Sunday, November 06, 2016

Authoritarianism, populism and Trump

A couple of new pieces on the current American authoritarian movement.

Anna Applebaum signs up for what seems to be morphing into conventional press wisdom about populism: the notion that populism is only rightwing, anti-democratic populism (Trump is a threat to the West as we know it, even if he loses 11/04/2016):

They share ideas and ideology, friends and funders. They cross borders to appear at one another’s rallies. They have deep contacts in Russia — they often use Russian disinformation — as well as friends in other authoritarian states. They despise the West and seek to undermine Western institutions. They think of themselves as a revolutionary avant-garde just like, once upon a time, the Communist International, or Comintern, the Soviet-backed organization that linked communist parties around Europe and the world. Now, of course, they are not Soviet-backed, and they are not communist. But this loose group of parties and politicians — Austria’s Freedom Party, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the UK Independence Party, Hungary’s Fidesz, Poland’s Law and Justice, Donald Trump — have made themselves into a global movement of “anti-globalists.” Meet the “Populist International”: Whoever wins the U.S. election Tuesday, its influence is here to stay.
A Populist International headed by Vladimir Putin? As Charlie Pierce likes to say: Honky, please!

This simplistic anti-Russian rhetoric from Democrats and liberals is one of the more disturbing features of this year's Presidential contest. Democratic hawkish toward Russia is nothing new. It's been a bad policy habit of theirs for a while. Though the Republicans have generally been worse. And I doubt that would change much in a Trump Administration.

The Clinton campaign's chair John Podesta was on Meet the Press today. After dealing with a question from Chuck Todd on supposedly lower black early voting turnout in North Carolina compared to 2012 without bringing the Republican voter-suppression campaign against minorities there and nationwide, Podesta proceeded to make this comment, "Donald Trump, who's adopted, essentially, Russian follo-- foreign policy and rejected bipartisan U.S. foreign policy."

This dogmatic Russia-baiting is going to wind up producing even worse foreign policy decisions than the developing Cold War 2.0 mentality already has.

Getting back to Applebaum's column, she also uses the zombie idea that Edmund Burke was a conservative. He was a flaming reactionary! Corey Robin overstated his case in The Reactionary Mind (2011) in arguing that American conservatives were all really reactionaries. But he's right about Burke being a reactionary rather than a conservative.

But Jason Stanley's op-ed piece Beyond Lying: Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Reality New York Times 11/04/2016 is a good analysis. Including this:

Trump’s narrative about “inner cities” is so old that young people are unfamiliar with it. There is no national crime wave. While increases have occurred in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, violent crime in the United States remains at historic lows. (A thorough study of this topic can be found at

The simple picture Trump is trying to convey is that there is wild disorder, because of American citizens of African-American descent, and immigrants. He is doing it as a display of strength, showing he is able to define reality and lead others to accept his authoritarian value system.

The chief authoritarian values are law and order. In Trump’s value system, nonwhites and non-Christians are the chief threats to law and order.
Trump knows that reality does not call for a value-system like his; violent crime is at almost historic lows in the United States. Trump is thundering about a crime wave of historic proportions, because he is an authoritarian using his speech to define a simple reality that legitimates his value system, leading voters to adopt it. Its strength is that it conveys his power to define reality. Its weakness is that it obviously contradicts it. [my emphasis]

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