Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Expressions of and Responses to Authoritarian Populism

"The greatest threat to liberal democracies does not come from immigrants and refugees but from the backlash against them by those on the inside who exploit fears of outsiders to chip away at the values and institutions that make our societies liberal."
— Sasha Polakov-Suransky, Go Back to Where You Came From: The Backlash Against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy, 2017


“The point of modern propaganda isn’t to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
— Garry Kasparov 

"Populists in power tend to undermine countervailing powers which are the courts, which are the media, which are other parties."
— Cas Mudde, Populism: A Very Short Introduction, 2017



“Every age has its own fascism.”
— Primo Levi


"In  the CBC program The Fifth Estate,  Trump is shown as a bellowing demagogue, a purveyor of personal insults and a panderer to his supporters by reviling Mexicans and Muslims as the racial other. The former are equated with rapists and drug dealers, and the latter are associated with terrorists. Trump's bumptious vitriol even suggests that the vast majority of American Muslims are complicit to the acts perpetrated by a tiny number when he says, 'they know where the bad ones are.' His simplistic solutions to these hot-button issues are bombastic promises to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans, calling for a ban on Muslims entering America and rounding up and deporting eleven million undocumented immigrants. That he has retained a raucous and unthinking cohort of loyal supporters is evidence that he has tapped into an existing cache of psychosis and he’s exploiting it for political gain. Todd Gitlin has perceptively written: “the dog whistles have been superseded. What we hear now is the raw thing itself, the old-time irreligion, the rock-bottom roar of a sewage stream that always lay beneath the surface but now has erupted.” More recently, Trump has tried to equate immigration in general and free trade with fear of both homegrown terror and the new global economy. What this rank demagogue has made unambiguously clear is that he will transgress any boundary of decency or truth to win power."
— Robert Douglas, "Through the Mirror DarklyCritics at Large 


“The Trump show is all about toughness and cruelty. The administration adopted a zero-tolerance policy that was supposed to deter potential immigrants. It failed miserably. Roughly 103,000 unauthorized immigrants reached the U.S.-Mexico border in March, twice as many as in March 2018.

Aside from baring his fangs, Trump is uninterested in processing the extra refugees. The facilities are overwhelmed. Over 800,000 people already have their cases pending. New asylum seekers are held for a couple of weeks, dumped out on the streets, and most will wait until 2021 to get their formal hearings.” 
— David Brooks, New York Times 

"Populist authoritarianism can best be explained as a cultural backlash in Western societies against long-term, ongoing social change.
Over recent decades, the World Values Survey shows that Western societies have been getting gradually more liberal on many social issues, especially among the younger generation and well-educated middle class. That includes egalitarian attitudes toward sex roles, tolerance of fluid gender identities and LGBT rights, support for same-sex marriage, tolerance of diversity, and more secular values, as well as what political scientists call emancipative values, engagement in directly assertive forms of democratic participation, and cosmopolitan support for agencies of global governance.
This long-term generational shift threatens many traditionalists’ cultural values. Less educated and older citizens fear becoming marginalized and left behind within their own countries.
In the United States, evidence from the World Values Survey perfectly illustrates the education gap in these types of cultural values. Well before Trump, a substantial and striking education gap can be observed in American approval of authoritarian leaders. The WVS asked whether Americans approved of “having a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with congress or elections.” The figure below shows a consistent education gap and growing support for this statement since 2005.
Most remarkably, by the most recent wave in 2011, almost half — 44 percent — of U.S. non-college graduates approved of having a strong leader unchecked by elections and Congress.
This deeply disturbing finding reflects attitudes usually observed in states such as Russia."

— Pippa Norris,"It’s not just Trump. Authoritarian populism is rising across the West. Here’s why"Washington Post, March 11, 2016 
 A powerful November 2017 ) op-ed in The New York Times about public ignorance that  explains why a large percentage of people do not have the tools to distinguish truth from falsehood. 
— Paul Krugman in The New York Times writes about how democracy can slowly die in America

One of the most insightful comments made during the summer 2019 Democratic debates from a candidate that had no chance of winning the Presidential nomination:

Marianne Williamson
“This is part of the dark underbelly of American society: the racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.”

Boris Johnson
"Evasiveness” can be a polite term for lying, and it is impossible to understand Johnson without recalling that he has quite literally made a career of mendacity. At the end of that fateful weekend in February 2016, the Telegraph, which pays him £275,000 a year for a weekly column, dutifully spiked his sincere plea to Remain and published his anti-EU column. It cited as the main reason for Brexit that “the more the EU does, the less room there is for national decision-making. Sometimes these EU rules sound simply ludicrous, like the rule that you can’t recycle a teabag, or that children under eight cannot blow up balloons.” The truth is that some local councils in Britain itself had introduced rules against recycling teabags, which have nothing to do with the EU. As for children under eight not being allowed to blow up balloons, EU safety rules simply say that packets of balloons should carry the words 'Warning: children under eight can choke or suffocate.'
But Johnson has always understood that a vivid lie is much more memorable than a dull truth."
— Fintan O' Toole, New York Review of Books August 15, 2019


To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most  blinding lights.”
“The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away, and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.”
— Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from The Twentieth Century
Justice Rosalie Abella
Abella said that commitment has been "shattered by narcissistic populism, an unhealthy tolerance for intolerance, a cavalier indifference to equality, a deliberate amnesia about the instruments and values of democracy that are no less crucial than elections and a shocking disrespect for the borders between power and its independent adjudicators like the press and the courts.”
Supreme Court Justice, Rosalie Abella May 22, 2017


“The goal of liberal education should always be to make us acutely aware of illiberal acts….One need only to compare this process with that of all authoritarian states [where] all criticism, including minimal empirical feedback, is forbidden or minimalized to see why the liberal state can confront and, sometimes correct its own injustices more rapidly than any other society on the fully historical record.”

— Adam Gopnik, A Thousand Small Insanities: The Moral Adventure of  Liberalism, 2019




Dr. Shafique Virani
 With shocking evidence, hilarious anecdotes, heart-wrenching personal stories, and brilliant insights into world events, Dr. Shafique Virani urges us to confront the Clash of Ignorance between the West and the Muslim World, replacing walls of misinformation with bridges of understanding. Appealing to the best in human nature, Dr. Virani presents a visionary path forward, and inspires hope for a better future.



Demonstrators in Santiago Chile
"The populist backlash came in different forms in different parts of the world. In Central and Eastern Europe it came in the form of nationalist strongmen — Victor Orban, Vladimir Putin, the Law and Justice party in Poland. In Latin America it came in the form of the Pink Tide — a group of left-wing economic populists like Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro. In the Anglosphere it was white ethnic nationalism of Donald Trump and Brexit. In the Middle East it was Muslim fundamentalism. In China it was the increasing authoritarianism of Xi Jinping. In India it was the Hindu nationalism of Narendra Modi.

In places, the populist wave is still rising. The Yellow Vests in France and the protests in Chile are led by those who feel economically left behind. But it’s also clear that when in power the populists can’t deliver goods. So now in many places we’re seeing a revolt against the revolt, urban middle-class uprisings against the populists themselves....

The populist/authoritarian regimes are losing legitimacy.        The members of the urban  middle class in places like Hong    Kong and Indonesia are rising up to protect the political    social freedoms.

These days, it doesn’t take much to set off a giant wave of anger. In Lebanon it was a proposed tax on WhatsApp. In Saudi Arabia the government raised taxes on hookah restaurants. In France, Zimbabwe, Ecuador and Iran it was rising fuel prices. In Chile it was a proposed 4 percent rise in subway fares.

The world is unsteady and ready to blow. The overall message is that the flaws of liberal globalization are real, but the populist alternative is not working.

The protests in all these places are leaderless, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to have policy agendas. But the big question is, what’s next? What comes after the failure of populism?
— David Brooks,"The Revolt Against Populism New York Times, November 21, 2019.


"For a naturalized American, raised in Britain, I found Fiona Hill’s testimony at impeachment hearings this week to be a powerful reminder of what makes America great and of how President Trump has taken a sledgehammer to “its role as a beacon of hope in the world.”....
Fiona Hill
Hill rose in her adopted country to serve three presidents as an expert on Russia and the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. She was the top Russia and Europe expert on Trump’s National Security Council until she quit in July. It was devastating to hear her lambaste, without naming them, the shameless Republicans who have embraced a “fictional narrative” propagated “by the Russian security services themselves” under which Ukraine, not Russia, attacked American democratic institutions in 2016. 'It is beyond dispute,' she declared, that Russia was the foreign power that 'systematically' did this.

Moscow succeeded, Hill suggested. 'Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career foreign service is being undermined.' Russia aims at nothing less than destroying Americans’ faith in their democracy."

— Roger Cohen, "Fiona Hill and the American Idea", New York Times November 22, 2019

Recommended novels, films and television programs:


"The title of Laila Lalami’s fourth novel, The Other Americans, perfectly sums up a unified disunity: an America suspicious of its own body politic. Set in the towns of the Mojave Desert, the novel is narrated by nine different characters. Perhaps surprisingly, all of the novel’s speakers — regardless of race, class, gender, political affiliation, legal status or place of birth — see themselves as outsiders to mainstream American identity.
This is a powerful setup, raising the question of whether anyone feels that today’s America is one to which he or she belongs. In fact, Lalami’s nine speakers have much in common. They all face obstacles to stable employment, are alienated from their neighbors and have a strong sense of being misunderstood not only by society but by their families. They share, too, a deep attachment to the specific landscape of the Mojave Desert."
 Madeleine Thien, The New York Times,  April 19, 2019 

"The plight of African refugees entering Germany is subtly but powerful drawn in Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck."
— Robert Douglas, Critics at Large 








A strong recommendation for the dystopian television series, Years and Years that can be seen on Crave:
"Give HBO’s latest drama six hours of your time, and it’ll tell you the story of the 21st century.
That’s the promise made by Years and Years... whereby the first episode begins in May 2019, and subsequent installments push deep into the 2020s, far enough to reveal that our future history looks less like an arc towards progress than a whirlpool of entropy. And though Emma Thompson steals scenes as an ambitious nationalist politician whose brashness and ease with the mechanisms of celebrity could generate comparisons to both Brit Boris Johnson or to at least one familiar American figure, it’s not her story. To its credit, Years and Years — among the most emotionally involving, and best, series to air so far this year — keeps its aperture narrow even as the world keeps forcing its way in. This is, above all, the story of a family, one whose ordinariness makes them a powerful vehicle for telling the future."
 Daniel D'Addariol Variety, June 22, 2019



Fire at Sea is the fruit of an extended sojourn on Lampedusa, an island that, while part of Italy, is closer to Tunisia than to Sicily. Recently, it has become the landing spot for boatloads of refugees and other migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East....
Pietro Bartolo and Samuele Pucillo
Mr. Rosi does not spare his viewers glimpses of horror and pain. His camera travels with members of the Italian coast guard as they perform acts of rescue and triage, as well as grimmer tasks. Many of the men, women and children packed into the battered vessels that ply the waters near Lampedusa suffer from hunger, exposure and illness. Some of them, who have endured their journeys below decks, have been poisoned by fuel that soaks into their clothing and burns their skin....
When not out on the boats or exploring the shelters and processing centers where refugees are housed, Fire at Sea spends time with some of Lampedusa’s permanent residents, in particular a doctor, Pietro Bartolo, and a boy, Samuele Pucillo.
Samuele is hardly a child of privilege. Life on a small, rocky island is not easy. But he has everything the refugees have lost: a stable daily routine, freedom of movement and a sense of belonging to the place where his family has lived for generations. A home, in short."
 A.O. Scott, The New York Times, October 20, 2016

Benedict Cumberbatch in Brexit
"That (playwright James) Graham has managed to make a functioning drama out of Brexit, let alone such a riveting one, feels a little bit miraculous.

Possibly it’s because he foregrounds a side of the story—and a crucial player—about which remarkably little has been said. Cumberbatch plays Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of Vote Leave (the government-designated official campaign in favor of leaving the EU). A balding, sandy-haired eccentric in a high-visibility cycling vest, Cummings—Brexit argues—is actually a sophisticated architect of chaos, the shadowy Blofeldian author of so much political pain. 'In a different branch of history, I was never here,' Cummings tells the camera early in the film. 'Some of you voted differently and this never happened.' But since it did, he’s here to explain. 'Everyone knows who won, but not everyone knows how.'”
 Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic January 17, 2019













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