that’s been used globally for centuries as a way to appeal to individuals on large scales.

In a way, Trump’s signature slogan is a call for an American renaissance. Renaissance is French for ‘rebirth’. It’s been mainly used to describe the years during the 14th-16th centuries when Europe saw a great burst of cultural, economical, and scientific change. This rebirth was sparked by the same nostalgia that Trump appeals to. Europe looked back at ancient Greece and Rome as their ‘great past’. The Europeans wanted to “MAKE EUROPE GREAT AGAIN”.

But Trump never labels a specific era that was the American great, and he doesn’t need to. When Trump tells people to “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”, he’s not addressing American history. He’s appealing to each person with a past that they miss. Many people want to think that they would never be swayed by such vague promises. But it happens everyday, whether we know it or not.

Older generations are nostalgic for their youth. Many think that our current generation has ‘lost’ something that is making us act unruly. Author Svetlana Boym says in her book The Future of Nostalgia that “nostalgia appears to be a longing for a place but is actually a yearning for a different time – the time of our childhood, the slower rhythms of our dreams.”

Boym also states “the fantasies of the past determined by the needs of the present have a direct impact on the realities of the future.” Pride for the past is a powerful emotion, and people will filter out the bad parts in favour of the good. Maybe a person hates ripped jeans. In their mind, making America great again would be to ban them. Trump doesn’t need to give specific examples. We fill in the rest ourselves.

Trump is first and foremost a businessman. His gut tells him that the past sells. If you’ve watched the Netflix show Stranger Things or been to Urban Outfitters then you’ve been attacked by nostalgic propaganda. Steve Olenski, a writer for Forbes magazine, explains in his article Nostalgia Sells that we live in a fast-paced world and “many people have looked back to simpler times and been attracted to products from that past that remind them of when life wasn’t so complicated.” In other words, the past is safe and predictable. Trump promises a future that is exactly that. He uses nostalgia to sell himself and his promises to his customers, who in this case are the American people.

Where Trump falls short is his lack of connection to the much younger generation. If we guess that America’s ‘downfall’ began on 9/11 then we need to account for everyone born after that. The “MAKE AMERICAN GREAT” business falls flat with his audience who can’t remember 9/11 because they were too young and weren’t around to know a better America. This smaller generation is mostly filled with people who can’t vote yet, including the children who were born into the Trump presidency. We can’t deny that how these kids are raised will have an effect on their opinions of him. Trump, however, will need to begin changing his selling tactics if he wants this generation on his side. It will be nearly impossible to demand people remember a past that wasn’t theirs.

Trump’s American renaissance is already going down in history but it’s too early to tell what the long-term effects will be. Since these next few years will one day be our past, it raises the question of exactly how many of us will be nostalgic for it in the future.

 

Equal rights mean equal responsibilities

With recent revelations about BBC gender pay disparities making headlines, and a magazine like Maclean’s going so far as to ask men to pay more for their issue about the pay gap, it’s fair to say that gender equality, or a lack thereof is on people’s minds.

Over the past century women’s rights have made great leaps and bounds, particularly in the West. Women have earned the right to vote, we are able to participate in the military, in political life, and we can hold any job that a man can.

Unfortunately, with power comes responsibility. When looking at women’s actions, past and present, we need to remember that we are just as capable of making bad decisions as men. Even though the idea of women’s historical agency and participation is fairly progressive, that doesn’t mean that all women are progressive.

According to exit polls, in the 2016 presidential election, more than half of white female voters cast their vote for Donald Trump. While the overwhelming majority of women voted for Clinton, this subset exists and it exists for a reason. When given the opportunity, women are just as capable as men of picking the wrong side. While this sort of misguided political support has always been more systematically available to men, it is not unique to them.

Another, more recent example of this misguided support is the support of Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Despite allegations that Moore pursued sexual relationships with teenagers, white women rallied around him. According to CNN one woman, Jane Porter, went as far as saying, “Because it’s not about facts. It’s not about trust. It’s not about women. It’s about the assassination of an honourable man who is running for Senate.” Saying that allegations of sexual misconduct with female teenagers isn’t about women is ridiculous. Or is it?

Both Trump’s election and female support of Roy Moore show that white women are more interested in supporting men who share their ideologies than they are in supporting other women. And supporting your ideologies is fine, it isn’t inherently wrong, men do it all the time. However, it starts to be wrong when these ideologies are problematic. When they become racist, sexist, xenophobic, classist, or otherwise oppressive, that’s when we have a problem. And unfortunately, white women have a habit of showing their support most strongly when one of those factors is at play.

White women are drawn towards extreme beliefs when it benefits them in some way, real or perceived. In her book, Hitler’s Furies, Wendy Lower uncovers and explores this idea. German women flocked towards the Nazi regime not just because of its ideology, but also because of its practicality. It allowed young German women freedom unlike any they had ever experienced. Supporting the Nazi party was beneficial because it allowed them the freedom to leave the home, serve the military in some capacity, and have “adventures” that would have been otherwise unavailable. Many German women may have genuinely believed in the Nazi ideology, but for others supporting the party was simply a gateway into a new, more interesting life.

The Ku Klux Klan is an even more recent example of white women supporting an ideology that left them feeling empowered. They may not have been superior to white men, but at least they could feel superior to everyone else. For women who are used to submission and subservience to men, the opportunity to dominate other people, to get to be better than them, could have been incredibly appealing.

Gender equality means giving women a deeper, more nuanced identity. This depth and nuance can make women’s identities more complicated, and not always as nice as we would like to imagine. Allowing women to express and experience these complex identities means accepting the good, as well as the bad.

Getting closer to gender equality means having the first woman in U.S. history win the nomination of a major political party, but also allowing American women to vote freely. Even if that means voting for an unqualified, sexist, xenophobic man instead.