Religion and Politics Blog

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

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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English Devolution?

Interesting post by The Fabian Society on the proposals for English devolution in a speech from Gordon Brown. The essence is that Gordon Brown, a Scot, simply doesn’t understand English identity, and his idea of an England of devolved regions is a non-starter.

The English regions imagined by Brown and his supporters do not exist as economic, political or cultural entities; or to be more accurate some do (like London) , some don’t (like the vast area called the South East) and most have boundaries that are very different to those imagined by the Whitehall bureaucrats who drew them up. Places of real vibrant identity and passion – like Merseyside, Manchester or Birmingham – have to be submerged into a technocrat’s idealised region that fits the demands of central planning. Plenty of people identify with Yorkshire, but that’s not a government region. Few people leap to call themselves East Midlanders.

Brown’s vision of a devolved Brexit rests on the creation of regional structures that would have to be imposed and would enjoy no legitimacy. Even the current devolution process in England has plenty of critics who say that the public is being excluded from deals being struck between council leaders and government ministers. But most people would at least recognise an emerging geography of city-regions and counties that reflect natural economic and historic communities. It may be a bit messy and have a long way to go, but is infinitely preferable to an imposed and artificial solution.

But the most fundamental obstacle to Brown’s solution is that it sweeps aside any idea that England might have a political voice of its own, or that Englishness and English interests are of any concern to the people of England. Yet the evidence is clear that these are sentiments of growing importance. And the divisions that mar Britain are most marked in England.

It’s true that David Cameron’s reckless referendum has exposed a democratic defecit when it comes to England, and if the United Kingdom is to have a long-term future it will have to take some kind of federal structure. And England, due to its size does need more internal devolution of its own. But a one-size-fits-all regional structure imposed from the top down isn’t the answer.

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A snap General Election is a Really Bad Idea

Theresa May is threatening to call a general election if she loses a vote in the House of Commons over the Article 50 Notification. But surely she is bluffing? What makes her think a House of Commons which votes against A50 will give her the two-thirds majority necessary to dissolve Parliament under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act?

I suppose there’s no underestimating the potential duplicity of the Labour party.

When both the Conservatives and Labour are deeply divided on the one crucial issue the election will be about, and Labour are saddled with a weak and incompetent leader, all an early election will achieve will be to muddy the waters. At best it’s a combination of a crapshoot and a game of Prisoner’s Dilemma when nobody really has a clue what they’ve voting for. It promises to be even worse than the referendum campaign, and is mostly unlikely to result in a Parliament that reflects the electorate.

What will happen when Theresa May’s plans unravel and her authority crumbles is anyone’s guess. Perhaps we’ll end up with some form of ad-hoc coalition of moderate leavers and moderate remainers from both the Tories and Labour that will attempt to negotiate a deal with the EU that’s satisfactory to a critical mass of the country as whole? Or perhaps something even more unpleasant will crawl into the political vacuum?

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Oh dear. Labour’s candidate for the Richmond by-election has been deleting tweets from a few months back calling on Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader. Oops.

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High Court Rulings and Tabloid Rage

The Daily Mail goes full FascistSo the High Court ruled that Parliament must have the final say on invoking Article 50 to begin the process of leaving the European Union.

The outrage from the tabloids implies that the High Court have decided to annul the referendum, when the judgement does nothing of the sort. It’s hard to imagine Parliament going further than delaying A50 notification or putting conditions on it. Though the referendum was advisory in a strictly legal sense, politically the only thing that could reverse the result is a second referendum. The apoplexy of the tabloids is very telling; it’s as if they know that the Brexit they’ve lusted after for years might be slipping from the grasp.

The Daily Mail front page today is chilling. The sovereignty of Parliament, the rule of law, and an independent judiciary are cornerstones of our democracy. The Mail rejects all of those in favour of what can only be described as mob rule, and does so using rhetoric indistinguishable from the far-right terrorist who murdered Jo Cox. They are putting lives at risk here.

When it comes to incitement to violence and incitement to racial hatred, both of which are against the law, the rightwing tabloids have been sailing very close to the line for years, and have been allowed to get away with it. Has the Daily Mail crossed the line? Will anyone in authority have the guts enforce the law?

And as I’m writing this comes the news that Tory MP Steven Phillips, who is pro-leave but believes Parliament needs to be involved in the process, has resigned his seat to force a by-election. A clear sign that Daily Mail does not speak for all Leave supporters, let along the country as a whole.

What the High Court ruling has probably done is made a so-called “Hard Brexit” that never had majority support in the country far less likely. And that is almost certainly the real reason the tabloids are throwing their toys out of the pram.

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Labour has lost its identity?

Writing in The New Statesman, Jonathan Rutherford concludes that Labour has lost its identity. The interests and values of the progressive metropolitcal middle classes and the socially conservative working class have diverged so strongly that it’s next to impossible to construct a coalition that includes both. He sees Jeremy Corbyn’s weak leadership as a symptom rather than a cause, and the “dead hand of the 1980s hard left” is merely accelerating the inevitable.

It’s a long article that’s well worth reading in full. Here’s what he says about globalisation, and it’s as much an issue for the Tories as it is for Labour.

The US economist Dani Rodrik describes a “globalisation trilemma”: ‘‘democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full’’. One option is to align democracy with global markets by opting for global federalism. A second is to align the nation state with global markets to pursue global economic integration at the expense of national democracy. Rodrik argues that more globalisation means either less national sovereignty or less democracy.

National sovereignty is an emotive issue, but what does sovereignty really mean for people’s daily lives?

And then he turns to a subject which I’ve covered many times before, and for me represents the core distinction between “progressiveism” and “liberalism”.

Progressive politics has become over-reliant on its abstract values that exist prior to people’s everyday experience and which it superimposes on their lives. The result is a politics of altruism that uses the state to administrate and manage groups of people towards an already defined ideal. Labour must always stand up for the poor and those who suffer injustice, but instead of creating agency in the powerless its mix of paternalism and altruism ends up uncritically favouring minority social groups over the majority and imbuing them with the virtue of victimhood. Disorientated by its own cultural isolation and virtue signalling, Labour no longer knows who or what constitutes the labour interest, nor what the majority of its individuals consider their best interests to be.

I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say this again: The form of identity politics adopted by large parts of “The Left” are a dead end, and fuel the growth of far more unsavoury types of identity politics in response.

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Donald Trump

Chilling stuff about Donald Trump from Robert Reich’s Facebook page. I’m reproducing it here in full because Facebook is a pig to read if you don’t have a FB account.

Yesterday I spoke with a former Republican member of Congress whom I’ve known for years.

Me: What do you think of your party’s nominee for president?

He: Trump is a maniac. He’s a clear and present danger to America.

Me: Have you said publicly that you won’t vote for him?

He (sheepishly): No.

Me: Why not?

He: I’m a coward.

Me: What do you mean?

He: I live in a state with a lot of Trump voters. Most Republican officials do.

Me: But you’re a former official. You’re not running for Congress again. What are you afraid of?

He: I hate to admit it, but I’m afraid of them. Some of those Trumpistas are out of their fu*king minds.

Me: You mean you’re afraid for your own physical safety?

He: All it takes is one of them, you know.

Me: Wait a minute. Isn’t this how dictators and fascists have come to power in other nations? Respected leaders don’t dare take a stand.

He: At least I’m no Giuliani or Gingrich or Pence. I’m not a Trump enabler.

Me: I’ll give you that.

He: Let me tell you something. Most current and former Republican members of Congress are exactly like me. I talk with them. They think Trump is deplorable. And they think Giuliani and Gingrich are almost as bad. But they’re not gonna speak out. Some don’t want to end their political careers. Most don’t want to risk their lives. The Trump crowd is just too dangerous. Trump has whipped them up into a g*ddamn frenzy.

There are parallels between Trunpism and Brexit; both have unleashed dark forces into the body politic, and made violence or the threat of violence part of the political system. And the point of the threats of violence is to keep decent people afraid; nobody wants to be the next Jo Cox.

This is how sociopaths and tyrants succeed; they make the cost of opposing them too high for anyone but the bravest or those with nothing to lose to bear.

But even then, all it takes is a critical mass of people to stand up and say “I’m Spartacus” to bring them down. Never forget that.

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Heathrow and Richmond

What’s the difference between HS2 and Heathrow expansion? One is an expensive and environmentally disastrous project that contributes little towards Britain’s transport needs, and the other is a railway line.

I have nothing more to say about Heathrow; I’ve blogged about it before, and my views haven’t changed.

The Richmond by-election, through, is something else. On the surface, it looks bizarre. The sitting Tory MP Zac Goldsmith resigns his seat to fight it as an independent in protest to the Heathrow decision, but the Tory party aren’t putting up a candidate to oppose him, giving him a clear run against the Liberal Democrat challenger. What is going on here?

My best guess is that Theresa May fears a Liberal Democrat revival far more than she fears disloyalty and division within her own party. Richmond is a Liberal Democrat target seat; they held the seat up to the 2010 general election, and will win on the sort of swing we saw in Witney. Richmond is on the doorstep of the London-based media, and a LibDem victory will put the parry and their policies centre stage.

It’s true that a Tory challenger to the disloyal former MP will split the vote and hand the LibDems almost certain victory, so there is a certain tactical logic here. It’s not a safe seat like Clacton. But it does send the message that defying the party won’t be punished that severely. Will that be a decision Theresa May will end up regretting?

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