Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Donald Trump and fascism

In a 1944 essay, George Orwell criticized the rhetorical use of "fascism" by commentators on politics and current events, which he described as being ubiquitous to the point of meaninglessness. In his observation it was applied to ideologies and subjects not limited to: "farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, [and] dogs." As this made the definition of fascism so subjective, Orwell advised that it be used "with a certain amount of circumspection" if not at all by those aiming to engage in insightful journalism or political analysis.

A circumspect reference or comparison to fascism would be one referring to fascism in historical context and considering how this would operate in the present day. Donald Trump can be accurately described as a fascist by using this method in the context of the mass movement surrounding his 2016 presidential campaign in the United States. Trump propagates an ideology and platform containing economic and political populism, cultural chauvinism and aggressive militarism, combining disillusionment with political elites with scapegoating of ethnic and religious minorities. He frames the "politically correct" outrage at his bigotry as an asset, using it to constantly and increasingly normalize far-right extremism in the political discourse he presides over his cunning and calculating manipulation of the mass media. This is fascism by definition.

Mussolini described fascism as the merger of state and corporate power. Fascism advocates a regimented and hierarchical society based on elitism and dictatorship; ironically it thrives on the same inequality it condemns in its propaganda. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn of Greece, part political party and part violent street gang, became the third party of the country decimated by EU-imposed austerity by rallying to support poverty-stricken communities while blaming migrants along with corrupt establishment politicians and austerity-imposing technocrats for the country's ills.

Budding il Duce Trump is a member of the economic 0.1 percent, yet is bizarrely able to use his wealth to populist advantage. He touts his ability to self-finance his political campaign as evidence that he is secured against the vested interests of the lobbyists and corporations whose systemic bribery of representatives dominates the American political system, which drives disillusion with mainstream politics. Trump admits that he has been easily able to make politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, do his bidding for cash. As have the bankers and hedgefunders whose systemic greed and mismanagement resulted in the Great Recession that has caused hardship for working class Americans who have flocked to Trump's campaign. But unlike Bernie Sanders, who addresses the root causes of inequality, Trump focuses on ethnic minorities as the main culprits of national decay.

An admirer of the authoritarian Vladimir Putin, who like Trump has links to corruption and Mafia criminality, Trump is open to authoritarian control of the internet, ironically invoking the Chinese state that he views as a major adversary. He also insists that the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein and Mummar Gaddafi in power - as the "stability" provided by these criminal strongmen, in Trump's eyes, overrides fleeting concepts like human rights and democracy.

And Trump has pledged to be a war criminal like these dictators if he becomes president, promising to indiscriminately kill civilians in Middle East countries for even being related to ISIL militants, in a military policy of aggression and mass punishment that he would make official. These war crimes victims are equally as dehumanized as the Muslims he advocates barring from the United States, with those remaining on the homeland potentially being monitored and placed on a mass database by a Trump administration.

Trump's Islamophobia is the most obviously fascist and extremist component of his political crusade. Like with Nazism and Jewry, he makes no effort to distinguish between Islamic extremists and Muslims as a whole, which he collectively paints as a darkly sinister element of the American and global population which poses a grave threat to the United States and the West. 

Take Trump sharing this fan-made image on Twitter as a case in point:

This "I do not support Islam" slogan embodies an unequivocal message from Trump: that he has no reservations about mongering hatred against Muslims as a whole and equating them, by collective association with terrorism, as the enemy within.

Trump has shrugged off hate crimes and attacks against ethnic minorities as enthusiasm for his cause, and has embraced avowedly racist white nationalists endorsing his campaign. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, far-right and white nationalists extremism poses a greater domestic security threat to the U.S. than Islamic fundamentalism. Trump can be described as a de facto figurehead of these militant and extremist movements. 

We may derive amusement from the spectacle of Trump, but history teaches us the consequences of having an offhand attitudes towards fascism. The violence and hate will only continue to accelerate as long as Trump is left to his devices unchallenged.

Friday, 25 December 2015

The Christmas spirit of Billy Bob Thornton

Following his instantly classic performance as the hypnotically charismatic and psychopathic hitman Lorne Malvo in the first series of the TV adaption of Fargo (who Bokeem Woodbine's equally as smooth Mike Milligan in the second series was obviously based upon), I have keenly followed the acting career of Billy Bob Thornton.

Christmas can be pleasantly utilized as a time of contemplation and relaxation, but it can also be a depressing and anxious period of the year, much like birthdays can be. As Jackson C. Frank sullenly sang: "It's already over in October, it's already Christmas every year..." The New Year festivities, overcast by gloomy winters, frequently induce self-consciousness existential crisis about the passage of time, goals unaccomplished and future uncertainties, probably why the seasonal alcoholism is traditional for those partaking.

Being a Billy Bob fan has helped to assuage my negative vibes, however, as I noticed that he is to star in Bad Santa 2 - a sequel to a 2003 cult classic that is set for release in the Christmas of 2016. This announcement provided a surreal glimmer of hope. I decided that my 2016 will be relative in anticipation to the release of Bad Santa 2. I appreciate any concern, but my role model is not Billy Bob's portrayal of a chain-smoking and misogynistic robber who uses his position as a supermarket Father Christmas to engage in grand larceny.

My role model is Billy Bob himself. A masterful character actor who was not granted a big break as an actor until his mid-thirties after years of graft, eventually winning Oscars for his absolute determination and artistic integrity. A lesson in self-belief and an antidote to the angst that the season can plague us with, Billy Bob's visage in a Santa outfit shall be the iconography of my transpersonal mental health self-medication at Christmastime.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

What Bernie Sanders means for freethought and equality in the US

Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination in the 2016 US presidential election. The significance of the first woman president likely succeeding the first African American one should not be trivialized. But given the longstanding hostile treatment of religious and social minorities and nonbelievers in US society and politics, the election of her nearest rival—the Jewish democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who describes himself as "not particularly religious"—would be just as historically momentous.

Sanders’ identity as the son of Jews who fled Nazi-occupied Europe for poverty in New York City, with his father’s family being murdered in the Holocaust, is particularly prescient given the ongoing Middle East refugee crisis. Refugees seeking asylum in the US are being attacked and scapegoated by multiple states, as well as politicians and commentators, as toxic and sinister elements, just as Jewish refugees from Nazism in the 1930s were labelled as potentially communist undesirables and denied safe havensome of them, such as Anne Frank and her family, ultimately falling victim to the Holocaust due to this nationally disgraceful dereliction. Sanders himself made note of his family history in October when he consoled Muslim-American student Remaz Abdelgader and reiterated his stance against Islamophobia, which he compared to the antisemitism his ancestors faced: while Donald Trump and Ted Cruz advocate barring the entry of Muslim asylum seekers, with the overtly fascist Trump advocating the complete exclusion of all Muslims and mass deportation of preexisting refugees, it is Sanders who cites the rise of Hitler as his reason for becoming politically conscious in his youth.

Republican xenophobia slurs professed Christian Barack Obama as a Muslim, and associates his caricatured blackness with dangerous, apparently socialist radicalism. Historically, even white Americans were targeted by the religious right simply for not being Protestants, many of them sharing movements like working class trade unionism with targets of white supremacist racism. The liberal Irish Catholic John F. Kennedy, dubbed a communist by his opponents, was accused of being in thrall to the papacy and thus unable to serve as president with integrity, and his far-right, segregationist enemies perpetrated terrorist attacks against Jewish communities and synagogues just as they did against black churches and civil rights campaigners. Sanders was among those Jewish allies of the civil rights movement, as a student activist organising sit-ins and civil disobedience against segregation; today he is a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Having referred to Michael Brown, a teenager shot dead by a white police officer while unarmed, as a "bad actor", Republican favorite Ben Carson dismisses BLM with the retort "all lives matter", a frequent dog whistle of white commentators seeking to deflect focus from endemic anti-black racism in America. Carson also portrays Muslim refugees as savage and animal, the same kind of dehumanization black Americans like him are commonly subjected to.

In contrast, Sanders acknowledges racism as critical to the systemic police brutality faced by ethnic minorities in the US, recognizing the corrupt criminal justice system that impacts non-white Americans—especially those impacted by gross socioeconomic inequality—pervasively.

In the US, Christian fundamentalism has operated in tandem with racism, oppression and discrimination, from the genocide of indigenous peoples to slavery and segregation. It continues to wage misogynist wars against reproductive rights, force through homophobic and transphobic legislation and obstruct the teaching of science, orchestrating the cruel and reckless indoctrination of children with creationism and abstinence-only education. Though Sanders has not specified a view on the question of God, he displays the humanism of a secular Jew: "It is not a good thing to believe," Sanders states, ‘that as human beings, we can turn our backs on the suffering of other people."

Throughout his career, he has been consistently committed to the separation of church and state, a congressional bulwark against the efforts of his country’s Christian Taliban to enforce antediluvian theocratic agendas. He has done so in a country where, at the dawn of the nineteenth century, deistic anti-Trinitarian Thomas Jefferson was smeared as an "infidel" and "atheist", forced to declare a belief in God in order to become president. In seven US states, atheists who refuse to pledge to serve God are barred from public office, with a 2014 opinion poll revealing that atheists are the second least trusted religious group among the US public, with Muslims the least tolerated.

Regardless of how one views his politics and actions, Barack Obama’s election as the first black president remains an indisputable landmark of social progress in the American nation. And the same would have to be said if a Jewish socialist humanist from Vermont inherited his office.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

International Men's Day and awareness of "privilege"

The University of York cancelled recognition of International Men's Day (IMD) on its campus, after women's rights campaigners lobbied against the university doing so on the basis of IMD failing to recognize the "structural inequalities" that women, rather than men, are affected by. In the UK, women are the most predominant victims of domestic and sexual violence, are being adversely impacted by austerity such as cuts to benefits and public services, and have marginalized representation in the media, politics and employment. All of us committed to advocating for social justice and inequality can and should acknowledge these facts. We should also bear in mind the appropriation of the cause of "Men's Rights" by trolls and misogynists who tend to care little about the legitimate issues highlighted by IMD anyway.

However, modern feminism frequently makes reference to the concepts of of "privilege" and "intersectionality", which in practice are supposed to identify that social discrimination and inequality varies throughout social groups according to various factors, including gender, race and sexuality. But it does not appear that those who lobbied against respect for IMD at York are willing to apply these ideas to their own standing in life and society.

During International Men's Day I noticed many commentators, not limited to women, making a mockery of IMD on the apparent basis of it being an absurdity for there to be a day commemorating the gender that socioeconomically, or perhaps patriarchally, dominates society. Which is distasteful given that one of the prime issues affecting men and boys that IMD focuses on is male mental health and suicide.

Men in middle age from disadvantaged backgrounds are the social group in the UK most at risk of dying from suicide. Interrelating with this statistic is that white boys from poor households suffer the most in terms of low attainment of employment and academic success later in life. Austerity, as well as deepening poverty and inequality as a whole, has had a disproportionate, arguably systemically racist impact on black and ethnic minority communities, with men from BME communities working in part-time jobs more prevalently than their white counterparts. Cuts to disability benefits and mental health services are worsening rates of mental illness and suicide in all groups.

So there is a certain ironic cruelty women at a Russell Group university, socially privileged in contrast to these men and boys, belittling the annual event that intends to raise awareness of such inequality.

In the criminal justice system men are less likely than women to report already underreported crimes such as rape and child sexual abuse, with sexual and domestic violence against men and boys being among the prime issues that IMD focuses on. In terms of discrimination, in 2014-2015 police forces in the UK registered a 22% increase in homophobic hate crimes and a 9% increase in transphobic hate crimes, with the victims presumably including gay, bisexual and trans men. Trans and gender nonconforming men are also face deprivation in NHS treatment for their mental health and gender identity, a problem being worsened by cuts to these services.

It clearly a disservice to the cause of equality for feminists to trivialize awareness of these forms of inequality, violence and discrimination that intersect with the same that also harm women and girls in the UK and internationally. Feminism does not need to degrade this awareness to advance its own cause.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Comrade Corbyn or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

As the mushroom clouds of existential annihilation bloomed over the horizons of Great Britain, Len McCluskey was jubilant. Staring at the wall of the official Labour Party fallout shelter, a wry smile spread across his face. "Unite won the internal party debate", he nodded to himself. Dan Hodges, at the other side of the room, concurred, scribbling his newest opinion piece onto an scraggy piece of piece of paper with his last remaining pencil: "What does the nuclear holocaust mean for Jeremy Corbyn?", satisfied that it would be published in the Telegraph once most of the radiation had cleared. 

Dan was certain that Labour was now a "credible, pragmatic and progressive force" following the deposition of the former anti-Trident leader, who was replaced by none other than nuclear weapon enthusiast Luke Akehurst. Akehurst had won the by-election forced by Liz Kendall, who voluntarily stood down so he could take her place and mount a leadership challenge against Corbyn. Akehurst was coronated when the majority of Labour MPs decided to reform the party's election rules to make themselves the sole deciders of the party leadership. A grassroots that obstructed the pressing of the nuclear button, and thus "British Values", was too much to bear, and the trade unions, in a rare alliance with the Blairites and Labour's establishment, agreed that a hesitancy to retain the technology used to mount a nuclear holocaust compromised its members' job security. Labour won the 2020 election when they pledged to consider using the "nuclear deterrent option" against refugees in Europe, winning back Tory and UKIP supporters in the process.

The hippie tendencies of Corbyn's Labour contrasted to the "strong", "moral" and - most importantly - middle England focus group friendly approach of Prime Minister Akehurst, who triumphantly instructed the Royal Navy to fire Trident's nuclear missiles at Moscow when Vladimir Putin threatened to take "disciplinary diplomatic action" against Great Britain while shirtless and riding a horse. The PM could simply not tolerate the level of Putin's machismo, so Attack Warning Red it was.

As the Russian IBMs rained down on the UK, obliterating tens of millions of lives in minutes and resulting in the nuclear Third World War that would ensure the extinction of humanity and make Earth inhospitable for all life, Labour's election strategists wept with despair in the far corner of the fallout shelter. "All the communication networks are down!", one wailed. "How can we see what the opinion pollsters say about this?"

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Why I joined Labour

Jeremy Corbyn's win was presumed, but it was even more colossal than expected. With nearly 60% of the vote, he won the overwhelming support of every category of participant in the election: from registered supporters, to trade union affiliates, and full members alike; categorically refuting the idea that Corbyn's popularity is built only on entryism and the influence of trade unions in the Labour Party.

His win confirms that there is a broad consensus in favour of the policy platforms that he advocates, with belief in housing and healthcare and freedom from poverty as human rights, free education, public ownership of transport and utilities, restructuring of the financial and economic systems to address the gross inequality and systemic corruption that plagues the UK, a holistic approach to mental health and social care, foreign policy including the abolition of nuclear weapons and a welcoming and compassionate attitude to refugees, and the recognition of climate change as a pressing international crisis. This also exhibits a categorical rejection of the aping and conceding to the ideological Tory austerity narrative that Labour Party leadership has adhered to before now.

Though I remain supportive of the values and purpose of the Green Party I was previously a member of - a party that should cooperate with a Corbyn-led Labour Party wholeheartedly thanks to a mutual commitment to these values - the Labour movement is now one I am proud to be loyal to.