How Trump-Haters have helped Trump

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The 45th President of the United States: Donald Trump.

Picture that for a second.

Similarly in Europe, a plethora of far-right, nationalist and populist (some even neo-fascist) parties have propelled to new heights of power in their respective countries. In Sweden (Bernie’s education-and-healthcare-for-all socialist paradise), the third biggest party in parliament currently is one that has roots in white supremacy and neo-Nazism. Across Europe, several Trump-like politicians have gained as much support in their countries as Trump has in his: Marine Le Pen in France, Jarosław Kaczynski in Poland, Viktor Orban in Hungary.

I want to argue that the root causes of far-right resurgence in both the US and in Europe has been misdiagnosed – or rather, incomprehensively so. Even though the supporters of demagogues like Trump are the ones voting them into office, their supporters are not entirely to blame for what is happening on both sides of the Atlantic.

Growing support for Trump and for politicians like him is as much a product of those who aren’t voting for them as those who are. Here’s why.

Immigration, Terrorism and Refugees

The far-right has built its support amongst their electorates by capitalising on three issues which they have bound together: immigration, terrorism and more recently, refugees.

In Europe, so-called “losers” of globalisation and laissez-faire economics are lashing out at the status quo. Smack in the centre of their crosshairs has been the EU and its central policy of free movement of people.

Across the pond, Trump astutely summarises the prevalent sentiment amongst his core working-class voters when he proclaims in rallies: “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo.”

Though I am sure that Trump himself has no idea what he is talking about (or what “credo” even means), it is indisputable that Trump is tapping into a culmination of frustration pent-up over the years – a well of frustration his European equivalents are bathing in as well.

Now consider terrorism. The quickening pace by which attacks are occurring in Europe and the US has exacerbated an already polarised political landscape. The debate over terrorism and its causes has been intertwined with the immigration debate to further deepen the schism that divides opposing sides in public discourse.

On top of all this, the emotionally-fraught matter of refugees has emerged and intensified over the last few years, like a shell exploding smack in between opposing trenches already deeply divided over immigration and terrorism. Virtually any common-ground that existed in the first place has been obliterated, the trenches further apart than ever before, and the few brave souls with olive branches in hand who venture into no man’s land are shot at from both sides.

The chief reason why many who hate Trump are themselves culpable for his rise is their contribution to creating the trench warfare that is our public discourse today – they’re digging trenches as ferociously as their enemies.

They’re not culpable because of the policies they prescribe. Rather, it is their approach in tackling those who disagree with them, especially when it comes to the three aforementioned issues, which leaves a lot to be desired.

Racist, Bigoted, Xenophobic etc.

In a democracy, there’s no guarantee that the best policy will prevail amongst a set of alternatives. Brexit reflects this fact. The best policy will most likely come about when a significant part of the electorate wants it, and rarely if that isn’t the case. The implementation of your ideal policies is contingent on the approval of your fellow voters.

Bearing this fact about our democratic politics in mind, the question must be raised: why have so many people developed a propensity to demonise those who hold different views to theirs? Surely they know that calling someone a racist makes that person less likely to agree with them.

Ad hominem attacks is the preferred strategy of many people today when confronting those who disagree, especially on the three aforementioned issues. Labels such as racist, bigot and xenophobe are thrown around callously at those who dare to have a different opinion.

Is someone who opposes illegal immigration undoubtedly a racist? Is someone who has concerns about the security of letting refugees into Europe invariably a xenophobe? Is someone who asks whether Islam played a role in motivating a terrorist automatically an Islamophobe?  Many people today seem to have a certain answer to such questions: Yes.

The incessant demonisation is hugely consequential because it hasn’t just been inflicted on the far-right, where the genuine bigots, racists and xenophobes reside. The moderate-right has not been spared by tactics of demonisation, which have been indiscriminate, to say the least. It has become increasingly clear that the only condition that must be met for a flurry of insults and personal attacks to be deployed is that the target simply disagrees.

Think back to the days before Trump’s campaign (how far away those days seem now). Were the labels of racist, bigot and xenophobe used much more sparingly, rarely ever heard in public discourse? The answer is no. Long before Trump emerged, moderate establishment Republicans were already being targeted, examples such as John McCain and Paul Ryan being called “racists”, Mitt Romney being labelled a “homophobe”.

Of course, tactics targeting the character and integrity of a rival politician pays dividends. No one wants to be called a “racist” or a “bigot”, especially in the deeply race-sensitive United States. By presenting the political divisions between the left and the right as one steeped in a moral disparity between the two sides, the left benefited politically from the superior position they placed themselves in, whilst portraying their opponents as morally inferior, bigoted beings.

Many on the left, instead of devising the best arguments to persuade the dissenters of their erroneous conclusions, focussed its efforts on questioning the dissenter’s intentions and integrity. Rarely was the goal to convert the dissenter to their side of the argument – more often, the rhetoric employed had the aim of rendering the dissenting grievance illegitimate and present it as being borne out of racism and bigotry.

Legitimate Grievances

But years of demonisation has completed the proverbial cycle of coming back and biting the left in its ass. When the grievances of a large group of voters in a democracy are not even afforded the respect of being perceived as legitimate by fellow voters and politicians, what will inevitably occur is the unsavoury process of these disillusioned, marginalised and ostracised voters latching on to demagogues who will at least provide them the luxury of certifying the legitimacy of their grievances, and that is what we’ve seen.

One of the reasons Trump commands the support he has is that his campaign legitimises grievances previously delegitimised by political correctness, ad hominem rebukes and establishment politics. Tired of years of politicians and the media moralising about how their opinions reveal them to be bigots and racists, voters with aberrant views have secured a champion for their cause – a man who observed an overly politically correct public sphere and proceeded then to blow it apart through a campaign strategy of saying outrageous things and then, infuriatingly for many, not apologising for saying them.

Before Trump, voters could not voice their legitimate opposition to illegal immigration without their opinion being straw-manned as being anti-immigration. They could not voice legitimate concerns about the influx of refugees without being called anti-refugee. They could not raise legitimate questions about the role Islam plays in the radicalising of young Muslim men without being called islamophobic or racist. Actually, they still can’t today without these labels being hurled at them, but the difference is that today they have a major presidential candidate who will say and ask the same things.

Until people banish their habit of demonising those who merely disagree with them, the far-right will continue its growing influence in both European and American politics. This is because there will continue to be marginalised voters who would rather support genuinely bigoted demagogues who will at least allow their grievances to be aired, than politicians who refuse to even acknowledge the legitimacy of their concerns.

Here we go: UK and the EU

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I am excited. Today, David Cameron announced that the UK referendum on staying in or leaving the EU will be held on 23 June. The announcement comes after the Prime Minister returned from talks in Brussels which resulted in a deal between European leaders consisting of a multitude of reforms to the EU. He also announced that he, along with most of his cabinet, will recommend the British people vote to remain in the EU. A few members of his cabinet such as Chris Grayling and Michael Gove have placed themselves in the opposite camp – they will campaign against the PM for the UK to leave the EU.

I am excited because UK’s membership of the EU is not a subject I have strong views about. I don’t have strong views because I don’t know much about the subject. I cannot honestly tell you right now which side I’m leaning towards. I look forward therefore to the coming weeks and months where the debate will be constant and ubiquitous. I anticipate great passion, emotion and rhetoric from both sides – bring it on.

I am also excited because I look forward to arriving at a informed, reasoned and argued position in this debate. My ignorance on the subject of the UK and the EU will allow me to be “captured” by one of the sides through honest arguments and reasoning, without the muddying of any personal biases. Hopefully, whatever views I have come 23 June will be the result of hearing great discussions, debates and conversations where both sides present their arguments in intellectually stimulating and educational ways. Hopefully.

Hong Kong – My Thoughts on my Home

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Below is a speech that I made to a group of Oxbridge candidates at school on Wednesday about the situation in Hong Kong. Back then, Hong Kong was only getting ready for the protests pro-democracy activists were promising. Four days later on Sunday, the protests have actually started, and the clashes have began. In this speech, I first explain a bit of the history of Hong Kong, then delve into what I think is the best way forward:

Hong Kong can become a benchmark for gradual democratic reform

Today, I have decided to talk about an issue that is very close to me, and is also something I believe you should all know more about. What I will speak about today, is the situation in Hong Kong.

Currently, in my place of birth, my home, Hong Kong, there is great dissension about the future of Hong Kong politics. If you did not know before, Hong Kong and China are not the same. Hong Kong used to be a colony of this country, the UK. When it was agreed that Hong Kong was to return to China in 1997, your government agreed to a handover on one condition: that Hong Kong’s liberal, capitalist economic system would remain and not be replaced by the socialist economic system of mainland China for at least 50 years. To this day, the Chinese government has kept that promise, and the people of Hong Kong are still grateful for what your country and your government did for us.

In fact, the values of rights, liberty and democracy that your country introduced to our society has actually increased our appetite for even more democracy. There has been incessant calls post 1997 for full, democratic elections, for a fully representative legislature and government. Everyone in Hong Kong remembers what the last Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten, said in his speech on the night of the handover: “a Hong Kong run by Hong Kong people.” To this day, we are still seeking to achieve that.

Years of campaigning, petitioning, protesting and even civil obedience have culminated in the Chinese government promising democratic elections in 2017, where everyone in Hong Kong can vote in elections for legislature as well as for government. But there is one small snag in the proposal: China insists that the chief executive, the highest position in government, will only have candidates that are endorsed by the Chinese government. Only politicians who are Pro China, Pro Beijing, Pro Communist Party can run Hong Kong. What this means is that the full democracy the people of Hong Kong envisioned is not going to be realised. This is democracy – China-style.

For obvious reasons, people in Hong Kong are incensed. A mass protest has been planned, called “Occupy Central”, where hundreds of thousands of disgruntled Hong Kongers, mostly young people, will blockade the central financial district, the rationale being that potential damage to Hong Kong’s most valuable assets – its economy and finance – will force China to change its stance.

If this was to happen, not only will Hong Kong not have elections in 2017, it might not even have democratic elections over the next few decades. China’s attitude is undoubtedly “take it or leave it”. Occupy Central, and the deal is off the table.

I strongly believe that people in Hong Kong must have a pragmatic approach to these negotiations with China. It is surely not worth jeopardising the chance of voting, representation, of universal suffrage, of elections, albeit undemocratic, in a place where democracy has always been on the fringes, but never established.

You might ask: Why am I so eager for people in Hong Kong to accept China’s proposals? Why not occupy Central, persevere, stand up for what you believe in? Your ideology?

My answer is this: I have seen numerous examples of nations faltering after democracy has been imposed over a short period of time. In Iraq, the toppling of Saddam Hussein led to an American-endorsed democratic system that was designed to provide stability, freedom and rights. Instead, democracy has led to tyranny, and we can all se the state of Iraq today, where the terrorist group ISIS controls much of the country.

Like Iraq, Afghanistan has also been the recipient of American-style democracy. Also like Iraq, Afghanistan has not benefited from the democratic reforms that has been imposed upon their political system. This is the same for Egypt, a country who after disposing one authoritarian leader, elected another.

How Hong Kong relates to these countries is this: if the people of Hong Kong are willing to accept China’s proposals, there will be elections with universal suffrage, where everybody can vote, in a place that is technically and politically under the rule of China. The profound connotations of this cannot be understated. Search up “voting in China” on Google images, and you’re unlikely to find any pictures. Hong Kong could mark the beginning of a democratic revolution in Chinese politics.

What I am advocating is realpolitik: the political attitude of always being pragmatic, putting aside ideology and idealism. I believe that Hong Kong securing elections in 2017 will only be a stepping-stone for more and more democracy. We must compromise and appease in the short-run, yet retaining our will for full democracy in the long-run.

If Hong Kong were to become a full democracy in the future, history will judge Hong Kong to be the benchmark for democratic reform. A story of democratic fostering that begins with a colonial past, where democratic values were first engrained, and ends with the eventual establishing of full democracy: that is a story that can be told, and followed in future times. The opportunity for Hong Kong to be a beacon of democratic reform is there, but only, if we do not jeopardise our chances.

“DC Confidential” – Christopher Meyer – Review

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Christopher Meyer was the British Ambassador to the United States from 1997 – 2003. His tenure as ambassador coincided with the period where Anglo-American relations were at its strongest due to 9/11, which led to the two nations combining efforts to fight the War on Terror and invade Iraq. In his memoir, Meyer recounts the run-up to the events of 9/11, often humorously recounting his first impressions of major political figures in both countries, such as Tony Blair, George W Bush, John Prescott and Condoleeza Rice.

I admire Meyer’s decision to incorporate a simple yet informative portrayal of the art and history of British diplomacy at the beginning of the book. The historical importance of the Anglo-American diplomatic relationship is detailed and thoroughly stressed in terms of the global significance and influence that the relationship has. Meyer presents an eloquent and emotional defense of the “special relationship” that many have lambasted, emphasising the benefits of the relationship attained for both nations from the relationship by listing some lesser known examples of mutual benefit such as in child abduction cases.

What fascinated me most about Meyer’s memoir is his account of the strained relationships between different departments of government in both nations during his tenure as ambassador. An enthralling power struggle between the Foreign Office and 10 Downing Street for dominance in foreign affairs, especially with the United States, is paralleled by the equivalent power struggle in the USA between the State Department and the Defense Department.

Meyer’s recount of his own unsavoury relationship with 10 Downing Street is riveting, including his description of how he had to fight his way into a crucial Camp David meeting between PM Blair and President Bush in the final preparation stages of invading Iraq, as Number 10 did not want him in that meeting. A strong sense that there was a deep, multi-faceted division between various departments  of government in the run-up to the Iraq War is created. However, Meyer’s credibility as the narrator suffers as a result because of his personal involvement in the rifts between these departments.

I definitely recommend reading this book. It is relevant to the people of both USA and UK. For current politics students in the UK, with the recent controversy surrounding the Chilcot Inquiry and how only the “gists” of the communications between Blair and Bush in the run-up to the war will be published, instead of the full transcripts, Meyer’s memoirs can be especially useful. It can serve as a great introductory book into the matter if you are interested in the UKs involvement in Iraq.

 

Plebgate: An Analysis

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September 2012: Andrew Mitchell, a Tory MP, has just been appointed Conservative Chief Whip in the House of Commons. His political career is reaching new heights. He is now a Cabinet member, and is now widely regarded as a prominent figure of the Conservative Party as well as UK politics as a whole.

But, a month later, he resigns.

Why?

Well, according to Metropolitan police incident logs, Mitchell verbally abused three police officers at the gate of Downing Street after they had told him to use the pedestrian gate instead of the main gate to leave. The most shocking piece of information of the incident was the accusation that Mitchell had labelled the police officers as “plebs”.

The Oxford Dictionary definition of “pleb”: An ordinary person, especially one from the lower social classes.

One can imagine the media frenzy that followed. The Sun demanded an immediate resignation, labelling Mitchell a “millionaire minister with no respect for police officers”. Calls for his resignation came from all corners of society. Despite his vehement denials, especially that he did not use the derogatory insult “pleb”, Mitchell eventually succumbed to the pressure and resigned.

But in December, CCTV footage emerged of the incident. The footage seemed to call into question all accounts of what happened that night, especially the police’s. The video here explains:

Mitchell seemed to be justified. In response, the Metropolitan Police immediately began an investigation into the matter, Operation Alice.

However, the resultant report was non-conclusive. Neither side of the scandal was vindicated: Andrew Mitchell remained unemployed, while the credibility of the police officers was still under attack. Accusations of senior police interference in the investigation as well as a police cover up of the truth were prevalent.

First, the Commons Home Affairs Committee interrogated the three involved police officers, where all three stood by their collective account of events. Then, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), announced that they would also hold an inquiry into the matter. But, it’s been nearly two years since that September night and yet still no one has been vindicated.

Personally, the entire scandal is entertainingly fascinating. The inevitable fact that one side must be telling the truth and the other simply lying through the grit of their teeth means that the political connotations of the scandal are mouth-watering. Conservatives claim that the entire scandal was an intentional ploy to hurt the Conservative government, the police vengeful because of cuts to their funding and changes to employment conditions.

I can’t help but think what the repercussions for the police are if the IPCC report does conclude that they were lying and that they intentionally forced the sacking of a high-ranking Cabinet member.

Trust in the police has not been especially high in recent times. Many social commentators have noted that the relationship between the police and the public has deteriorated massively. The Hillsborough cover-up; the 20th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s death; the revelation that the police are leaking information to the media; the integrity of the police and the authorities seems to be what’s at stake here.

If the IPCC delivers a guilty verdict for the police, there will undoubtedly be resignations and dismissals. But more significantly, public trust in the police and the authorities will decline to a new low, increasing tensions between the public and the police, rendering future enforcement more difficult.

As a side note, Plebgate is useful for Politics students studying the power of Parliamentary Committees. Although the details of the case continue to get murky, it is striking that a member of the Police recently apologised to a House of Commons Committee for not telling the whole truth in a previous encounter. Parliamentary Committees have very little power, except the power to publicise an issue. In this case, the apology was accepted.

The Wikipedia article about Plebgate can be found here.Image

Prisoners’ Right to Vote

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No prisoners serving a sentence in the UK are allowed to vote. The on-going debate in the UK concerning the question of whether prisoners should be allowed to vote in elections can largely be attributed to the European Court of Human Rights ruling in 2005, that the UK’s disenfranchisement of all prisoners contravenes the European Convention of Human Rights.

Ever since that fateful day in 2005, the issue of prisoners’ right to vote has become a mainstay of the UK political scene. The issue has traversed various debates, capable of evoking a wide array of discussions ranging from voting rights and the treatment of criminals, to Parliament’s sovereignty and the relationship between British European law.

Why then haven’t any prisoners been given the right to vote since the European Court’s ruling?

It is because the Human Rights Act only instructs Parliament to pass legislation that is compatible with the ECHR (European Convention of Human Rights). The HRA does not entrench these rights into British law, therefore preserving Parliament’s sovereignty.

This fact is reflected by the Supreme Court’s dismissals of the appeals of Chester and McGeoch in October 2013. The two convicted murderers argued that they should be allowed to vote in European elections, because the ECHR allows them to do so.

In his calls for the Supreme Court to dismiss the two appeals, Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, argued that the Court is not bound to apply the ECHR to UK law, only take them into account when ruling on the legality of any UK legislation.

In its ruling, the court ultimately agreed with Grieve’s arguments, maintaining that the issue of prisoners’ right to vote still remains a matter for national Parliaments: “Eligibility to vote in member states is basically a matter for national legislatures.”

However, the government has conceded that they must introduce reforms, largely because of political reasons. They are reluctant to set a precedent where they outright defy an international convention of which the UK is a signatory of.

This is why there is currently a draft bill being passed through Parliament, and is being scrutinized by a cross-party committee. It represents a compromise between MPs who completely oppose any prisoners being given the vote, and Parliament’s international obligations to comply with the ECHR.

The Supreme Court’s involvement in this issue is significant because it illustrates the awkward position the judiciary is often put into in legal matters where European law directly conflicts with UK law. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the two prisoners’ appeals had little to no impact on Parliament. Even though the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament’s existing ban on prisoner’s voting is legal under UK law, Parliament is still expected to introduce reforms to allow some prisoners the vote in order to fulfill European obligations.

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A Balanced Outlook

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I had a chat with a teacher today. We were discussing what type of newspapers/magazines I should be reading to better inform myself on current affairs. We were discussing what publications would be best for me, when she made a joke about how the right-wing staff at the college would undoubtedly recommend me to read the right-wing publication, The Economist, just as they often do with other students.

At the time, I wasn’t particularly concerned about this claim. The Economist is regarded to be almost a Bible to economists, whether they be aspiring economists, seasoned or executive. Surely it’s not that surprising that members of staff are stressing the importance to students to frequently read such an esteemed publication?

Only when I returned to my boarding house, and see a multitude of The Economists sprawled across the reading room tables and shelves, did I begin to comprehend the possible problems of some teachers’ blatant love and preference of The Economist over every other economic or political publication.

The publication has always had a reputation for displaying a neo-liberal, right-wing approach to economic and social matters. The Guardian has written that “its writers rarely see a political or economic problem that cannot be solved by the trusted three-card trick of privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation”. This notion is exemplified by the fact that since it began endorsing parties in 1955, The Economist has endorsed the Conservative Party in almost all general elections, bar three.

Yes, I know that every newspaper/magazine/website/organisation has a political agenda – it’s impossible to find one without.

Yes, at least the Economist isn’t Fox News, or MSNBC, or the Daily Mail; it offers balanced views on most issues. But that isn’t the point.

The point is that even though this reputation for advocating right-leaning beliefs does not necessarily damage its general credibility as a reliable source of information, containing substantial educational value for all economists, it does become a concern when the publication is depicted by people as an authoritative overview of matters. This is especially dangerous and problematic in schools, where students are only just beginning to formulate their own beliefs and their own ideals.

The Economist cannot be depicted by teachers as an unrivalled, undisputed source of knowledge and information. Students must be made aware of the vast pool of differing opinions and outlooks that exist in the world today, and encouraged to dissect what often seems to be fact, but in fact, is mere opinion.

Students need to have a drive for evaluation instilled in them. This can only be done by having a wide range of resources available. Reading publications such as the New Statesmen, a self-professed left-leaning magazine, that offers a differing view to The Economist should be encouraged; only then can students become evaluative, intuitive, and be able to form original and genuine ideas.Image