Sunday, November 27, 2016
Trump and the Overton window
The Overton window refers to the range of topics that is permitted to be discussed in polite society.
The article below is from Brian McNair, a professor of journalism at a minor Australian university. And, like all Leftist writing, what he leaves out makes a big difference. He is basically disrespectful of the Trump triumph, as are most Leftists. To spice up his argument, however, he rightly observes that Hitler came to power through regular democratic processes too. So he hints that Trump will be another Hitler.
Many Leftists just say Bush=Hitler, Trump=Hitler etc. without making any real argument for their assertions but Prof. McNair makes a lightly reasoned historical case for his comparison so I think that warrants a reply.
He rightly observes that Hitler too railed against the establishment and a remote elite that did not care about the people. But socialist politicians regularly rail against the establishment and a remote elite that does not care about the people. And Hitler was a socialist. The only oddity is that a semi-conservative like Trump did it. And the various socialist postwar governments worldwide have not become Hitler clones so why should Trump? Our bitter professor does not mention that. He ignores all the examples that contradict his argument.
And the differences between Hitler and Trump matter too. Hitler was undoubtedly one of the greatest warmongers the world has seen whereas Trump is a peacenik. He is on buddy terms with Mr Putin and wants to withdraw American troops abroad back home to America. In that regard he is a traditional American isolationist. It is Clinton who was rhetorically attacking Russia, not Trump. Hitler did talk peace at times but from his re-militarization of the Rhineland onwards he expanded the territorial reach of his armed forces -- unlike Trump's desire to pull back U.S. armed forces.
So it is just the usual Leftist cheap shot to compare Trump with Hitler. Just because two people have some similarities does not mean that they are the same. It is a foolish and empty argument.
The point of the article, however, is a recognition of something that has not much been discussed so far: Trump has shifted the Overton window rightwards. The success of Trump has made all his policy positions respectable. Before Trump, for instance, limiting Muslim immigration was "racist" to both the GOP and the Donks. The Leftists still say that but the Right no longer agree. They can now discuss the matter without being shut down. They can in fact not only discuss it but win elections by saying it. So both sides of the issue can now be discussed pretty freely, which was not previously the case
And our professor sees that shift in what journalists say and discuss. He sees that they now treat Trump's policy positions with more respect. They discuss them instead of simply abusing them. And THAT has got our professor riled. He calls the new normal "subjectivity" and yearns for the good old says when political correctness -- which he amusingly refers to as "objectivity" -- reigned supreme. He makes a plea for a return to it but is clearly despairing of that happening. He is right about that.
As the results of the 2016 election came in, the mainstream media in America and around the world demonstrated their inability to cope with the challenge of a president Trump within the conventional paradigms of journalistic objectivity, balance and fairness. Or, rather, to cope without normalising the most conspicuously overt racism, sexism, and proto-fascism ever seen in a serious candidate for president.
As street protests broke out in Portland, Oregon in the days after the election, for example, BBC World noted the police definition of the events as a “riot”, in response to what it coyly described as “some racist remarks” made by Donald Trump during his campaign.
A man whose comments were denounced even by his own party chief Paul Ryan as “textbook racism”, and whose references to “grabbing pussy”, “a nasty woman”, “Miss House Keeping” and other indicators of unabashed misogyny horrified millions in the US across the party spectrum, was now president.
For the BBC, henceforth, criticism of even the most outlandish and offensive remarks – when judged by the standards of recent decades – would be severely muted, if not excluded. Suddenly, rather can call a spade a spade in coverage of Trump’s hate-mongering campaign, his ascendancy to office had legitimised those views, and the process of normalisation had begun.
The mainstream media have largely followed suit in this approach to Trump’s victory, bestowing a new respectability on what before election day had been generally reported as absurdly offensive statements and policies. One can without too much imagination foresee Ku Klux Klan chief David Duke becoming an expert commentator on CNN or MSNBC (or at least on Fox News).
In News Corp outlets all over the world, from Sky News and The Australian here to Fox in the US, commentators and pundits were to the fore in constructing legitimacy around his policies, insofar as anyone really knows what they are.
This descent into normalisation of the hitherto unacceptable, occasioned by Trump’s democratically endowed seizure of political power as of November 8, is very similar to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in 1930s Germany.
Hitler’s ascent, and all that came from it, was a product of free choices made in ballot boxes, and of free media coverage which moved to the extreme right with the ruling party.
Then, as now, a demagogic populist exploited perceptions of victimhood and “anti-elitism”, targeting ethnic and religious minorities as “the enemy”. No-one forced national socialism on the German people, or on their media, nor on the many Western media such as the Daily Mail in England that spoke out in his favour.
Post-November 8, the mainstream media have shown their inability to engage with the enormity of what is happening in Western and global politics within conventional paradigms of objectivity. Left to them, the slide into fascism will simply become another news story, another “he said, she said” performance of balance, legitimised by the fact that this is what democracy has delivered. No matter that in the 1930s the same obeisance led to the Holocaust.
This tendency is not the fault of the mainstream media, nor of their journalists, who are simply applying the professional codes and practices with which they have been raised. But they will need to do better.
For those in the media who wish to stem a slide into democratically legitimised fascism in the next four years – and similar processes are now unfolding in Europe, Australia and elsewhere – it is time to rethink the appropriate response of “objective” journalism to the post-factual politics of extreme subjectivity.
UK: Sex, politics and censorship
Porn Panic! provides a frightening portrait of the left’s abandonment of liberty
The political journey of Jerry Barnett, the author of Porn Panic! Sex and Censorship in the UK, has been a fascinating if rather unusual one. His grandfather, Albert, was among the thousands of Jews, locals and Communists who fought off Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts when they tried to march through the Jewish East End in 1936. The Battle of Cable Street, as it became known, was an inspiring example of people taking matters into their own hands. ‘Women threw heavy pots out of the windows on to the fascists’ heads. The police deployed their truncheons against the protesters, but were beaten back, along with the fascists’, writes Barnett. Albert’s daughter, Jerry Barnett’s mother, was also politically active – in the Women’s Lib movement in the 1960s, campaigning for equal rights and sexual liberation. He himself joined the socialist Militant Tendency in the 1970s. But after Margaret Thatcher’s historic defeat of the miners in 1985, Barnett, like many on the left, dropped out of politics.
It was his experience in the porn industry that eventually brought him back to political activism. By that stage, he writes, the left was unrecognisable. As Barnett argues, since the French Revolution, the left has been associated with progress, liberty and equality, and the right with the maintenance of the status quo. But today, the threat to liberty no longer comes from right-wing moralists, such as the ‘veteran decency campaigner’, Mary Whitehouse. Rather, it comes from a new army of morality campaigners largely on the left. ‘The old moralists had wielded the Bible in one hand, and the Daily Mail in the other’, writes Barnett. ‘This new movement was younger. Instead of coming from Middle England, it arrived from academia. Rather than use the language of religious morality, it appeared under the umbrella of feminism and liberalism. And in place of the Mail, it was backed by the Guardian.’
The complete transformation of the left was disconcerting for Barnett. ‘I was a Labour-voting (well, until Iraq anyway), Guardian-reading leftie; what had happened to my tribe?’ It is particularly the ban-happy nature of the puritanical left that disturbs Barnett. ‘The reality – that the Guardian has taken a conscious decision to become a pro-censorship paper – is hard to swallow. It took me, once a loyal Guardianista, several years to appreciate what had happened’, he writes.
Barnett fought against the National Front in the 1970s. He now sees his fight to be against the ’new fascists’ – the left. I agree that the left today tends to undermine the very principles its representatives fought for in the past – liberty, equality and democracy – but the overused term ‘fascists’ is not particularly useful or illuminating as a description of the left. Where Barnett is right, however, is in locating the problem with the left in terms of a loss of faith in Enlightenment values. That is, because the left has abandoned human autonomy, agency and the power of reason, it will now ‘accept the right of the state to intervene in the most trivial matters of interpersonal speech and political and artistic expression’. Hence the case for state interference is largely made by the left rather than the right. As Barnett argues, ‘this new, authoritarian, puritanical movement of the left has been so successful that the conservative right has abandoned its old moralistic language and appropriated the new terminology of the left’.
Today the threat to liberty comes from a new army of morality campaigners largely on the left
Barnett focuses much of his ire on contemporary feminism – which has been transformed from a ‘force for liberation’ into a ‘force for censorship’. ‘Having spent years arguing that women were equally capable to men’, writes Barnett, ‘[feminists now argue] that women [are] indeed the weaker sex, requiring additional protection from the state’. The fact that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could entertain the idea of women-only carriages on trains indicates the changing attitudes to equality.
Barnett systematically takes apart the arguments of the new moralists, and shows the shoddiness of the ‘science’ they rely upon. Take feminist campaign-group Object’s shocking claim that ‘polls suggest 63 per cent of young women aspire to be glamour models or lap dancers’. This figure was arrived at by asking young women whether they would rather be Abi Titmuss (a model and actress), Germaine Greer (a feminist author and academic) or Anita Roddick (a businesswoman). As Barnett writes: ‘It was meaningless fluff designed to generate press coverage, but from Object’s point of view, it constituted evidence.’
Barnett recognises that to defend free speech we need to wholeheartedly defend the right of those with whom we disagree to say and think whatever they want. We have the right and capacity to challenge or ignore them, as we see fit. ‘Only a true elitist could try to dictate which ideas other people have access to, rather than join the debate and win by force of reason’, he writes. The most shocking aspect of the new forms of censorship for Barnett was the near silence on this issue from so-called liberals. ‘I found many apparently liberal people were only opposed to censorship of things they enjoyed, but would not extend that principle to things they disapproved of.’
Barnett defends pornography because he thinks it is a good thing. But he is equally prepared to defend the rights of those with whom he disagrees.
Not that he always had such a principled position on free speech. In the 1970s, Barnett supported the left’s No Platform policies. Even in 2009, when Nick Griffin, the then leader of the far-right British National Party, was invited to appear on BBC’s Question Time, Barnett was among those protesting outside the BBC’s studio about its decision to give Griffin a platform. However, he is now prepared to admit he was wrong to do so. It dawned on Barnett that Griffin’s ideas were neither powerful nor dangerous. In the television debate, Griffin’s simplistic and outdated ideas were exposed, and proved very easy to challenge.
In universities, No Platform policies have been extended to an ever-growing list of individuals whose ideas are seen as too dangerous for students to be exposed to. The erosion of liberal values in universities – with the emergence of trigger warnings, Safe Spaces and the banning of ‘homophobic’ or ‘misogynist’ songs – is, as Barnett puts it, one of the ‘most worrying signs of the change to British political culture’.
Barnett also raises concerns about the lynch-mob mentality of today’s moral entrepreneurs. This is perfectly encapsulated by the witch-hunt in 2013 against Isabelle Sorley, then 23, and John Nimmo, then 25, who were arrested and jailed for sending abusive messages to journalist Caroline Criado-Perez on Twitter. The public vilification of two rather pathetic individuals demonstrates the mean-spirited streak that runs through today’s elites, and their middle-class, liberal and lefty supporters. ‘The trial coverage reeked of sneering class snobbery’, Barnett writes. ‘The greatest impetus for censorship tends to come where unacceptable lines are crossed, and there is no line more fiercely defended by the middle classes than between themselves and the great unwashed.’
The fact that hardly anyone questioned whether the state should have the right to arrest and imprison people for what they say or write, shows the extent to which liberals have abandoned any belief in liberty. Drawing on the great work of the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, Barnett argues for the importance of differentiating between words and deeds. Of course, there are some exceptions, such as an army general ordering his troops to shoot randomly. But as Barnett points out, that is an order to be obeyed, not an argument to be debated.
Humans are not automatons who respond unthinkingly to words or images. Central to Enlightenment thinking is the idea that we are all capable of listening to, weighing up and refuting ideas if we disagree with them. If we think only some people can be exposed to backward ideas without turning into racists or misogynists, we have given up on the idea of equality. To silence ideas liberals don’t like, denies others the opportunity to challenge those ideas.
Porn Panic! does glorify pornography, and I found the arguments for porn unpersuasive. But Barnett provides an entertaining – albeit frightening – picture of the transformation of left-wing politics over the past three decades. He provides a refreshing defence of human autonomy and agency and our ability to find solutions to life’s many challenges without state interference. ‘Human problems require human responses’, concludes Barnett, ‘not the smothering security blanket preferred by the British state’.
UK: The hatefulness of Stop Funding Hate
This anti-tabloid campaign loathes ordinary people
In possibly the most middle-class attack on the free press ever, campaign group Stop Funding Hate has made its own John Lewis-style Christmas advert, calling on big brands to boycott the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Express by removing their advertising.
According to its Facebook page, Stop Funding Hate aims to ‘tackle the culture of hate, demonisation and division that is poisoning our political discourse’, and claims tabloids are spreading ‘hate speech’. In the video, against the backdrop of sentimental festive advert clips and accompanied by weepy music, the viewer is informed, ‘The money we spend on gifts is used to stir HOSTILITY’. This is followed by snapshots of tabloid headlines about migrants and Muslims.
It goes on: ‘This is not a Christmas ad, but it is about them. Every year there’s another beautiful story with a message about looking out for others even if they are distant strangers, even if we’ve been told they’re our enemy. But once the tinsel has been taken down, everything changes and millions of pounds we spend at Christmas at John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and M&S is used to buy adverts in papers with another message, that some of us are different, that some of us are only a PROBLEM, a BURDEN or a THREAT.’
The idea is that – in a fit of moral rage, presumably – shoppers at those stores will write to the companies and demand they withdraw advertising from the nasty tabloids. Whether they do this before or after they’ve bought their organic Christmas turkey and curly kale is not clear.
The video has been viewed 6.3million times, shared over 200,000 times on Facebook, and garnered tens of thousands of retweets. It’s already had one significant win: Danish toy manufacturer Lego announced at the weekend that it was withdrawing all advertising from the Daily Mail. Apparently, the Co-op is also reviewing its advertising after pressure from campaigners, and Gary Lineker has backed the campaign and spoken to Walkers Crisps, which he promotes, about its advertising.
According to its Facebook page, Stop Funding Hate began as ‘an online community horrified by the upsurge in media hate speech that accompanied the [EU] referendum’. An online petition – the first tool in the armchair activist’s toolbox – inevitably followed. The petition, which has so far received over 46,000 signatures, calls on Virgin Media to stop advertising in the Sun. ‘We fully support freedom of expression, and freedom of the press’, the page declares, alongside other laughable claims, such as: ‘We don’t take sides in political debates.’ Strangely, it only seems to target right-leaning newspapers that backed Leave.
This campaign is entirely about censorship. Supporters of Stop Funding Hate want the Daily Mail and Co to lose money – hopefully leading to their demise – because they don’t like what they say. When the Daily Mail printed its ‘Enemies of the people’ front page after three High Court judges ruled that triggering Article 50 would have to go to a parliamentary vote, Stop Funding Hate tweeted a photo of the front page to the government, as well as to various advertisers, asking them to boycott. One tweet said: ‘Share if you think @British_Airways should stop funding newspapers that undermine British #democracy.’ But in a democracy, public figures should never be above criticism. Tabloids fulfil an important role by brashly questioning the status quo and the elites of society. You may not like what they say, but you are under no obligation to buy them.
Stop Funding Hate justifies its censorious activism by claiming it is simply encouraging people to exercise their rights as consumers: ‘We believe people have the right to make choices based on the values of companies they may purchase from – and to speak out when something doesn’t sit right.’ This is disingenuous. As a consumer, you can choose not to buy certain newspapers or shop in certain stores. But putting pressure on advertisers to withdraw money from newspapers due to their editorial line is something different. This is a barely veiled attempt to shut down newspapers some people disagree with.
Another thing that defines Stop Funding Hate is hypocrisy. ‘We are against all demonisation and hate speech, whatever the motivation and whoever the target’, claims its Facebook page. It is curious, then, that the group has remained so quiet about the hatred towards Leave voters expressed in the supposedly liberal media. During the referendum, a writer in the New Statesman described Brexit voters as ‘the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain’, and Guardian writer Polly Toynbee said the Leave campaign had ‘lifted several stones’.
This isn’t just about the tabloids, it’s about the ‘little people’ who read the tabloids. Stop Funding Hate believes tabloid readers are brainwashed bigots. It accuses the Daily Mail of being divisive, and yet it assumes that vast swathes of the public are incapable of independent thought. Luckily, the tabloids’ popularity will probably limit the campaign’s impact. Combining print and online, the Daily Mail is the most popular British newspaper, with 23million monthly readers. The Sun remains the most read print title, with 12.7million monthly readers. These are figures I’m sure John Lewis and Sainsbury’s will bear in mind.
This Christmas, Stop Funding Hate’s heartwarming, festive message is that millions of tabloid readers cannot be trusted to think for themselves, so it is best that the bien pensant society censor the press for their good. Meanwhile, the Sun has just launched its Christmas appeal, asking readers to knit a blanket for children in poverty-stricken or war-torn countries. How hateful.
Evil Empire-bashing is no longer the preserve of the right
During the old Cold War, it tended to be right-wing Western politicians who were most comfortable stoking the fires of anti-Russian fear and loathing. Think of McCarthyite warnings of reds under the beds in 1950s America or of US president Ronald Reagan’s attacks on the ‘evil empire’ in the 1980s. But no more. Today, conjuring up Russia as the nefarious demiurge of world affairs, with Vlad the Bad Putin as demon-in-chief, has almost become the self-styled progressive’s stock-in-trade. Think of Russia’s almost pariah status in the international community, of the ease with which the right-thinking liken its actions to those of Hitler’s Germany. And think of Hillary Clinton and her supporters during the US election routinely painting now president-elect Donald Trump as ‘Putin’s puppet’, and accusing Russia of hacking and quasi-rigging the election. So while there are of course still plenty on the right of Western politics (to the extent that a right exists) who cling to the certainties of the old Cold War, it’s the liberals, the left-leaning, the now frayed and frazzled establishment, who seem most keen to fuel the fires of the new Cold War, in an attempt to rediscover some sense of moral purpose.
You can see it in the anxious, Putin-fearing response to Trump’s election victory. ‘Some in Europe worry that the Russian president may already be rubbing his hands with glee’, reports NBC. This after all fits the pre-election narrative of Trump as Putin’s grotesque marionette. And now that Trump has been installed, Putin, noted for his ‘aggressive behaviour’, as the New York Times puts it, can continue ‘to try to revive Russian greatness’, with all the chaos and peril that entails.
Over and over again, Russia is portrayed as the bringer of global instability, and now the power behind Trump’s throne. So The Times (London) happily reports that a former UK ambassador to Moscow claims that Putin is gearing up for a ‘hot war’. Elsewhere, a commentator warns that Putin ‘is ruthless and decisive and we are not’. And all agree that Trump’s victory is also a victory for Putin. Former NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen even urged Trump to recognise that ‘the best approach with Russia is a firm hand’. After all, without the US’s firm hand, Russia will be all too free to pursue its ‘revanchist mission’, as the NYT puts it: its ‘Soviet policy [of] preventing Western encirclement… fighting proxy battles to support Russian interests… and challenging Western power wherever possible’.
From the liberal anti-Russian perspective, the post-Trump anxiety over Russia is understandable. Trump has called NATO, that remnant of US, Cold War-era imperialism, ‘obsolete’; he has praised Putin’s leadership, saying he’d give it an ‘A’; and, during this week’s phonecall to Putin, Trump stressed he was ‘very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia’. So if you’re convinced that Russia is intent on bringing the West down, and reviving its ‘evil empire’ in the West’s stead, Trump’s ‘bromance’ with Putin, his denigration of the Western military alliance of NATO, and his readiness to throw the US’s lot in with Russia really will look a little bit like the end of the world.
But then, that’s the problem with this all-too-mainstream animus towards Russia; not only does it fuel and entrench the new Cold War, it blinds its advocates to their own role in fomenting this new Cold War. They can demonise Putin, they can wax darkly about Russian atavism, and invoke its imperial designs, but it’s not Putin who is planning on deploying 4,000 troops to the Baltic states and Poland – it’s NATO. It’s not Putin who is going to send a heavy infantry brigade to Eastern Europe early next year – it is Obama’s US. And it is not Putin who, witnessing a section of another nation’s people protesting an election result, sides with the protesters and says conspiratorially ‘they deserve free, fair, transparent elections’ – that was then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2011, talking about Russia’s presidential elections.
In fact, Clinton has been an orchestrator-in-chief of the anti-Russian forces. She has spoken of seeking to ‘confine, contain, [and] deter Russian aggression in Europe and beyond’; she said Russia’s annexation of Crimea after the West/EU-stoked unrest in Ukraine, was reminiscent of Hitler’s justification for taking over parts of Eastern Europe; and, in the run-up to her failed election bid, she declared, ‘I remain convinced that we need a concerted effort to really up the costs on Russia and in particular on Putin’.
This is not just rhetoric. It had and continues to have real, destablising consequences. So over the past couple of months, with many predicting the victory of the anti-Russian, anti-Putin Clinton, Russia has rapidly increased its involvement and intervention in Syria: Russian warships and submarines are in place off the Syrian coastline; aircraft are flying and bombing; and Iranian and Hezbollah militias are actively assisting the reinforced Syrian regime. And the strategic motivation for ramping up the military campaign in Syria now, and with such brutality? A fear of a Clinton presidency, replete in anti-Russian sentiment, and determinedly anti-Assad commitment.
This is the effect the new liberal, right-thinking purveyors of the Cold War have been having on world affairs. They have been destabilising relationships, exacerbating tensions and prompting Russia to retroactively aggress, act out, protect itself. Given all this, is it not possible that Trump’s seemingly conciliatory approach towards Russia, which while no longer super, is still a power, is far less likely to disorder and barbarise assorted regions of the world than the not-so-passive aggression of a Clinton White House?
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.