Feminism is flourishing amid Trump presidency

In the context of populist regimes and movements, the role of women and their ability to engage with their surroundings has incredible historic repercussion in the growth and perpetuation of feminist ideals.

Women’s movements are nothing new. Women have been fighting for equal rights in many capacities since the suffrage movement. The interesting element is the ability for women to do that under populist regimes. This has benefits, and consequences. In the wake of the #MeToo movement addressing sexual assault and violence, the general public is starting to understand the power of mass female movements, and their influence in the larger political context.  

In the 1930s, the rise of Nazism gave way to a political climate of fear and violence. This was not only issues through the war, but also through the Holocaust.  Women under the Nazi party used the institutions in place to move their way through the ranks. At the time of Nazi power, women still did not have the right to vote, a symbol of their poor political and social status. Their ability to participate in the war greatly affected their ability to organize. This came in the form of working as secretaries, marrying high ranking officers, and serving as nurses or militia women.

Serving in the war came at a great cost to women in Germany. As explained in Wendy Lowler’s  Hitler’s Furies, women were expected to take on more responsibility in lieu of men going off to battle. By the end of the war, women made up 40% of the roles in high ranking Gestapo offices. Under the anti-Semitic regime of Nazi Germany, there were three main categories for women: witnesses, accomplices, and murderers. One of the testaments in Lowler’s novel, made by Erna Petri, stated that she justified the violent actions against the Jewish people as a desire to prove herself to the men, and to further advance her social status.

Parallels exist between female militancy in Nazi Germany and segregation movements in the United States. A women’s group in the United States known as Daughters of the American Revolution are a group of ladies responsible for the maintenance of American culture. Over the years there has been swirling controversy over their practices. Until recently, there was heavy segregation for black American women in the group, as well as the funding to preserve Confederate generals’ statues. In light of the neo-Nazi demonstrations in places like Charlottesville, these symbols and statues continue to promote pro-slavery rhetoric and fuel the overall segregated, populist sentiment.

The difference between movements of the past, and today, is the ability to resort to violence and exclusionary politics in the face of populism. While the women in the previous examples were able to use the political institutions for their own personal advancement, it was at a detriment to other individuals and social groups.

On the other hand, women during the Trump administration era today are supporting each other and using their stories to inspire. While the President is a known molester, women have come out in large crowds, of every race, creed, religion, and sexual orientation to march and protest for their basic rights. In 2017, just a few months after Trump was elected to office and cut programs like Planned Parenthood, over 500,000 women and supporters marched in Washington to advocate for legislation reform in support of women’s rights and social programs. The movement has grown to multiple cosmopolitan cities across the United States and worldwide, reaching numbers of marchers again in the hundreds of thousands.

This gives me hope because in the face of racist and hateful world leaders that are using populist rhetoric, women today are coming together and fighting for what is right and important, in a way that supports each other.

Featured Image from: CNN

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

First Response: Role of gender in populism today

This week’s reading addressed the ways in which race, gender and the identities of people were defined and utilized by authoritarian regimes and democratic societies to further a nationalistic agenda. All three of them share the notion that within each specific context, gender identities became tools to “advance” or improve the well-being of the state overall.

Can we observe the same kind of ideas if we were to assess gender roles and race today? What about in modern populism? This is something worth discussing in the present.

A concurrent theme from the readings was the concept of national value in regard to how one self-identified or was identified. Be it:

  • The feminized or masculine homosexual in early 20th century Germany (Claudia Bruns)
  • The linear success, male-dominated and non-individualistic discourse around people in postwar Japan (Rio Otomo)
  • The warlike, hardworking and socially committed “New Man” of interwar Romania (Valentin Săndulescu)

These ideas made me begin to think about what a democratic society such as ours today perhaps hold similar to these examples. The Bruns reading shows how in German life today, female or gay descriptions are still sometimes used in a derogatory manner and that the German LGBT(QI) community may exhibit racist discourses towards Muslim immigrants.

But can we think of other ways in which gender identities today continue to shape our collective thought processes? Terms like, “be a man,” or “act like a lady” come to mind. Could it be that we still subconsciously use the gender roles that are ascribed today to further our own conception of national value?

 

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.

 

Sweeper: Mirror Mirror

Our discussion this week was not very fruitful as our group went off the rails due to a lack of reading. Our discussion became a heated debate regarding race and white privilege, a topic that has modern relevance but was not the focus of Lewis’ novel. From my own reading of It Can’t Happen Here, what I found interesting was the relevance the novel has to tactics used by politicians today. President Windrip in his novel seems fictional upon first glance. As you read, however, and ‘hear’ him speak you can almost believe the promises he makes. Like Trump, Hitler, and other politicians (not necessarily just the ‘evil’ ones too) there always seems to be an appeal to ‘traditional’ values. American, German, even Canadian nationalism is a tactic often exploited. Lewis’ understanding of the use of national pride was his key point to make on how dictatorships can arise.

It was discussed how this novel appealed to academics and uses language that is borderline satirical. While I agree that it was designed for a more high-brow audience, I believe that Lewis wrote it with the intention of anybody being able to pick it up and put yourself in Jessup’s position. Like the novel/TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that these sort of things could emerge. While academics dissect novels, the everyday reader digests them and will ultimately make comparisons between the book and their own lives. I believe that Lewis knew the different ways his book could be read and designed it to have multiple purposes.

Second Klan as a Case Study for Populism

Although every organization is different, Gordon’s article informs readers about some common characteristics of populist movements such as conspiracy theories, distrust of experts, extreme nationalism, isolationism, and victimization. The author writes that the Trump and Sanders campaign have been circulating discussions about populism. She also writes in detail about the KKK, and how its characteristics could fall under those of a populist movement. Indirectly, the author is trying to draw similarities between current American political parties, and the KKK of the 1930’s. Gordon however does not describe in detail the Trump or Sanders administration, their actions, mandates, or how they could be characterized as populist or similar to the KKK. If the message the author wanted to deliver was for us to be weary of present political atmospheres which could have devastating effects comparable to those of the KKK, then it could have been more effective if the author had specified some of the actions of ideologies of the Trump/Sanders administrations which she was concerned about.

Some connections can certainly be made between the Republican party and a traditional populist movement, for example the isolationist policies, the travel ban, and the conspiracy of ‘Islamophobia’, however Gordon does not go into hardly any detail of present American politics. If Gordon’s intent was to make warn people about the possible negative effects that actions and ideologies can have on parts of the population, then perhaps she could have spoken more about the current atmosphere in America, how people are being treated, and how they will be affected by upcoming policy implementations. If Gordon’s intent was simply to present current American parties as populist, then it is a wonder why she compared them to the KKK with it’s history of violence and human rights violations, as opposed to another populist movement which is more ethical, humane and successful.

 

 

 

First Responder: The Thirties in the United States

This weeks readings were interesting in that they addressed populist discourses in the context of the US during the interwar period. This is not something I had considered a great deal before. Populism in this time period is usually examined in a European context, as we did in class the past couple weeks when discussing fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

Linda Gordon’s article is a useful jumping off point for the discussion about the United States, because she attempts to clearly define populism. It is interesting that she notes that there are 13 essential characteristics of populism, but that most liberal ‘populist’ movements do not meet most of these criteria. Gordon makes it clear that from her perspective, the groups that tend to conform to this model tend to be more right wing. This begs the question of whether or not there is something inherent in more liberal movements that makes them less prone to Gordon’s populism? Or whether Gordon’s definition is structured in a way that makes it more likely to focus on right wing groups? For instance, the one American group that she defines as populist is the KKK. While I agree with this assessment of the KKK, I think it is important to consider how her list of 13 attributes functions.

In relation to Sinclair Lewis’s novel, It Can’t Happen Here, Gordon’s article reinforces the point made in the book, that it can in fact happen in the U.S.. In the book, Senator Windrip’s “The Fifteen Points of Victory for the Forgotten Man” feels like reading something out of fascist Italy or Nazi Germany. So while this is a work of fiction, it is important to consider the messages and lessons it presents. Together, this two readings provide an understanding of how populism can and has developed in an American context, and in some ways both seem to be providing warnings about how to look to the future.

Improper Use of the Term ‘Populist”

The article’s main argument is centered around the misuse of populist terminology when describing popular grassroots organizing and movements.  Linda Gordon writes that ‘populism’ became a trendy word during the recent US election to describe Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns.  These referrals are damaging to the political landscape and emphasises that historians and media should be stricter when calling a person or group populist.

The argument is expanded upon by outlining the history and practices of the KKK, what she calls a true populist movement.  The KKK is characterized by all of the 13 elements that are displayed by populist groups such as, large size, mass mobilization, extreme nationalism, victimization and conspiracy theories.  For example, the Klan considered all white Anglo-Saxon protestant’s victims who have fallen to the Jews and Catholics.  The Jews, ran Hollywood and attempted to subvert women’s morality through their near naked depiction and the Catholics invaded the police, politics and schools.

Is the ‘alt-right’ filling the void that the KKK once occupied?  I believe they could fit in most of the 13 elements, but they seem less harmful.  They have mass participation which can be seen online and in the event in Charlottesville.  They are anti-immigration and angry and distrustful of elites.  A distrust of experts can also be seen in the ‘fake news’ campaigns.  The alt-right has also expressed disdain for the Jewish community following the fashion of the KKK.  One of the leaders, Richard Spencer is a proponent for a Jewish free white only North America.

Does the alt-right wield the same power as the KKK once did? Does the alt-right lack central leadership that diminishes the cohesion needed to wield such power?  Can they evolve to be as recognisable as the KKK?  How has the Trump era influenced groups like the KKK and the alt-right?

Riley Bowman

First Responder: It Can’t Happen in the USA – Or Can It?

 

Many people believe that the United States is immune to populism due to their strong beliefs of personal freedom, democracy and their political and military history (for example, fighting with the Allied Forces against Hitler’s regime in WW2). Unfortunately, we are now seeing that this belief has generated a false sense of security. This has allowed populist roots to take hold in many different aspects of the country. Some citizens seem to be downplaying the presence of these roots – almost as a form of willful ignorance. This is reinforced by the belief that the United States oversees the policing of other parts of the world (they are labelled as leaders of the free world), but they themselves do not require intervention as they are the supposed role model. On the other hand, there are many who are not ignorant to the changes taking place but justify this shift as a necessary extreme for the greater good of the American people and to protect the American way of life (consequentialists).

This is further complicated by the great divide that is taking place not only in America, but all over the world. Not all, but some, label those on the other end of the political spectrum as extremists and state that they are out of touch with reality. They dehumanize each other and don’t see each other as fellow human beings with differing view points. All they see is red or blue, liberal or conservative – an enemy. Some are extremely indoctrinated in their nationalism because of the system that they were raised in. When a child acts inappropriately we don’t usually blame them, we blame the parents – can the same be argued for those on the extreme right and left? We cannot excuse the behaviour as it has severe (and sometimes violent) consequences for many marginalized groups, but this demonstrates the difficulty in bridging the gap between the two extremes and opens the door for understanding both ends of the political spectrum.

Populism functions on a variety of levels, but the largest and most powerful motivating factor, in my opinion, is victimization. If people felt empowered and didn’t feel like victims, the tactics used by many populists wouldn’t be able to take hold in people’s minds. It seems that the large majority of people still clinging to Trump and his beliefs are those who feel as though they don’t have any other options available to them. For example, there are those who state that the “liberals in the big cities” have forgotten about those inhabiting the rural areas. The most vulnerable to indoctrination of populist beliefs are those who feel as though they have nothing to lose (and everything to gain); this is further complicated by some of those who have racist and xenophobic tendencies. As discussed in the article, there was a heavily racialized aspect of the victimization process during the second wave of the KKK (and now, especially in regards to the topic of immigration and refugees), not solely economic disparity between the large “liberalized” cities and rural areas. There was – and arguably still is – a belief that the American dream and true freedom was only for a select group of people, and that allowing outsiders to take part would tarnish America. This mixture of denial and victimization, in addition to the dehumanization and constant labelling of everyone who doesn’t share the same opinion as themselves as the alt-right or the alt-left is a deadly combination, one that has created an environment that is allowing hatred to flourish and one which is further dividing us instead of allowing us to come together to create a dynamic society that attempts to cater to the different needs of each socioeconomic group.

 

Jay Countaway

Sweeper: Importance of Historical Context

After the last class’ discussions there were some really great points to take away. The concept most interesting for me was the idea of how things are remembered. It appears more clearly from the lecture and discussion that history has a very large part in supporting ideas whether or not they be good or correct. Using history as some sort of propaganda will, as was seen, lead to some kind of distortion whether it be generalizations or misinterpreted facts. One example that Dr. Evans brought up was how some German people think about a “German Culture” when, in fact, there were times in German history were this culture was very different and diverse -not how they see it as being today. There are many other examples of this that can come up as well including the concept of “Making America Great Again.” There is more to the discussion than just whether one even thinks America is already great but if it ever was (“again”) or what made it great to begin with? Are the “great” factors of the “old” America exaggerated in the memory of American people?

 

Another topic that was discussed in our group is the use of words such as “fascism.” Often what is labeled “fascism” is not actually something that can be classified as that but rather populism. Labeling things or putting them “in a box” are not ways of fulling understanding what is happening. If everyone goes around calling people fascist, what do the real fascists become? Again a good critical analysis of history can help with this problem because people can then see the different types of fascist regimes that existed like the classic examples of Germany and Italy and then apply that knowledge.