I’m not alone in ascribing the seemingly recent eruption of far-right nativism to economic insecurity. After all, the Great Recession wreaked havoc on the global economy, which would seem to underpin hostility toward those perceived to be responsible for a decline in one’s fortunes.

The conventional wisdom is that the economic losses suffered by working-class people throughout the developed world explain the rise of this new right. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are estimated to have been lost due to free trade pacts in recent decades, with industries like manufacturing absorbing much of the pain.

That’s created an ocean of angry and frustrated people — primarily blue-collar and primarily white — who are susceptible to the appeal of a nationalist leader promising to bring back what they feel has been taken away.

But, the rise of Trump and populist parties in Europe cannot be explained by economics. The explanation, according to this very important Vox piece, from which the above quote is taken, lies with white, mostly Christian, men feeling displaced by “others,” especially those with darker skins.

Zack Beauchamp, the author of the linked essay, references dozens of research papers that demonstrate the politics of resentment. A very large segment of the American population, essentially most Republicans and nearly every Trump supporter, fears immigrants, blacks, and government “elites” who, they believe, enabled the demographic changes.

This research finds that, contrary to what you’d expect, the “losers of globalization” aren’t the ones voting for these parties. What unites far-right politicians and their supporters, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a set of regressive attitudes toward difference. Racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia — and not economic anxiety — are their calling cards.

These attitudes, while learned, are deep-seated. They go back generations, and dwell within each of us in varying degrees.

I consider myself a tolerant individual. I would never deliberately offend those who are different from me. Yet, I must admit, based on past experiences, that I have feared “others.”

I’ll retreat to my high-school days at Mt. Diablo, in Concord, Calif. Of 2,000 students over four grades, there was a single black student, one or two of mixed raced, and a small population of Hispanics, some of whose families preceded the arrival of Western caucasians, the dominant segment of both the school and city’s residents.

During the summer of my junior year, while pitching for the local American Legion baseball team, I was chosen by the manager to start a divisional playoff game against Richmond. We were the visitors.

Now, despite having spent my first five years in that city, I was not prepared for the experience. The home crowd for that game was comprised of mostly African Americans. And they were vocal. This 17-year-old pitcher succumbed to playoff pressure. I walked the first five or six batters I faced, before finally calming myself down. Upon reflection, I suspect that much of my anxiety stemmed from fear of those who were different, namely black people. As I said above, my own experience was overwhelming white. It was somewhat of a shock, then, to face a hostile crowd who happened to be mostly dark-skinned.

There was another incident. I travelled on a school bus with a contingent of Mt. Diablo students to attend a football game against rival Pittsburg. That city had, and probably still has, a significant percentage of African Americans. The high school’s student body reflected the wider demographics.

Now, I don’t recall whether or not there were any incidents, but I do remember feeling afraid, an attitude shared by most everyone on the bus, all very white. I regret that fear now, certainly.

I concede that the reaction of far-right groups and individuals may be instinctual, as it likely was in me 50 years ago. However, I cannot condone xenophobia or racism or Trumpism.

Such attitudes, however, must be overcome, not embraced and fueled by political leaders and their associates. Trump is not healthy. He poses a very real danger. As the New York Times‘s editors wrote in their endorsement of Hillary Clinton: “[We believe] Mr. Trump to be the worst nominee put forward by a major party in modern American history.”

Mr. Beauchamp, the Vox writer, offers some hope:

The forces of reaction, of ethno-racial supremacy, have been defeated in the past, and can be defeated again. The key to doing it is to refrain from surrendering on core values — to reaffirm Western societies’ basic commitment to tolerance and to craft policies that promote that commitment rather than back away from it.

The future shouldn’t belong to the Front National and its ilk [including Donald Trump]. It should belong to the people they’re afraid of.

Facts matter

The “basket of deplorables” comment by Ms. Clinton generated strong reaction from the right, of course, but also from more liberal pundits. Yet, in the fog of commentary few bothered to check the numbers. Are half of Mr. Trump’s supporters “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic,” as Ms. Clinton averred? That translates into roughly 20 percent of the population. Could that many people belong in the “basket”? Well, yes.

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic also reacted. He is not too happy with journalists:

…For much of this campaign journalists have attacked Hillary Clinton for being evasive and avoiding hard questioning from their ranks. And then the second Clinton is forthright and says something revealing, she is attacked—not for the substance of what she’s said—but simply for having said it. This hypocrisy carries a chilling implicit message: Lie to me. Lie to the country. Lie to everyone. This weekend was not just another misanalysis, it was a shocking betrayal of the journalistic mission which should urge the revelation of truth as opposed to the propagation of hot takes, Washington jargon, and politics-speak.



Violent deaths are not beautiful, or glorious. Bullets pierce eyes and buttocks and slice off little fingers. Bombs mean nails and screws and assorted shipyard confetti shredding through human flesh and embedding infection and debris deep in the bodies of survivors. There is nothing glorious about any of it. People don’t die gloriously for their beliefs. They die instantly or silently or crying out in pain.

The notion of tactically risible but symbolically meaningful blood sacrifice is one that angry and stymied young men have always embraced, not least this week in Brussels. There is nothing new about disenfranchised twenty-somethings appropriating the images and ideas of whatever religion they happen to grow up around to tart up the essentially adolescent idea that blood cleanses, especially the blood of others.

What we now call radicalisation is simply the age-old desire of the young to believe in purity; to believe in it so completely that it comes above human life. But purity does not exist. Humanity isn’t good enough at any single thing to make it more important than the irreplaceable consciousness of just one of us.

— Maria Farrell, writing for Crooked Timber

The person trumps the idea.


Writing for The Nation, Joshua Holland reports on the motivations of ISIS bombers. Religion is certainly part of it. But most of the rationale for killing, often via suicide, is a reaction to actual and perceived oppression. He writes:

ISIS emerged from the insurgency against the US occupation of Iraq just as the Al Qaeda network traces its origins to the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

If you believe in causal chains, then we have to point the finger at G.W. Bush and his merry band of neocons, most notably Dick Cheney, for creating the conditions that led to ISIS.

As Sir Isaac used to say, for every action there is an equal, opposite reaction. We can call it “blowback.”



Open society and its enemies

A quote in the New York Times, following today’s ISIS attacks in Belgium:

“The problems are political. They let develop violent Islamist currents. They were not disrupted because they didn’t want problems with the Muslim community.”

Bernard Squarcini, the former head of French internal intelligence, predicted in an interview here several weeks ago that “there are already the people in place.”

“There will be an even more serious attack.”

Indeed, the presumed orchestrator of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, boasted to his cousin before he was killed that “90” operatives were dormant, ready for another attack.

“We are in a situation of structural vulnerability,” Mr. Hayez said. “That’s what democracy is. It’s an open society. There will always be risk.”

Aside from rhetorically condemning the “barbarism,” as Bernie Sanders has done, what to do? Both Cruz and Trump would have us close national borders, with Cruz adding that it’s time to put an end to “progressivism.” No more tolerance. No more political correctness, to be sure.

Rewinding history may help us understand causal connections, but offer few solutions for going forward. Surely invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan did not result in “mission accomplished.” Indeed, these aggressive acts on our part no doubt contributed to resentment among more radical Muslims. Now we’re engaged in an indefinite series of actions and reactions, with disastrous outcomes.

Some among us would simply destroy the Middle East, its lands, edifices, and people. Spared destruction would be oil facilities and Israel, I suppose. Enough negotiating and diplomacy. Bring out the guns and let the chips fall where they may.

Hitler, of course, had a Final Solution for the undesirables, along with global conquest. At least one candidate expresses sympathy for such views, substituting Muslims for Jews. I should imagine that the terrorist attacks serve him well.

The creeping right

You may have wondered, as I often do, how Democrats prevail at the national level in the election of presidents but have done so abysmally in state legislatures. Republicans now control a majority of state houses and governors’ mansions. Even Washington state, known as a liberal bastion for years, last electing a Republican governor in 1980, sees the Republicans controlling its senate and nearly besting the Democrats in the house.

Thomas Edsall, a sociology professor and frequent contributor to the New York Times, provides some insight in today’s column. He quotes a professor of political science:

“It comes purely from a strategic political calculus,” according to Thad Kousser, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego:

The federal government has become more progressive over its history in the case of slavery, the New Deal, the civil rights advances from 1957-1965, and the environmental regulations of the 1970s. When you lose battles at the national level but still hold sway in many states, taking a stand for states’ rights becomes the rational thing to do.

Americans, on the whole, are a liberal lot. But there is only one nationally elected position, that of president. States, meanwhile, are more diverse, and in some cases far more conservative bastions, especially in the South.

The Republicans and their wealthy benefactors steadily gained control of states by appealing to racist and religious sentiments, which are decidedly pronounced in former Confederate regions but also exist within state boundaries. For example, while Seattle and the Puget Sound area are solidly liberal and progressive, counties east of the Cascade Mountains might as well be Iowa or Kansas.

Edsall suggests that the Democratic Party and its wealthy patrons failed to appreciate the Republicans’ strategy for dominating states. Moreover, conservatives can rely on community organizations, especially churches and social groups like the Elks, to establish and maintain their political hegemony. Liberals and progressives, on the other hand, lack such community-based institutions, save for unions, which, as we know, have been hemorrhaging members over the last several decades. Edsall:

Rob Stein, a founder of the Democracy Alliance — a “partnership” of liberal donors established in 2005 — pointed out in a phone interview that the right can tap into an embedded

structure of community-based cultural, religious, social organizations — churches, Elks, veterans halls, gun groups, local business organizations, etc. — that are gathering places with offices, meeting halls, phones and computers that can be used by activist troops for logistical and operational support.

Stein, who has worked in the field for decades, said that the result for conservatives is that

your volunteers and paid activists come out of a values-based institution, which is essentially not a political institution. People are there because of their values. If you come to politics from a club or church or veterans hall, it reinforces the stickiness of your work, your willingness to keep at it even if you are tired.

How does it feel?

Amidst the bellicosity and vengefulness of Republican presidential candidates in their shared resolve to eradicate “radical Islam,” we learn that roughly nine our of every 10 people killed by U.S.-launched drone strikes in Afghanistan, and perhaps a similar number elsewhere, are civilians. Among the dead are children.

Imagine that you are a grieving Afghan parent of a dead child. Neither you nor any member of your family was involved in hostilities. You just wanted to be left alone to live under precarious circumstances. But you are also angry that an errant missile struck your child and perhaps dozens of others.

In America, the Administration regrets the “inadvertent” casualties, suggesting that the deaths were “collateral damage” as part of the U.S. effort to prosecute its “war on terror,” an otherwise noble and necessary cause.

You, the Afghan parent, find no solace whatsoever in such words, deeming them feeble excuses. Besides, it is obvious to you that your life and the lives of your family simply don’t matter.

In America, Islamic “radicals” mow down innocents celebrating the holidays. We Americans are outraged. Some of us condemn Islam itself. Others would ban all Muslim immigrants. A few would obliterate entire Islamic countries, converting “collateral” into “intentional” damage.

Implicit in such reactions is the belief that America can kill innocents abroad but that no one should be allowed to kill Americans at home. We count. They don’t. Asymmetry.

Such is empire.