Religion and Politics Blog

Card-carrying Liberal Democrat. My views are my own, and do not necessarily reflect party policy.

A Horrifying Thought

The Guardian’s critics’ album of the year is looking very like the Hugo Awards nominations; celebrating diversity in terms of the artists’ genders and ethnicities, but all looking rather samey yet again in terms of actual musical content, at least from reading the write-ups. And as usual, rock and metal are notable by their complete absence, despite an increasing amount of favourable coverage in the paper of late.

My own album of the year list, which like The Guardian’s has reached #6, is full of the sorts of things middle-aged white men like. Does this make me The Sad Puppies to The Guardian’s Hugos? And does that in turn somehow make me a fellow traveller to the alt-right for preferring to listen to Big Big Train rather than Rhianna?

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Richmond Park

Congratulations to Sarah Olney for winning the Richmond Park by-election and becoming the first woman Liberal Democrat MP of this Parliament. While it looks like a major upset it’s actually consistent with local government by-election results up and down the country, which have frequently seen 20% swings to the Liberal Democrats.

Commiserations for Labour candidate Christian Wolmar. I’m sure he’s a decent bloke and I respect him as a transport journalist and writer even if we disagree on HS2. But Labour fought a confused campaign with the party leadership on a completely different page than the candidate on the one central issue the election was about. Still, a lost deposit has got to hurt.

Kudos to The Green Party for choosing not to field a candidate in order not to split the vote.

And as for the losing former MP Zac Goldsmith, good riddance to bad rubbish. He forced the election for reasons of personal vanity and got hoisted on his own petard in spectacular fashion. And we haven’t forgotten the awful dog-whistle racism of his losing campaign for Mayor of London. In a year when the populist right has been in the ascendancy, he’s managed to lose twice.

It’s too early to tell how much this one by-election will affect the wider political landscape. It may well succeed in moving the Overton Window slightly further away from a hard Brexit. It at least ought to bring the Liberal Democrats back into the national political conversation. It’s time for the media, especially the BBC, to stop acting as if UKIP were the only third party that matters. While it looked like it would take a generation for the LibDems to recover from the electoral disaster of 2015, politics is far more volatile now, and those who wrote off the party might now have words to eat.

If it’s the start of a national revival for the Liberal Democrats, it’s potentially very, very bad for Labour. Ever since the EU referendum, they have been acting like rabbits in the headlights, unsure of which way to turn. This is a parry whose own electoral base is split; the traditional small-c conservatives working class in their post-industrial heartlands have little in common in either cultural or economic interests with their voters in the cosmopolitan cities. With a resurgent Liberal Democrats on one side and Paul Nuttall’s UKIP targeting the traditional Labour supporters on the other, they cannot triangulate without exposing the opposite flank. They’re probably too entrenched in their strongholds for Scotland-style wipeout, at least on a national basis, but it’s hard to see them as a potential party of government any time soon. Their problems go way, way deeper than their awful leadership.

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Goodbye Castro

In Heaven, Leonard Cohen, Keith Emerson and Lemmy make music.

In Hell, Fidel Castro and Antonin Scalia discuss politics.

So the man held as a great hero of the people by some on the left, and the Devil incarnate to some on the right is dead. He overthrew a brutal tyrant only to set himself up as the new tyrant rather than attempt to build an open and free society. He outlasted many US Presidents, but not allowing elections nor allowing an opposition to exist might have helped. Though it’s possible that America’s embargo and demonisation had the effect of prolonging his rule.

Fidel Castro was no liberal.

There’s a certain symmetry between the way Castro was idolised by parts of the left, and the way parts of the right used to fawn over Augusto Pinochet of Chile. In both cases, they didn’t care about their victims because those victims belonged to the tribal out-group. The nauseatingly hagiographical eulogies coming from Jeremy Corbyn and the odious Ken Livingstone are entirely predictable.

I wish the best for the people of Cuba in the coming years. The omens are not good; too much of the western world seems to be heading in the opposite direction at the moment, but I hope they can build the open and prosperous society that’s been denied to them over the past half-century.

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Thomas Mair convicted of murder of Jo Cox

With the conviction of Thomas Mair for the murder of Jo Cox it’s no longer possible to pretend his actions were not politically motivated. Just read the judge’s sentencing remarks.

Those on the right who were quick to place the blame exclusively on mental health problems made it clear they’d rather stigmatise the mentally ill than ask difficult questions about the rhetoric coming from Vote Leave in the days leading up to the murder. Any of those who now double down rather than admit they were wrong are beneath contempt.

I can member unfollowing and blocking someone from progressive rock fandom on Twitter who was shrieking about “Project Grief” and accusing people like me of politicising a random tragic event. I can’t even remember who that person was now, but my social media feed is all the better without him.

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This Election Marks The End Of America’s Racial Détente

Thought-provoking article by David Marcus in The Federalist, arguing that America has always been deeply divided on race, and at best there was a détente, never a consensus. And this election has shattered that.

There is a misconception that political correctness was responsible for the breakdown of the racial détente. This is incorrect. Political correctness, as loose a term as it is, was the means by which we continually renegotiated the terms of the deal. After all, the primary rules for whites had exactly to do with what was acceptable to say.

Privilege theory and the concept of systemic racism dealt the death blow to the détente. In embracing these theories, minorities and progressives broke their essential rule, which was to not run around calling everyone a racist. As these theories took hold, every white person became a racist who must confess that racism and actively make amends. Yet if the white woman who teaches gender studies at Barnard with the Ben Shahn drawings in her office is a racist, what chance do the rest of have?

Within the past few years, as privilege theory took hold, many whites began to think that no matter what they did they would be called racist, because, in fact, that was happening. Previously there were rules. They shifted at times, but if adhered to they largely protected one from the charge of racism.

It’s worth reading in its entirety even if you don’t agree with his conclusions. America is a racially-divided nation for reasons going back to that nation’s early history in a way that’s sometimes difficult for Europeans to comprehend. But many of the academic theories that arose in that American context have crossed the Atlantic.

One thing that makes it hard to have constructive conversations with those who aren’t steeped in academic theory is that there is no longer a consensus on what the word “racist” even means. Does it mean individual bigotry towards members of races other than your own? Or does it refer to structures of power that put minorities at a disadvantage? Or does it mean both?

The worlds of left-academia and activism have redefined the word to take exclusively the second of those meanings. That’s fine within closed spaces where everyone shares the same assumptions and definitions. But when people move outside those spaces into the wider world that doesn’t share those assumptions, it’s easy for people to end up talking past one another. It also means that appalling bigots like Arthur Chu and Bahar Mustafa can deny accusation of racism because “You can’t be racist against white people”. See also the frightening rise of anti-Semitism on the left, justified because Jews are defined as “privileged”.

The liberal-left needs to continue opposing racism and sexism that blights lives, divides communities, and keeps people from fulfilling their potential. But it also needs to recognise that the current iteration of identity politics has failed with disastrous consequences, and something smarter needs to take its place.

At the moment a lot of people are still in shock over the election result, they’re hurt, angry and justifiably afraid. It’s still too early to be too aggressive in calling out those who double down on identity politics. Give them the time and space to figure why things have gone wrong for themselves.

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Colum Paget has a long screen on Trump’s election and the failure of the middle-class left

In many ways Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the apex of this champagne-feminist madness. I don’t blame Hilary, who I think is unfairly hated, and who in some ways strikes me as a modern Lady Jean Grey: surrounded by people telling her she’s going to be Queen without really having done the work to make it possible. The insider skinny was that Bill Clinton was constantly bemoaning the need to reach out to rural and working class whites. However, he was overridden by ‘experts’ who, as so many people in leftist politics now think in terms of ‘white supremacy’ and ‘patriarchy’ basically said “Fuck those redneck neckbeard dudebros, this is about a woman getting to be president.” Thus the campaign appeared to be about Madeline Albright and Gloria Steinem ticking off an item on their feminist bucket list.

He may or may not be letting Hillary off the hook here. The failures of the political establishment were many, and one of them was making her the candidate in the first place. The time was wrong for an establishment technocrat, and her combination of middle-class identity politics with subservience to Wall Street was never going resonate outside the bubble.

The liberal left needs a new vision to replace the one that has clearly failed, and needs to build a broad-based popular movement that can actually win elections. Which means that pundits or political bloggers who don’t get why Hillary lost and double down on failed ideas do not deserve anyone’s attention. Some of their screeds can be boiled down to little more than “Voters are over. Voters don’t have to be your electorate“.

Trump’s victory is a disaster not just for America but for the whole world. Like Brexit, it was a wholly avoidable disaster by a complacent and out-of-touch political establishment who were so deep in their filter bubbles they didn’t see it coming.

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As we remember the fallen on the anniversary of the end of World War One, the best memorial is to avoid sleepwalking into another entirely avoidable global war.

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Trumps victory was a defeat for the US press

It wasn’t just that Hillary was the wrong candidate. Will Rahn of CBS News reflects on just how badly the press, inlcuding himself, screwed up.

It’s a profound failure of empathy in the service of endless posturing. There’s been some sympathy from the press, sure: the dispatches from “heroin country” that read like reports from colonial administrators checking in on the natives. But much of that starts from the assumption that Trump voters are backward, and that it’s our duty to catalogue and ultimately reverse that backwardness. What can we do to get these people to stop worshiping their false god and accept our gospel?

We diagnose them as racists in the way Dark Age clerics confused medical problems with demonic possession. Journalists, at our worst, see ourselves as a priestly caste. We believe we not only have access to the indisputable facts, but also a greater truth, a system of beliefs divined from an advanced understanding of justice.

That’s the fantasy, the idea that if we mock them enough, call them racist enough, they’ll eventually shut up and get in line. It’s similar to how media Twitter works, a system where people who dissent from the proper framing of a story are attacked by mobs of smugly incredulous pundits. Journalists exist primarily in a world where people can get shouted down and disappear, which informs our attitudes toward all disagreement.

That last line is quite telling, and I have seen the way journalists like David Aeurbach and Liana Kernzer got blacklisted and subject to personal harassment for not keeping to the party narrative.

Auerbach’s Twitter is full of righteous anger now, and you can understnnd why.

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President Trump represents the failure of the Liberal Left

Trump’s victory is America’s Brexit. A victory for narrow-minded populism. Again, even though not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist bigot, every knuckle-dragging racist idiot believes half the country agree with them, and minorities will pay a bitter price for the swagger in their step.

But just like Brexit it was an avoidable tragedy caused by a complacent liberal establishment out of touch with significant parts of their own nation.

When The Guardian and rightwing Sad Puppy author Brad Torgersen are in agreement, something is happening.

Here’s Thomas Frank writing in The Guardian

What we need to focus on now is the obvious question: what the hell went wrong? What species of cluelessness guided our Democratic leaders as they went about losing what they told us was the most important election of our lifetimes?

Start at the top. Why, oh why, did it have to be Hillary Clinton? Yes, she has an impressive resume; yes, she worked hard on the campaign trail. But she was exactly the wrong candidate for this angry, populist moment. An insider when the country was screaming for an outsider. A technocrat who offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine.

She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. Had winning been the party’s number one concern, several more suitable candidates were ready to go. There was Joe Biden, with his powerful plainspoken style, and there was Bernie Sanders, an inspiring and largely scandal-free figure. Each of them would probably have beaten Trump, but neither of them would really have served the interests of the party insiders.

We’ve had months of Hillary supporters endless repeating the mantra that if you don’t love Hillary it’s because you’ve sexist. And it didn’t work. Hillary Clinton did not lose purely because she was a woman.

The roots of Trump’s victory lie in the dirty way in which the Clinton campaign fought Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. All those lies and smears painting him and his supporters as misogynists. Those malicuously dishonest hit-pieces by toxic ideologues railing at the “Bernie Bros” who never actually existed.

We’re about to endure a fightening four years, but it’s four years in which to build a movement to defeat Trump or his successor in 2020. Perhaps we should take comfort in these words from Stephen Tall written a few days before the election?

I remember how important the 2004 Bush-Kerry election seemed at the time. Here, after all, was a chance for America to deliver a slap-down to its neo-con president. Matthew Parris wrote a typically shrewd article arguing that a second Bush win was the best outcome, that his ideas had to be allowed to reach their logical, failed conclusion so that voters could see they’d been tested to destruction. Indeed, his victory set up Obama’s in 2008. I say that to console myself in case Trump wins. Sometimes bad things happen for a reason (or, more rationally, Good Things follow Bad Things because reversion to the mean). Besides if we think the 2016 election has been gruesome, think how much worse 2020 might be. Chances are Hillary will be a one-term president. Chances are, if she wins tomorrow, the presidency will revert to the Republicans after 12 years of Democrat incumbency. Then imagine a Trump with some self-control, a Trump capable of pivoting, a Trump who understands how to organise a campaign. And then keep your fingers crossed a Republican emerges who can put Trump’s proto-fascism back in its box.

He may be optimistic, and may be underestimating the harm four years of Trump might do. But the only rational response to electoral defeat must be to begin the work of winning the next one.

And if the tide of right-wing populism is to be rolled back, the liberal-left needs a compelling alternative vision. At the moment, it has none, and that’s a massive part of the problem.

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The Election

Statue of LibertyA lot of people have compared the US elections with 1930s Germany, and there are indeed parallels. But do you know what it reminds me of?

The years leading up to “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

No historical parallel is exact, of course, but look at the similarities. An electorate that’s become polarised along tribal lines? The idea that the winners’ ability to completely screw over the losers is the legitimate spoils of victory? The use of gerrymandering and other electoral trickery to entrench the rule of one tribe?

Eventually in Northern Ireland, the centre couldn’t hold and things spilled over into open violence, a low-intensity civil war that lasted decades and cost thousands of lives.

Let us hope this is not America’s fate, and whoever wins tonight will govern on behalf of the whole nation rather than just their own tribe.

One of the two candidates almost certainly lacks the empathy or the wisdom to do that, and I don’t need to say which one that is.

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