The Real Meaning of Populism …

France did not want Marine LePen and the Netherlands didn’t want Geert Wilders, so they have teamed up and taken their act to the Czech Republic.  The event is the meeting of the rightwing Europe of Nations and Freedom group and is being hosted by the anti-Islam Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD). The conference is largely symbolic for the Czech SPD party, a means of raising awareness for the populist movement, justifying the movement by showing that the populist movement has a voice in Western Europe, and an attempt to legitimize populism in the Czech Republic.

It is not my intent, nor is it in my ability, to analyze politics in the Czech Republic.  It is, rather, my intent to briefly take a look at the populist movement itself, as it spreads its tentacles ever outward.

By definition, populism is, briefly, “support for the concerns of ordinary people”.  Sounds okay, looks good on paper, but the reality is something altogether different, as we have seen in the U.S.

Donald Trump rode the waves of populism all the way to the Oval Office, but as we have seen, by the above definition of populism, not one single thing he has done fits the definition.  Granted, Trump is a case-study in and of himself in the art of lying.  But other populist politicians are equally unconcerned with the ‘ordinary’ person, yet call themselves populist.  So, what does populism really mean? Consider these examples:

  • Donald Trump in the U.S., wants to deport undocumented immigrants and ban all Muslims from the Middle East.
  • Podemos, the populist Spanish party, wants to give immigrants voting rights.

  • Geert Wilders, the populist Dutch politician, wants to eliminate hate-speech laws.
  • Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the populist Polish politician, pushed for a law making it illegal to use the phrase “Polish death camps”.

  • Evo Morales, Bolivia’s populist president, has expanded indigenous farmers’ rights to grow coca.
  • Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ populist president, has ordered his police to execute suspected drug dealers.

A study in contrasts, yes? It is not a term that is easy to pin down, as evidenced by the many books that have been written in the attempt:

  • What is Populism by Jan-Werner Müller
  • The Populist Persuasion: An American History by Michael Kazin
  • The Populist Explosion by John B. Judis
  • The Global Rise of Populism by Benjamin Moffett
  • The Populist Moment by Lawrence Goodwyn

And the list is seemingly endless.

Müller’s book, published September 2016, is highly rated, and claims that populism is not just antiliberal, it is antidemocratic—the permanent shadow of representative politics.  It seems to me that, in its purest form, strictly applied by the definition at the start of this post, it would be a highly democratic and humanitarian ideology.  But, in the world of today, populism is primarily, I believe defined by a single word: plutocracy.

All a leader needs to do is find that which his people fear, play on those fears, expand them, then promise to keep them safe from said fears.  In the case of the U.S., as in a number of European nations, that fear was terrorism. Ever since the Arab Spring began in 2010 and many in the Middle East were forced to flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their back, the West has been taking on these refugees.  But, leaders and politicians quickly learned that if they equated these refugees with the word “terrorism”, or in some cases, “radical Islamic terrorism”, they could instill fear into the hearts of their populace and people would gladly follow any leader who promised to end immigration from the Middle East.

But really, that is all these leaders, such as Trump, need to do, and they can then proceed with their own agendas, just so long as they keep doing their best to “protect” their citizenry from “those terrorist Muslims”.  And so, we are left with a Donald Trump who has attempted to rob tens of millions of their ability to afford healthcare in order to further enrich the big insurance companies; who has set the wheels in motion to destroy the environment in order to further enrich the coal and oil barons; and who has promoted tax reform to cost each of us “ordinary people” hard-earned money in order to further enrich the nation’s mega-corporations. And as long as he promises his travel ban to keep Muslims out, and keeps on promising to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to keep those “murderin’, rapin’ Mexicans” out, even though he knows the wall will never be built, he can keep on being Robbing Hood. This then, defines the populist movement as well as any.  It could be called, more aptly, the plutocratic movement, or a move toward governance by a handful of the wealthiest.

Oh sure, Trump throws out an extra bone to his followers every now and then, like a promise to pad the courts with uber-conservatives in order to eventually overturn Roe v Wade.  Or a reduction in food stamps and social services that are unpopular with many in the middle income brackets. Promise them whatever they scream the loudest for, then get back to the business of crafting legislation to make the top 1% happy, for those are the ones who truly matter, those are the ones who line his own pockets.  It is no different in the rest of the  Western world.

Today in the U.S., we have the wealthiest Congress in recent history, and thus it is in their personal best interest, rather than to serve as a check on the president’s power, to speak out of both sides of their mouths, promising their constituents one thing, while licking Trump’s boots from the other side.

France, Austria and the Netherlands, I firmly believe, looked at what was happening in the U.S. and came to understand that this populist thing was not all it was cracked up to be.  However, there is still a large contingent in those nations, as well as other European nations, and even Canada I recently discovered, that are supportive of the populist ideology, and have not yet realized that it is a veneer for a deeper, more destructive platform. As my old friend Shafer used to say to me, “Be careful what you wish for, as you just might get it”.

Two Blows To The Radical Right

As I begin writing this, it has been about three hours since Hawaii’s US district judge Derrick K. Watson issued a nationwide temporary block to the revised travel ban that was due to be implemented at midnight. A few key quotes from Judge Watson explain his decision:

  • Based upon the current record available, however, the Court cannot find the actions taken during the interval between revoked Executive Order No. 13,769 and the new Executive Order to be ‘genuine changes in constitutionally significant conditions’.
  • The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable. The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.
  • Because a reasonable, objective observer – enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance – would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously-neutral purpose, the Court finds that Plaintiffs, and Dr. Elshikh in particular, are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim.

The judge also considered Trump’s own words and those of his advisors in determining the constitutionality of the ban:

  • The day after signing the first Executive Order [No. 13,769], President Trump’s advisor, Rudolph Giuliani, explained on television how the Executive Order came to be. He said: “When [Mr. Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”
  • In an interview on January 25, 2017, Mr. Trump discussed his plans to implement “extreme vetting” of people seeking entry into the United States. He remarked: “[N]o, it’s not the Muslim ban. But it’s countries that have tremendous terror. . . . [I]t’s countries that people are going to come in and cause us tremendous problems.”
  • When signing the first Executive Order [No. 13,769], President Trump read the title, looked up, and said: “We all know what that means.” President Trump said he was “establishing a new vetting measure to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” and that: “We don’t want them here.”
  • The Government appropriately cautions that, in determining purpose, courts should not look into the “veiled psyche” and “secret motives” of government decisionmakers and may not undertake a “judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts”. The Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry. For instance, there is nothing “veiled” about this press release: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Perhaps Trump’s hateful rhetoric is coming back to bite him in the posterior?

When Trump learned of the judge’s decision, he was just about to begin speaking at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee (the man already won the election … why is he still holding rallies???).  He had this to say to his supporters at the rally:

“I issued an executive order. But let me give you the bad news. We don’t like bad news … I’ll turn it into good. But let me give you the bad, the sad news. Moments ago I learned that a district judge in Hawaii, part of the much overturned ninth circuit court – and I have to be nice, otherwise I’ll be criticised for speaking poorly about our courts [he indicates the media here] … I would never want to do that. A judge has just blocked our executive order on travel and refugees coming into our country from certain countries. The order he blocked was a watered-down version of the first order that was also blocked by another judge and that should never have been blocked to start with … This is, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach.

You don’t think this was done by a judge for political reasons, do you, no? This makes us look weak … Just look at our borders. We’re going to fight this terrible ruling. We’re going to take this as far as we need to, right up to the supreme court. We’re going to win. We’re going to keep our people safe. I think we ought to go back to the first one [executive order] and go all the way … We’re gonna win it, we’re gonna win it. The best way to keep foreign terrorists – or as some would say, radical Islamic terrorists – the best way to stop them is to keep them from entering our country in the first place.” 

It is reported that during the rally, the crowd was chanting, “Lock her up!”.  What the heck?  The judge that Trump was railing against is a man, Hillary Clinton is not an issue … so who the heck did they want to lock up???

AG-ChinHawaii’s attorney general, Doug Chin, said he had no option but to challenge the US president’s latest travel ban because it “takes us back half a century”.


 

geert-wilders-2

Bye-Bye Geert!

In news from the other side of the globe, populist candidate Geert Wilders’ party has been defeated in the elections in the Netherlands.  The incumbent, Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, and his liberal VVD party appear to have comfortably beaten the anti-Islam Freedom party of Geert Wilders to become the largest in the new parliament. Dutch politics being the confusing creature it is, I will not delve into the multi-party system that I do not fully understand, despite much reading (I will be asking my friend, Choosing, for some assistance here).  Suffice it to say that this is the 2nd blow to the populist movement in Europe in a four-month period, starting with Norbert Hofer losing the Austrian election in December.

I am pleased by the results in the Netherlands for two reasons.  The first is that Wilders ia very similar to Donald Trump in many ways, most notably his anti-Islamic stance, and has even been frequently referred to as the “Dutch Donald Trump”.  He had called on the EU to ban immigration by Muslims, and last year was on trial for the second time for inciting hatred against the Dutch Moroccan minority. The second reason his loss pleases me is that I believe it is a sign that Europeans are taking a more moderate stance these days, and with elections coming up in France next month, and Germany in September, both of which have a far-right populist candidate, it may be that those elections, also, will result in a less drastic result than was earlier anticipated.

EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker called the election results “A vote for Europe, a vote against extremists.” And Prime Minister Rutte said, “Our message to the Netherlands – that we will hold our course, and keep this country safe, stable and prosperous, got through.” 

Wilders did not go down quietly, vowing to continue his fight, saying that his fierce message had resonated with Dutch voters and that he would prevail as the victor of the next elections. “We’ll have to wait for the next time to make this happen. I guarantee you, this patriotic spring will start. It has already started.”


Today will, no doubt, bring news on both Trump’s travel ban and the Dutch elections, but for the moment, I have told you all I know, so it is time for me to turn my attention elsewhere.  Have a happy Thursday, dear readers!

Idiot of the Week – Steve King

Idiot of the Week medal

pesky-flyYou know how, sometimes in the summer, a fly keeps coming back, landing on your arm, or worse yet, flying right in your face, and no matter how many times you brush him away, he keeps coming back, taunting you, almost daring you ….  Well this ‘gentleman’ has been the fly in my face for a few weeks now and it is time to deal with him.  So please give your usual warm welcome to this week’s Idiot of the Week, none other than Representative Steve King from Iowa!

king-steveMr. King has been in Congress for fourteen years, and as you will soon see, is an excellent example of why we need term limits.  Mr. King has so many qualifications for this award, going back to at least 2005, probably much further.  Let’s look at some of those oldies but goodies before tackling his latest idiocy:

  • In August 2015, King was named the least effective member of Congress by InsideGov due to his persistent failures to get legislation out of committee.
  • King received a score of zero from the Humane Society in 2012, after voting against penalties for bringing a minor to an animal fight and also against penalties for transporting fighting animals across state lines. His reason?  That it would be putting animals above humans if it was legal to watch humans fight, but not animals. (Never mind, I guess, that humans do not fight to the death and do have a choice in the matter, whereas animals are given no choice and fight to kill!!!!)
  • In July 2012, King introduced an amendment to the House Farm Bill that would legalize previously banned animal agriculture practices such as tail-docking, putting arsenic in chicken feed, and keeping impregnated pigs in small crates. (Grrrrrrrr …)
  • On October 7, 2014 King was one of 19 members of Congress inducted into the LGBT civil rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign’s “Hall of Shame” for his opposition to LGBT equality. This came after King commented that the Iowa state legislature “must also enact marriage license residency requirements so that Iowa does not become the gay marriage Mecca.” (What planet did this a** drop in here from?)
  • King was one of 11 in Congress to vote against the $52 billion Hurricane Katrina Aid package.
  • Of Mexican immigrants he said, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds—and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
  • In 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama was running for president, King said, “I don’t want to disparage anyone because of their race, their ethnicity, their name—whatever their religion their father might have been, I’ll just say this: When you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States – I mean, what does this look like to the rest of the world? What does it look like to the world of Islam? I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11.”  (OH FOR …..)
  • During last year’s long, painful election season, Julian Castro, then Secretary of HUD, made the statement that the “GOP can kiss the Latino vote goodbye.” King, who is of Irish, German and Welsh descent, fired back with, “What does Julian Castro know? Does he know that I’m as Hispanic and Latino as he?” This left many scratching their heads, and one person sent him a chart to help him with his confusion.

king-latino

Obviously, Mr. King did not just now enter the state of idiocy, but has been there for most of his career, if not before. Predictably, King supports racial profiling, is a climate change denier, and displays the confederate flag on his office desk.  But let us put the past behind us for now and look at what he has been up to in the past two days.

king-wilders

Peter Siebelt, Geert Wilders, Steve King

King is a supporter of Geert Wilders, the populist candidate for Prime Minister of the Netherlands.  Mr. Wilders, like Donald Trump, takes a very narrow view of immigration and is often referred to as anti-Islamic.  On Sunday, tweeting his reasons for supporting Wilders, King said:

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

The next day, he defended his original comment, saying he meant exactly what he said. “It’s a clear message. We need to get our birth rates up or Europe will be entirely transformed within a half century or a little more. And Geert Wilders knows that and that’s part of his campaign and part of his agenda. You’ve got to keep your birth rate up, and that you need to teach your children your values. In doing so, you can grow your population, you can strengthen your culture, and you can strengthen your way of life. If you go down the road a few generations, or maybe centuries, with the inter-marriage, I’d like to see an America that is just so homogenous that we look a lot the same.”  (Aside from the fact that this is an asinine statement by any standards, has anybody told this BOZO that we are suffering an over-population crisis???)

And guess who came out in support of King and his comments?  Yes, none other than former KKK wizard, David Duke, tweeting, “GOD BLESS STEVE KING!!! #TruthRISING”

Feeling ill yet?  So, for all of the above, but most especially for your comments over the past two days, Mr. King, I have found you more than deserving of Filosofa’s Idiot of the Week award.  Personally, I hope you choke on it enjoy it immensely. I may actually have to award a secondary, combined Idiot of the Week to all the people in Iowa that have voted this man into office eight times now!!!

Austria Rejects Right-Wing Populism

While we were reading, writing, eating, sleeping and breathing da trumpeter, things were happening on the other side of the globe!  Yes, folks, there really is life in places outside the boundaries of the U.S.!  Let us first go to Austria.

Van der Bellen

Alexander Van der Bellen

The Austrian election, which I have written about before, finally took place on Sunday!  And … drumroll … the Trump-like populist candidate, Norbert Hofer, DID NOT win!  This, folks, may well be a blow to the populist movement of those such as Trump, LePen, and Wilders, and I am happy to see it. Center-left candidate Alexander Van der Bellen won with 53.3% of the vote at the end of the day.  This was Austria’s third try at a second-round election between Van der Bellen and Hofer.  The first was thrown out after certain irregularities were discovered in some voting districts, and the second failed when it was found the glue on the absentee envelopes was defective and the envelopes came open in the mail.  There are several things to note about this election.

Hofer

Norbert Hofer

First, and I would congratulate Mr. Hofer on this, is the gracious concession he made when it became obvious that Van der Bellen would be the next president of Austria.  Mr. Hofer congratulated Mr. Van der Bellen and called on all Austrians to “stick together and work together”.  What is so striking about this, at least in my opinion, is that I keep trying to picture Donald Trump saying the same, had the results been different last month and Hillary Clinton had won.  Nope, I simply cannot picture it, because I am 100% certain he would not have been a gracious loser.  So, while I am glad Mr. Van der Bellen won, and I did not agree with Hofer’s right-wing platform, I tip my hat to the man for his grace and dignity in a tough moment.  This, folks, is how mature, intelligent people act.

Hofer’s platform, just as other right-wing populists, was based on anti-immigration, but Hofer also planned to conduct a referendum in Austria similar to Brexit earlier this year in the UK, to determine whether Austria would stay in the EU.  Thus, European leaders breathed a collective sigh of relief when the news came of Hofer’s defeat.  German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel called Hofer’s defeat “a clear victory for good sense against right-wing populism”. Let us hope.

In the U.S., we have Trump, in France they have LePen, and the Netherlands have Geert Wilders. Though they may differ on other issues, the one they all stand firm on is immigration … and this, as we here in the U.S. saw last month with the election of Trump, is a growing movement.  Back in April, when the original election was held, Hofer won 35.1% of the vote, compared to 21.3% for Van der Bellen.  Prior to the first runoff election, the polls were favourable for a Hofer win, though Van der Bellen actually did win by a very small margin.  I would have laid odds on Hofer winning, especially after the Trump win, which I thought would encourage more voters across the European continent to take a chance on the populist candidates.  So, what happened?

I do not know … I have not had time to study the situation much, and even the most seasoned analysts have not reached a consensus yet. At any rate, it is surely more complex than anything I could cover in a single blog post, but I have a theory.  Since Trump’s November 8th electoral win (Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.5 million votes), he has been acting in an increasingly dangerous manner.  He has thrown caution and common sense to the wind in matters pertaining to foreign relations, he has selected racists, white supremacists and other ill-qualified people for his advisors and for cabinet positions, and he has continued to flip-flop on the rhetoric and promises he made to those who voted him into office.  His antics and the mayhem he is creating are well-publicized across Europe.  I wonder if the Austrians looked at Trump’s actions and at least enough of them switched their votes to Van der Bellen because they decided they really did not want a trumpeter in a leadership position in their government?

I think Hofer’s defeat must be a blow to the right-wing populist movement in Europe.  While I do not think it signals a death knell, I do think it will have a slow-down effect on populism overall.  Germany had feared that a win by Hofer’s Freedom Party in Austria would encourage similar gains by the far right in Germany and in neighbouring France and Holland. Unemployment, nationalism, immigration and an overall desire for change from the establishment are the major issues fueling right-wing populism in Europe, as they were in the U.S., and those issues are not likely to dissolve any time soon, so the movement is not likely to die altogether.

The Austrian election, similar to the U.S. election last month, was divisive and contentious, with one Austrian news outlet dubbing the election an “Election of Hate”. In fact, much of the rhetoric is reminiscent of that from the U.S.

Mr Hofer’s Freedom Party portrayed Mr Van der Bellen as a forgetful geriatric, and suggested he had worked as a spy for East Germany’s hated Stasi secret police. Mr Van der Bellen used a video broadcast by an 89-year-old woman Auschwitz survivor to denounce his opponent as somebody who “ brings out the basest in people.”

Critics denounced Mr Hofer as a Nazi because of his anti-immigrant, nationalist rhetoric. On hundreds of his Freedom Party election campaign placards his photograph was defaced with a Hitler moustache.

“We think he is a Nazi. He is against women, foreigners and Europe. He comes from a party which was founded by Nazis,”  a young woman protester told Austria’s ORF television channel filming a “No Nazi for President” demonstration in central Vienna on Saturday. – Independent, 04 December 2016  Link to full story

The past year and a half have wrought changes and surprises.  Most people did not believe the UK would vote for Brexit or that the U.S. would vote for Trump.  I think there may be many more surprises in store, but for today, I am relieved that Van der Bellen won the election in Austria and have hopes that this is at least a small step toward slowing the right-wing movement, which I firmly believe carries some very real dangers.  I think it is important to keep abreast of the politics around the world, as we are not an island,  but a part of a much larger world.  What we do affects those around the globe, and what they do affects us.  We tend to forget that these days.

The other news that I had planned as part of this post is the resignation in Italy of centrist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.  However, the hour has grown late and I have rambled for over 1,000 words already, so that will be ‘Part II’ either later today or, more likely, tomorrow.  Until then …