Trump stays on mes­sage for midterms. Right-wing gains in Brazil and Ger­many. In­de­pen­dence vote for New Cale­do­nia.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents | The Week - Hamish McDon­ald

It did not take long, af­ter the worst in­stance of anti-Jewish vi­o­lence in United States his­tory, for Don­ald Trump to re­turn to the xeno­pho­bic theme he sees as a win­ner for Tues­day’s midterm con­gres­sional elec­tions.

Robert Bow­ers, a white su­prem­a­cist, al­legedly stormed into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life sy­n­a­gogue with a mil­i­tary-style as­sault ri­fle last Satur­day and shot dead 11 peo­ple at­tend­ing a baby-nam­ing cer­e­mony, while shout­ing “All Jews must die”.

There is a di­rect line be­tween his think­ing and Trump’s cam­paign rhetoric. Bow­ers was a reg­u­lar on Gab, a so­cial me­dia plat­form favoured by right-wing ex­trem­ists. Two hours ahead of the sy­n­a­gogue at­tack, he posted against the He­brew Im­mi­grant Aid So­ci­ety, a 130-year-old group that has switched from its orig­i­nal role help­ing set­tle Jewish mi­grants to one as­sist­ing all refugees. “HIAS likes to bring in­vaders in that kill our peo­ple,” Bow­ers posted. “I can’t sit by and watch my peo­ple get slaugh­tered. Screw your op­tics, I’m go­ing in.”

Trump has been for­giv­ing of such acts. Af­ter all, when white su­prem­a­cists marched in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, in Au­gust last year against re­moval of a Con­fed­er­ate gen­eral’s statue, some flaunt­ing Nazi em­blems and shout­ing “Jews will not re­place us!”, he said they and counter-pro­test­ers in­cluded “many fine peo­ple”. The Anti-Defama­tion

League re­ported a 57 per cent rise in anti-Semitic in­ci­dents in the US in 2017, Trump’s first year in of­fice.

The Jewish fi­nancier-phi­lan­thropist Ge­orge Soros has been a fre­quent tar­get. Dur­ing the past month, Trump has ac­cused Soros of pay­ing peo­ple to give hos­tile me­dia in­ter­views about him and pay­ing women to protest about sex­ual ha­rass­ment at con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings for Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh. Soros was the first to re­ceive a pipe bomb mailed to Trump crit­ics last month by an­other hater. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives ma­jor­ity leader Kevin McCarthy then tweeted: “We can­not al­low Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg to BUY this elec­tion! Get out and vote Repub­li­can Nov.6.” Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg are also lib­eral Jewish bil­lion­aires.

Trump said the Pittsburgh shoot­ing was “pure evil” and that the “vile, hate­filled poi­son of anti-Semitism” and all other forms of prej­u­dice had to be re­jected. By the af­ter­noon he was jok­ing about a “bad hair day” be­cause he’d been rained on. By Mon­day he was echo­ing Bow­ers by tweet­ing about “very bad peo­ple” among the 3500 im­pov­er­ished Hon­durans walk­ing through Mex­ico to­wards the US bor­der. “This is an in­va­sion of our Coun­try and our Mil­i­tary is wait­ing for you!”

Trump said. He says he is send­ing up to 15,000 troops to the bor­der. Fox News host Lou Dobbs blames Soros for fi­nanc­ing this refugee car­a­van as well. In an­other dog whis­tle, Trump is also sug­gest­ing re­moval of the con­sti­tu­tional right of any­one born in the US to US cit­i­zen­ship.

When Trump vis­ited Pittsburgh on Tues­day, ac­com­pa­nied by his Jewish-con­vert daugh­ter Ivanka, more than 30,000 locals in­clud­ing the city mayor had signed a pe­ti­tion telling him not to bother un­til he changed his mes­sage. The midterms will tell us which side of Amer­ica pre­vails.

Boy from Brazil

It’s not been a good week for left­wingers and mod­er­ates in elec­tions this week, with right-wing na­tion­al­ists mak­ing gains in Brazil and Ger­many.

For­mer para­trooper Jair Bol­sonaro, noted for racist and misog­y­nis­tic views, won the sec­ond round of Brazil’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on Sun­day. He’s de­scribed as a mix­ture of Trump and Rodrigo Duterte, the Philip­pine pres­i­dent, promis­ing pri­vati­sa­tion, tax cuts and dereg­u­la­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­trols on one hand, and a free hand for po­lice and sol­diers to ex­e­cute crim­i­nal sus­pects on the other.

In Ger­many, An­gela Merkel kept pay­ing the price for let­ting in a mil­lion Syr­ian refugees in 2015, and for a re­viv­ing Euro­zone cri­sis caused by Italy’s dis­re­gard for fis­cal re­straint un­der its pop­ulist new gov­ern­ment. Her Chris­tian Democrats and So­cial Demo­crat coali­tion part­ners each lost about 11 per cent of their votes in Hesse state this week, most to the anti-im­mi­grant and anti-Euro­pean Union Al­ter­na­tive für Deutsch­land. Merkel an­nounced she was step­ping down as party leader in De­cem­ber and would re­tire from pol­i­tics at the end of her term in 2021. An­a­lysts think she could be fin­ished as chan­cel­lor by next year, re­mov­ing a pil­lar of the EU as it copes with an in­creas­ingly likely crash-Brexit on March 29.

Sri Lanka cap­taincy

Aus­tralians will mostly re­mem­ber Ar­juna Ranatunga as the bats­man who faced down Shane Warne to clinch the World Cup for Sri Lanka in 1996. This week Sri Lanka’s po­lice felt it their duty to ar­rest the crick­et­ing hero turned politi­cian amid a spi­ralling con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis.

It started on Fri­day last week, when Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena abruptly dis­missed the prime min­is­ter, Ranil Wick­remesinghe, and swore in Mahinda Ra­japaksa as his re­place­ment. Sirisena claims he had “no choice” be­cause an un­named min­is­ter was plot­ting to kill him.

Ra­japaksa was the pre­vi­ous pres­i­dent, tossed out by vot­ers in 2015 for war crimes dur­ing the fi­nal con­flict with the Tamil Tigers in 2009, the “white van” dis­ap­pear­ance of crit­ics, cor­rup­tion, nepo­tism and rack­ing up bil­lions in debt to China for white-ele­phant projects in his own elec­torate.

Wick­remesinghe stood his ground, stay­ing in the prime min­is­te­rial res­i­dence and de­mand­ing par­lia­ment be re­called to show his ma­jor­ity. Ranatunga, his petroleum min­is­ter, was be­sieged by Ra­japaksa sup­port­ers when he tried to en­ter his of­fice on Sun­day. One of his body­guards opened fire, killing a man and in­jur­ing two oth­ers. The guard and Ranatunga have been charged.

Sirisena stood down par­lia­ment un­til Novem­ber 16, pre­sum­ably to give Ra­japaksa more time to con­vince its mem­bers to switch sides. Sirisena was re­cently given $US300 mil­lion by China for any projects of his choos­ing. This may help the per­sua­sion. Ra­japaksa’s re­turn to power would be a geopo­lit­i­cal win for China, and pos­si­bly see a re­vival of the refugee flow to Aus­tralia.

Kanak of dawn

On Sun­day the 280,000 peo­ple of New Cale­do­nia vote on whether to stay as dis­tant cit­i­zens of France, or launch them­selves as a new in­de­pen­dent na­tion, prob­a­bly to be called Kanaky.

Given the fine bal­ance be­tween in­dige­nous Kanaks and as­sorted mi­grants im­ported un­der colo­nial rule, the “no” vote seems likely to pre­vail, de­spite hints from Paris that even with in­de­pen­dence the tran­si­tion could be grad­ual, French pass­ports could be re­tained by many, and aid re­place bud­getary sup­port.

But feel­ings are run­ning high. One Kanak move­ment has con­demned the ref­er­en­dum and block­aded two nickel mines. Au­thor­i­ties have called in ex­tra se­cu­rity and banned the sale of al­co­hol and the car­ry­ing of weapons this week­end. A nar­row loss could see the in­de­pen­dence choice put again in com­ing years.

Hung up on China

The “Five Eyes” in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing pact link­ing us with the US, Bri­tain, Canada and New Zealand is di­vided on whether Chi­nese tele­com com­pa­nies Huawei and ZTE should be al­lowed to sup­ply equip­ment for 5G mo­bile tele­phone and data sys­tems.

This week, Mike Burgess, chief of the Aus­tralian Sig­nals Di­rec­torate, de­fended Can­berra’s ex­clu­sion of the Chi­nese sup­pli­ers. The 5G net­work would be used to op­er­ate ev­ery­thing from elec­tronic power to self-driv­ing cars and re­mote surgery, he said, sug­gest­ing back­doors could al­low hos­tile pow­ers to dis­rupt all these things.

In Canada, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment de­cided against join­ing Aus­tralia and the US in ban­ning Huawei. Its ASD coun­ter­part, the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Se­cu­rity Es­tab­lish­ment, had ad­vised through its Cana­dian Cen­tre for Cy­ber Se­cu­rity that “ro­bust” sys­tems were in place to pre­vent com­pro­mises of se­cu­rity. •

Boys out­side the Tree of Life sy­n­a­gogue in Pittsburgh, Penn­syl­va­nia, fol­low­ing the shoot­ing on Oc­to­ber 27.

HAMISH McDON­ALD is The Satur­day Pa­per’s world ed­i­tor.

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