Qunfayakoon

Fourscore and seven years ago

In Society on 24. November 2016 at 22:50

Also published at The Nation blogs.

ABOUT ONE AND a half century ago, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous – now almost mythical – Gettysburg address starting with the words fourscore and seven years ago. His emphasis on liberty and equality enshrined in the state, and to work to protect these values in the state are good reminders after the recent political setbacks.

Donald J. Trump bagged the vote on a message of fixing a weak system in order to make America great again. On the ticket of Lincolns party Trump galvanized a voter’s base for the wrong reasons – a message of exclusive nationalism, to bring back the imagined glories of a past well hidden behind the grey areas of wording and retracting. While the established parties led by Democrats could not engage voters for the right reasons, and thus large portions of voters stayed at home.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a statement to comment on the result of the presidential elections in the US on November 9, 2016 in Berlin.  / AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZTOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

History is not at an end, as Fukuyama once announced the otherwise. What seems to be unfolding in front of us, with the many ‘set-backs’ these last years, and the future to come, is the disruption of an international order, where nationalism (tribalization) makes a short comeback in its fight against liberalism (globalization).

With a general belief that established parties are far-off from the masses, populists manage to gain strong momentum for short periods. What is the cost in this to the liberal democratic order of statecraft and interaction, and how can the liberal and progressive ideas shed away the stamp that they do not listen to people? In other words, how to channel, popular resentment, in the same way as far-right (and left) does right now – with the backing of a progressive and liberal framework?

All men are created equal

All men are equal, yet it seems to be a mainstreaming of hate against minorities, in this case against Muslims (also in Europe), Latinos and Afro-Americans, ends up in popularizing one segments worth to be more than the rest. Trumps 60 million voters are not racist, as writer Mohamed Abdi said in Morgenbladet, but it is of importance what kind of man they voted for.

Now there are a lot of political areas which has been addressed – and to be mild, things are not promising well for bank-regulations (those few that managed to be implemented), environmental regulation (in a world where US-role is to be on the right side of history) or minority rights (be it sexual, ethnic, religious, immigrants or women rights). Given the last decade’s political climate, these political areas would receive same neglect had it been any other Republican in the White House. Simply said, this is to expect from a party coalition lately bound to appease majoritarian nationalism.

Trump is the result of a decades old bounce-back of nationalistic sentiments – and he is not alone to share what he has laid forth. With a majority in both the houses, he and his Administration can change rules that affect decades to come, at least for the next two years.

There are off-course constraints in the system which will hold the reins, but these are elastics and they will be pushed to their upmost limit – Trump was impossible to imagine as Presidential nominee a year back, he is the normal now – talks of Muslim registry was impossible pre-911, while post the attacks after several failed programs (NSEERS for example) the corridors of White House will inhabit those who want to take a new peek into Japanese internment as a precedent.

What was the most barbarous last time, will be the least of standards the next time – this phrase was written by the late Asghar Ali Engineer during his many thoughts on communal violence in India. Already there are huge booms in statistics which tells of hate-crimes incidents, and while hate is mainstreamed, as Trump seems to have given it a new boost, there is relatively little mainstreaming of news on hate-related incidents. The same citizens who used their voting right, are now questioning their future. Their fear and their resentment on the other hand is not to worry about in this majoritarian nationalistic order – in far-rights world, resentment of majorities is to be taken seriously, while minorities are to deserve the tuff talk.

Individual gets erased when identity politics flourish. While the Caucasian segment voted for both camps during election, it was important for the far-right in Trump camp to promote themselves as the champions for and on behalf of this segment. This in turn puts premises of this community in hands of few, eliminates the nuances, and forcefully tries homogenizing in order to claim legitimacy.

What is at stake is the lack of trust and loyalty to the values inherited form the long process of enlightenment. We are witnessing, not only in United States, but throughout the world, a return to easy politics, those that increase a tribalistic mentality, and rally around messianic hero-like figures. Strongmen, and strong words, under an umbrella of strong identities, has become the factor to win power – and to keep it. Maintenance of such an order requires a regressive development when it comes to liberties.

It is part of a code – one that speak to the wider populace. Especially the majority, and conveniently the majorities can together set the tone for what is to be a political truth. Turkeys strongman Erdogan, Philippines tuff guy Duterte, the sizeable right-wing populists in Europe, and the leading in this trend the Tsar in Moscow, are all depending on the huge rural and suburban populace that recently saw the power of their voice.

The cost of being a strongman – the savior – is to mainstream thinking which walks the dangerous path of excluding the others. It demands a vocabulary which operates in the grey zone, one that can hint to a wider segment of a common mission, but which will not confirm or deny the obvious – a xenophobic agenda.

The payment to this transaction will be to hollow out the systems, structures and institutions which has given us progress and rights. Yes, do keep calm and carry on, but carry on with the fight for rights – those that protect every citizen. We will witness a period of alliances as those Muslim and Jewish organizations that come together to remind us of rights being tampered with – such initiatives are the correct reactions when meeting hate.

Hallow this ground

Messages from the recent events following Euro crisis, austerity measures, Brexit and US-election is that a populace is fed up with so called elite politicians – and their so called interests with the international order. The Bretton Woods Conference through IMF, World Bank and most of all WTO is in the limelight of populists from far-left and far-right – for these politicians it is easy to paint a picture of a top-down steering elite which works together against citizen’s interests.

What is necessary, first and foremost, is to acknowledge the needed reforms in the international trade and financial structure. Professor Dani Rodrik at Harward shares these views. He is not critical of globalization per se, but rather that the errors in the system has not been addressed.

Not only is the demands for more regulations on for example financial flows at risk of reversing, the other major institutions as EU and NATO are being bullied with – threatened and even tried breaking a part. Looking across the Atlantic the far-right of mainland Europe wants what the Isles managed recently – to much delight for Moscow.

This hollowing out of multinational institutions, instead of finding a new balance in between national sovereignty and economic globalization as put forth by Prof. Rodrik will strengthen the unregulated market mechanisms which will benefit those who reap its harvest today, while the worker class will continue to suffer. Thus a stint with power, be it in US or Europe or elsewhere, of hyper-capitalistic and neo-nationalistic Governments will be damaging, but they will not be there to be accountable.

The code of illiberal populism is that Its lawless, first and foremost, but inherently, the rule is to support one set of belief, point the problems at an elite, and channel popular rage to that direction. Its solutions being counterproductive, yet its effective as witnessed. Do exclude element Trump – and look at the coming up cabinet, it’s the most conservative, illiberal, anti-progressive and anti-environment friendly Government in charge in a long long time.

The result – A hollowed out international order for (example UN), without a process for necessary reforms and changes, will make informal alliances and unions much more important – a disruption towards hollowing out will weaken smaller democracies and the safety net they have when giants try to exploit and extoll their own hegemonic interests. Hollowing out is not necessary to reform, it is to weaken or make things rubber stamp – that’s why when proponents of the liberal order and globalization talk of its benefits, also talk of and deliver policies, which address its faults.

New birth of freedom

The angry voter is to be found in every political camp – as Author Kenan Malik said post-election. It has to be channeled wisely – as in, do addressed the core to this frustration and lack of trust in what has been dubbed elite politics, but channel it in the progressive liberal political legacy from post-WWII setting. The world order after this period did increased rights around the world, it did uplift hundreds of millions from poverty, but its results were not evenly distributed.

A recent surge in nativism is not new, lies and conspiracy theories are not new, what is different from before is the scale and magnitude with the help of social media and digital age. Malik tells of a crisis among liberals, and their failure to understand in his own words ‘depth of anger & disaffection with mainstream’. For Malik there is a need to talk of a liberal state and that progressive modernism must be mainstreamed.

There are some major issues pertaining directly to the voters right to be correctly informed. Jared Diamond tells of four threats to American democracy, of them, one being the lack of informal equality on the principles of one vote per citizen. This principle is not at play when some voters can lobby their interests to a much higher degree than several others combined. A too big gap between electoral vote and the actual representation in countries as UK and US do create the resentment which is so widely spoken about.

Most of all – what populists have managed to do, has to be managed by established political parties. There is a change in this traditional scale, but it’s not a zero sum game – the axis of populist sentiments is as old as politics itself, it just need to be spoken about by owning the problem, and delivering a politics which is closely linked with the ideals of enlightenment. Blue collar factory worker, or farmer, or cab driver or the student working part time all has to be addressed directly – and not easily combed under huge identity based blocks – latter is a top-down approach and reduces the individual by forcing him to be grouped into a mass with certain common factors.

Lincoln ended his address by promising that a ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from earth’. It is not a rule – it is not to be taken for granted. At no other time in history has there been that many who have read about and follow the ideals of enlightenment, and neither has there been that many anti-liberals either. It is a proof of a more informed global population – but also of the challenges in communication and propaganda, where lies can become mainstream, truths, and channel a legitimate grievance into an illiberal steering of the international order.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: