And win

Vote for the largest im­mov­able ob­ject in the path of the ex­treme right, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

In the sec­ond round of France’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in 2002, the left was faced with an un­fa­mil­iar chal­lenge: what ac­ces­sories to wear to the polls. The So­cial­ist can­di­date, Lionel Jospin, had been knocked out in the first round. Now the choice was be­tween the fas­cist Na­tional Front can­di­date, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and the con­ser­va­tive sleaze mag­net, Jac­ques Chirac.

There were no good op­tions. Chirac had once opined that French work­ers were be­ing driven crazy by the “noise and smell” of im­mi­grants. But there was cer­tainly a cat­a­strophic op­tion: the elec­tion of Le Pen, who had branded peo­ple who had Aids as “lep­ers” and triv­i­alised the Nazi gas cham­bers as “a de­tail” in his­tory.

So the left con­sid­ered cast­ing bal­lots for Chirac wear­ing gloves or sur­gi­cal masks (un­til they were told do­ing so might nul­lify their bal­lots).

“When the house is on fire,” François Gi­acalone, a Com­mu­nist Party lo­cal coun­cil­lor, told The Guardian, “you don’t care too much if the wa­ter you put it out with is dirty.”

In 2016, Don­ald Trump’s clinch­ing the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion in the same week that a right wing ex­trem­ist nar­rowly lost the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Aus­tria raises a se­ri­ous strate­gic chal­lenge for the pro­gres­sive left. We are rightly buoyed by the no­tion that a bet­ter world is pos­si­ble and have tasked our­selves with cre­at­ing it. But it is no less true that, at any given mo­ment, a far worse world is pos­si­ble too, and we should do ev­ery­thing in our power to en­sure that we don’t let some­body else cre­ate that.

There are two cru­cial dis­tinc­tions to be made here. The first is to dis­tin­guish be­tween those po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents who are merely bad, and those who rep­re­sent an ex­is­ten­tial threat to ba­sic demo­cratic rights. The sec­ond is to draw a clear dis­tinc­tion be­tween the elec­toral and the po­lit­i­cal.

For ex­am­ple, Mitt Rom­ney was bad: had he been elected in 2012, ter­ri­ble things would’ve hap­pened, and it is a good thing that he was de­feated.

But Trump is of a dif­fer­ent or­der en­tirely. Xeno­pho­bic, Is­lam­o­pho­bic, un­hinged and un­teth­ered to any broader po­lit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture, he has en­dorsed his sup­port­ers’ phys­i­cally at­tack­ing protesters. His elec­tion would rep­re­sent a paradig­matic shift in what is pos­si­ble for the Amer­i­can right.

To call Trump a fas­cist may sug­gest more ide­o­log­i­cal co­her­ence than his blather de­serves. But he is cer­tainly part of that ex­tended fam­ily and, as such, rep­re­sents the kind of threat that Rom­ney, for ex­am­ple, did not.

The same is true of Le Pen and Nor­bert Hofer, the hard-right Aus­trian pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who called gun own­er­ship “the nat­u­ral con­se­quence” of im­mi­gra­tion. The fact that the Aus­trian pres­i­dency is pri­mar­ily cer­e­mo­nial is be­side the point; had Hofer won, oth­ers in more sub­stan­tial po­si­tions would have fol­lowed.

Since this kind of threat is of a dif­fer­ent or­der, so should be the re­sponse. While fas­cists have learnt to cloak their big­otry in less in­flam­ma­tory rhetoric (one more rea­son Trump is an out­lier – this is a trick he has yet to learn, though I’m sure the Repub­li­cans have their best folks work­ing on it), their blunt mes­sage must be met with a blunt re­sponse. They must be stopped. And if their route to power is through the bal­lot box, they must be stopped there.

The ques­tion of whether, in the US, for ex­am­ple, one should forgo the two main par­ties for a third that is not be­holden to big money and will back the in­ter­ests of the poor and marginalised is an im­por­tant one. But the ques­tion in th­ese in­stances is not whether we will be in a bet­ter or worse po­si­tion to or­gan­ise and fight back af­ter the elec­tion, but whether there will be fu­ture elec­tions at all – and if so, in what at­mos­phere of in­tim­i­da­tion and co­er­cion they might take place.

In that case, one should vote for the largest im­mov­able ob­ject in the path of the ex­treme right – whether that’s Bernie San­ders or Hil­lary Clin­ton or Chirac or Alexan­der Van der Bellen, the for­mer Green Party spokesper­son who nar­rowly beat Hofer in Aus­tria. But while de­feat­ing th­ese forces at the polls is im­por­tant, it is also in­suf­fi­cient.

It does noth­ing to tackle the un­der­ly­ing causes for their pop­u­lar­ity or ad­dress the griev­ances on which th­ese par­a­sites feed. Pre­vent­ing them from gain­ing of­fice is in no way com­men­su­rate with stem­ming their in­flu­ence or power.

Take the most likely US pres­i­den­tial matchup: Clin­ton and Trump. Trump’s rise is rooted, to a sig­nif­i­cant ex­tent, in the pro­found dis­en­chant­ment of a sec­tion of the white work­ing class cre­ated by the ef­fects of ne­olib­eral glob­al­i­sa­tion in the wake of the most re­cent eco­nomic crash. Hil­lary’s staunch­est ad­vo­cate (her hus­band), whose legacy she shares on the stump (“We lifted peo­ple out of poverty” and “We cre­ated jobs”) bears con­sid­er­able re­spon­si­bil­ity for the con­di­tions that made Trump pos­si­ble.

Bill Clin­ton’s re­peal of the Glass-Stea­gall Act ex­ac­er­bated the eco­nomic col­lapse, and his em­brace of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment helped de­press wages. Hil­lary backed th­ese ini­tia­tives at the time, even if she has rowed back on some of them since. Set­ting her up in po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion to Trump pits part of the cause against the symp­tom, with no sug­ges­tion of an an­ti­dote.

So even as one votes for Clin­ton – if she’s the nom­i­nee, then no one else is go­ing to be able to stop Trump from tak­ing power – one must pre­pare to or­gan­ise against her. If she wins, her agenda will make an even­tual vic­tory for some­one like Trump more likely, not less so.

More than a decade af­ter Le Pen’s de­feat, his daugh­ter, who now heads the Na­tional Front, could yet reach the run-offs again. Hofer’s Free­dom Party came in at sec­ond place in the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in 1999 and was in a coali­tion gov­ern­ment.

Elec­tions alone can­not de­feat the pop­ulist right; we have to drain the swamp from which they gather their bait. When your house is ablaze, you grab what­ever’s handy and put out the flames. But when the flames are quenched, the la­bo­ri­ous task of fire­proof­ing is in or­der.

– The Na­tion, dis­trib­uted by Agence Global

Younge is a colum­nist for The Na­tion


HISTRIONICS The elec­tion of Don­ald Trump would rep­re­sent a par­a­digm shift in what is pos­si­ble for the Amer­i­can right


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