Pepe the Frog dead at 12

In a move against the racist trolls who use his cartoon, Pepe’s creator has murdered the controversial amphibian

Pepe the Frog, mascot of the alt-right, dead at 12
Pepe the Frog(Credit: Getty/Josh Edelson)

Pepe the Frog, the cartoon anthropomorphic amphibian adopted by members of the alt-right for use in hundreds of racist and pro-Trump memes, died at the age of 12 on Saturday. Pepe’s creator, indie comic-book artist Matt Furie, killed the character in a cartoon published on Free Comic Books Day of “World’s Greatest Comics.”

Born in 2005 in Furie’s web-published comic book, “Boy’s Club,” Pepe spent his early years as a wholly apolitical, if perhaps crude and cantankerous, creature often seen on Myspace. In 2008 Pepe began to appear in a series of memes produced across a number of platforms, with many reflecting the character’s original spirit.

Early in the run-up to the 2016 elections, however, the burgeoning troll culture of the darker corners of message-board site 4chan adopted the grinning frog, spinning his once-harmless visage into material for its often racist, often misogynist, often hateful memes. In time, he became a popular mascot of the younger, nastier side of then-candidate Donald Trump’s wide-ranging group of supporters.

Furie, a self-identified progressive did his best to fight this rising trend, but to little avail. In 2016 the Anti-Defamation League classified the frog as a hate symbol and elements of the Pepe meme have been used by members of the Trump-controlled executive branch.

In response to his creation’s now extensive involvement in the alt-right, Furie staged a wake for his character. A cause of death is not known at this time. Pepe is survived by an army of hateful, web-based dude bros, who will no doubt continue to employ his appearance in memes to come.

http://www.salon.com/2017/05/08/pepe-the-frog-meme-racist-creator-dead/?source=newsletter

What white liberals so often get wrong about racism and Donald Trump

Bernie is wrong and Malcolm was right:

White progressives have a tough time confronting racism — as Bernie Sanders, a hero in many ways, has made clear

Bernie is wrong and Malcolm was right: What white liberals so often get wrong about racism and Donald Trump
Bernie Sanders; Malcolm X (Credit: AP/Craig Ruttle)

In the United States, white liberals and progressives have historically shown a serious inability to grapple with the realities of the color line and the enduring power of white supremacy. Many of them are either unable or unwilling to understand that fighting against class inequality does not necessarily remedy the specific harms done to African-Americans and other people of color by white racism.

For example, last Friday Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke in Boston at the Our Revolution Rally, where he said this:

Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and deplorable folks. I don’t agree, because I’ve been there.

Given Sanders’ long history of fighting for human rights, his comments are profoundly disappointing. They also demonstrate the blind spot and willful myopia that too many white liberals and progressives have toward white racism in America.

Sanders’ defense of Donald Trump’s “white working class” voters can be evaluated on empirical grounds. This is not a case of “unknown unknowns.”  What do public opinion and other data actually tell us about the 2016 presidential election?

Donald Trump’s voters — like Republicans and conservatives on average — are much more likely to hold negative attitudes toward African-Americans and other people of color. Social scientists have consistently demonstrated that a mix of “old-fashioned” white racism, white racial resentment (what is known as “modern racism”), xenophobia, ethnocentrism, sexism and nativism heavily influenced white conservatives and right-leaning independents to vote for Donald Trump.

Trump voters are also more authoritarian than Republicans as a whole. Trump voters possess a fantastical belief that white Americans are “oppressed” and thus somehow victims of racism.

Polling experts such as Cornell Belcher have placed Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton within the broader context of a racist backlash against Barack Obama’s presidency among white voters.

And one must also not overlook how Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and victory inspired a wave of hate crimes across the United States against Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, First Nations people, gays and lesbians and those of other marginalized communities. Donald Trump used a megaphone of racism and bigotry to win the 2016 presidential election. His supporters heard those signals loud and clear.

Sanders is also committing another error in reasoning and inference, one that is common among white Americans in the post-civil rights era. Racism and white supremacy are not a function of what is in peoples’ hearts, what they tell you about their beliefs or the intentions behind their words or deeds. In reality, racism and white supremacy are a function of outcomes and structures. Moreover, the “nice people” that Sanders is talking about benefit from white privilege and the other unearned advantages that come from being white in America.

Sanders’ statement is also a reminder of the incorrect lessons that the Democratic Party is in danger of learning from its 2016 defeat.

Chasing the largely mythical “white working-class voters whose loyalties went from “Obama to Trump” will not win future elections. The white working-class voters they covet are solidly Republican.

Alienating people of color and women by embracing Trump’s base of human deplorables will not strengthen the Democratic Party. It will only drive away those voters who are the Democratic Party’s most reliable supporters.

Sanders has unintentionally exemplified the way that both white liberals and white conservatives are heavily influenced by the white racial frame. As such, both sides of the ideological divide are desperate to see the best in their fellow white Americans, despite the latter’s racist behavior.

This is why “white allies” are often viewed with great suspicion by people of color. Malcolm X discussed this point in 1963:

In this deceitful American game of power politics, the Negroes (i.e., the race problem, the integration and civil rights issues) are nothing but tools, used by one group of whites called Liberals against another group of whites called Conservatives, either to get into power or to remain in power. Among whites here in America, the political teams are no longer divided into Democrats and Republicans. The whites who are now struggling for control of the American political throne are divided into “liberal” and “conservative” camps. The white liberals from both parties cross party lines to work together toward the same goal, and white conservatives from both parties do likewise.

The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political “football game” that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.

Bernie Sanders’ comments on Friday serve as an unintentional reminder of Malcolm X’s wisdom.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

Get Out: The horror of racism, and racialist politics

By Hiram Lee
28 March 2017

Written and directed by Jordan Peele

The horror film Get Out has been popular with both audiences and critics. It is the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, best known for his work as one half of the comedy duo Key & Peele. With Get Out, Peele has said he wanted to make a film to “combat the lie that America had become post-racial.” The monster at the heart of this horror film is racism itself.

Get Out

Get Out tells the story of African-American photographer, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), and his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams). The couple is planning to visit Rose’s parents for the first time. But when Chris discovers Rose hasn’t told her parents that he is black, he worries the visit won’t go well. Rose reassures him that her parents are anything but racist, and the trip goes ahead as planned.

Rose’s father (Bradley Whitford) turns out to be a wealthy surgeon. Her mother (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist specializing in hypnosis therapy. They go out of their way to make Chris feel at home. Rose’s father makes awkward gestures to Chris, at one point telling him that he would have voted for Obama a third time given the chance. What seem at first like well meaning but misguided attempts to relate to Chris and put him at ease soon turn into something else. There is something even darker than such “micro aggressions” lurking beneath this white liberal family.

Most troubling to Chris are the African-American servants the family employs. They appear brainwashed, too satisfied with the family and their duties. They don’t behave as real people would. When the family later throws a party and the white guests appear to be sizing him up for something, it puts him further on edge.

Despite all the warning signs, Chris hesitates, hoping for the best until it is almost too late. The family intends to capture him and force him into a kind of servitude, though not quite the kind he was expecting. His failure to act sooner nearly gets him killed. This complacency in the face of racism is one of the main themes of the film.

Get Out accepts a number of conventions about race relations and begins from there. Racism, for Peele, simply exists—in the same way that evil does, or original sin. Everyone is infected by it. Its historical origins and the social forces which nourish and promote it are beside the point. Accepting this, the film is left to offer pseudo-psychological explanations for the beliefs and activities of its antagonists. This leads it into rather disturbing territory. At one point the film seems to suggest that the white family terrorizing Chris is jealous of the genetically endowed superior physical abilities of its African-American victims. Given Rose’s involvement in the conspiracy, one could even be forgiven for interpreting the film as a warning against interracial relationships. Like all such works based on racialist conceptions, one doesn’t have to follow the logic very far before one arrives at positions virtually identical to those of the extreme right.

Get Out

Since its release, Peele’s film has generated a great deal of media attention, including its share of hype and controversy. In recent weeks, Peele has been celebrated in the media as the first African-American writer-director to have earned more than $100 million with his debut film. He has cracked a key financial threshold and his success as an artist is thus confirmed for certain layers. There is a lot of talk about what it means for black filmmakers in Hollywood. Opportunity is on the horizon.

But does Get Out tell the truth about the world? Several interviews make clear Peele’s own outlook.

In an interview with the New York Times, Peele affirmed his intention to target the “liberal elite” with the film. “The liberal elite,” said Peele, “who communicates that we’re not racist in any way is as much of the problem as anything else. This movie is about the lack of acknowledgement that racism exists. In the Trump era, it’s way more obvious extreme racism exists. But there are still a lot of people who think: We don’t have a racist bone in our bodies. We have to face the racism in ourselves.”

In another interview with GQ magazine, Peele seeks to explain why there haven’t been more horror films dealing with race:

“Black creators have not been given a platform, and the African-American experience can only be dealt with by an African-American. That might be problematic to say. And now that I think about it, [The Stepford Wives author] Ira Levin is a man, and he and Roman Polanski wrote Rosemary’s Baby. Let’s say it would be scary for a white writer and director to do something that includes the victimization of black people in this way. Of course, we have this trope where the black guy is the first to die in every horror movie—that’s a way for [white filmmakers] to have their cake and eat it, too.”

The division of the world along such racial lines has the most reactionary implications. Indeed, we saw only last week how “scary” it could be when a white artist, Dana Schutz, dared to depict the victimization of a black person, Emmett Till, in her work.

Interestingly, the reactionary notion that only an African-American can deal with the so-called “African-American experience” (a racialist term that throws class and history out the window) has also been used to attack Peele’s film. In a recent radio interview, actor Samuel L. Jackson complained that the film’s star, Daniel Kaluuya, was British, saying that an African American actor would have been better suited to the role. He went on to lament the prevalence of black British actors currently employed in Hollywood. “They’re cheaper than us,” he said. In these bitter, career-motivated comments, Jackson united racialism with its perfect complement, nationalism.

WSWS

 

 

A socialist response to Brexit

No to British nationalism and the European Union!

By Chris Marsden
25 March 2017

The following article is being distributed at today’s Unite for Europe demonstration in London.

With Prime Minister Theresa May set to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29, warnings as to the impact of Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) abound.

May is touring the UK promising to “deliver a deal that works” for everyone and describing Wednesday’s beginning of the two year process of exiting the EU as a “historic event [that] will precipitate a shift in our role in the world and see Britain begin a bold new chapter as a prosperous, open and global nation.”

But she does so amid demands for a £57 billion “divorce” settlement from the EU, threats of punishment by the 27 remaining member states, reports of economic dislocation including banks such as Goldman Sachs and HSBC leaving London that in total threatens 230,000 finance jobs, and of a 92 percent fall in EU nationals registering as nurses in England.

The announcement will, moreover, be made under conditions in which the Scottish National Party-led parliament at Holyrood has made an official demand for a second independence referendum and with Sinn Fein in Ireland raising the issue of the continued status of Northern Ireland’s six counties as British territory.

It is against this background that the Unite for Europe national march to parliament has been organised.

There are clear and valid reasons for the concerns of those who will take part, including repugnance over the government’s refusal to guarantee the rights of EU nationals already residing in Britain. In addition, the attacks on such protests that are centred exclusively on the insistence that they are impermissible because they seek to flout the “public will,” as expressed in last year’s referendum, have wholly reactionary implications.

Dissent with the result among the 48 percent who voted against Brexit is entirely legitimate and its suppression has nothing to do with a genuine concern for democracy. It merely gives carte blanche to the reactionary pro-Brexit wing of the British ruling class to complete what they describe glowingly as the “Thatcher revolution,” based on slashing corporation tax and public spending while stepping up the exploitation of the working class to ensure that the UK business can go “out of Europe and into the world.”

However, neither are those individuals and political tendencies leading the Unite for Europe protest and the broader opposition to Brexit the “friends” of democracy and “progressive values,” or the future of the younger generation, as they claim to be. Their sole genuine and overriding concern is that alienating the UK from Europe, above all exclusion from the Single Market, is damaging to the interests of Britain’s capitalists. Everything else they say, centred as it is on a politically degraded apologia for the EU, is moral effluvia and lies.

That is why, having first opposed efforts to “incite hate and divide communities,” etc., the number one demand of Unite for Europe’s “open conversation where the UK’s civil society is consulted and where Parliament or the people have the final say on our future” is: “We want to remain a member of the Single Market.”

In the Brexit referendum campaign, the Socialist Equality Party refused to support either a Remain or a Leave vote because neither represented the interest of working people. We called instead for an active boycott and dedicated our efforts above all to explaining the fundamental issues posed for workers, not just in Britain but throughout Europe.

We wrote that the EU “is not an instrument for realising the genuine and necessary unification of Europe”, but rather “a mechanism for the subjugation of the continent to the dictates of the financial markets…”

The EU and its constituent governments have spent years imposing a social counterrevolution on Europe’s workers through unending cuts in jobs, wages and social conditions–in the process impoverishing millions and bankrupting entire countries.

As to associating the EU with “free movement,” its proper designation is that of “Fortress Europe.” It is a continent surrounded by razor wire, concrete walls and concentration camps, whose leaders have the blood of thousands of desperate refugees—forced to flee the consequences of wars waged by the US, Britain and Europe—on their hands.

It is for this reason that the xenophobia whipped up by Brexit finds its corollary throughout Europe, above all in the rise of fascistic movements such as the National Front in France.

Likewise, the claim of Unite for Europe, whose real leadership is an alliance between the Blairite right of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats—to be “resisting” not only “hard Brexit” but also US President Donald Trump—is equally bogus.

It is essential to distinguish between genuine popular opposition to Trump’s nationalism, militarism, racism and misogyny and the use that it is being put to by the pro-Remain forces. They view Trump’s presidency and May’s alliance with him as antithetical to the interests of British imperialism for two related reasons:

· His “America First” doctrine makes Trump an active opponent of the EU, because he sees it as a trade rival dominated by Germany that must be curbed.

· He has expressed reservations over the US commitment to NATO and the focus of the previous Obama administration on stoking up military hostilities with Russia, when China should be America’s main concern.

The response to this among Trump’s political opponents—the Democrats in the US and the European powers led by Berlin—is wholly reactionary.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the main charge levelled against Trump is that he is a stooge of Russian President Vladimir Putin for opposing NATO’s military build-up on Europe’s borders. In Europe, all talk is of building an independent military capability to project the interests of the major powers on the world arena—combined with efforts to capitalise on US hostilities with Beijing by signing trade deals that make a clash with Washington ever more certain.

To side with the EU against Trump is therefore to tie the working class to an escalating drive towards trade war and militarism that can only mean accelerated austerity and a potentially catastrophic confrontation with Russia.

Brexit, Trump and the ongoing fracturing of the EU along national lines are all rooted in the irreconcilable contradiction of capitalism that twice in the 20th century plunged Europe and the world into war—between the integrated and global character of production and the division of the world into antagonistic nation states.

Following the Second World War, the European powers, with the support of the US, sought to stabilise the continent and regulate such hitherto disastrous national rivalries through ever-closer economic and political integration.

This project has failed and cannot be revived. Only the unified and independent political mobilisation of the working class against all factions of the bourgeoisie, in Britain, Europe and internationally, offers a way forward.

The task at hand is the struggle for a workers’ government in Britain and the United Socialist States of Europe within a world federation of socialist states.

An essential foundation for such a movement is the conscious rejection by the most thoughtful elements—above all by young people attracted to the pro-EU protest due to its support for “free movement” and declared hostility to xenophobia—of all efforts to divide the working class along pro- and anti-Brexit lines.

 

WSWS

Trump’s Most Shameful Act So Far

Posted on Feb 19, 2017

By Robert Reich / RobertReich.org

Last week, White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller claimed 14 percent of non-citizens are registered to vote. “We know for a fact, you have massive numbers of non-citizens registered to vote in this country,” he said, appearing on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos. “The White House has provided enormous evidence with respect to voter fraud.”

Miller is repeating an assertion Trump continues to make.

It is absolutely false.

What do we do when we have a president and White House surrogates, along with enablers in the right-wing media, who continuously lie about something as fundamental to our democracy as whether we’ve got massive voter fraud?

The answer is we find the truth. We spread the truth. We continue to speak the truth. And we use every chance we have – in opeds, in letters to editors, in local media, on national media – to state the truth.

And we demand that big lies like this be corrected.

A new report on voter fraud from the Brennan Center confirms that multiple nationwide studies have uncovered only a handful of incidents of non-citizens voting.

Based on state prosecution records, votes by non-citizens account for between 0.0003 percent and 0.001 percent of all votes cast.

Election officials agree that non-citizen voting in our elections is not a problem. The National Association of Secretaries of State, whose Republican-majority membership includes the chief elections officers of 40 states, said they “are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump.”

Federal law and the laws of every state bar non-citizens from registering to vote or voting in elections. Experts believe that the severity of the penalties for violating these laws serve as a significant deterrent. Also, it is relatively easy for a non-citizen to get caught.

Trump’s false assertion of massive voting fraud is intended for one purpose: to legitimate more voter identification laws around the country.

Voter identification laws are already spreading rapidly. Before 2006, no state required photo identification to vote on Election Day. Now, 10 states have this requirement. All told, a total of 33 states — representing more than half the nation’s population — have some version of voter identification rules on the books.

The purpose of these laws is to further entrench Republican officials.

New research shows a significant drop in minority participation when and where these laws are implemented – which is what you would expect given that members of racial and ethnic minorities have less access to photo IDs.

The research also shows that because minority voters tend to be Democrats, strict voter ID laws tilt the primary electorate dramatically. The turnout gap between Republicans and Democrats in primary contests more than doubles from 4.3 points to 9.8 points.

The truth: There’s no voter fraud. State ID laws intended to stop voter fraud are really intended to stop Democrats from voting – and that’s been their effect.

One of the most important common goods in our society is the truth about our democracy. Trump is pulverizing that truth – laying the groundwork for more state restrictions on access to the ballot by American citizens.

This is beyond shameful.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/trumps_most_shameful_act_so_far_20170219

Historians on comparing fascism to Trumpism

Should we even go there? 

Recent events around the world have prompted debate about the historical parallels between our times and the period preceding the second world war

Trumpism: ‘The parallel universe of lies which are habitual, massive, cumulative’.
Trumpism: ‘The parallel universe of lies which are habitual, massive, cumulative.’ Illustration: Rob Dobi

Last Thursday, an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor recorded a video which promptly went viral. She compared “the humiliation, the demonization of others” and “the attempt to bring out the worst traits in people” in contemporary Austrian politics to her own experience of fascism. Gertrude – her last name has been withheld – lost her entire family in the Holocaust. Her testimony has now been watched more than three million times.

On Sunday, Gertrude’s compatriots will vote for their next president. Norbert Hofer, the far-right candidate whose anti-immigration party was set up by a former SS officer, looks set to win.

Across Europe, a wave of hyper-nationalist politicians is threatening to splinter the European Union, with Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France waiting in the wings. In the US, many Americans are still figuring out how they’re going to face the next four years of a president elected after a campaign built on racism, anti-intellectualism, misogyny and truth distortion; his suggestion of a register for Muslims horrified many. It also prompted comparisons – some of them lazy, some of them astute – between the 1930s and now.

Against this backdrop, Volker Ullrich’s timely recent account of Hitler’s rise to power, Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, has received critical acclaimand prompted considerable debate about the historical parallels between our times and that of the pre-war period. It also raises questions about whether history can teach us how to rewrite our own script.

Ullrich, a German historian and journalist for the Hamburg broadsheet Die Zeit, based his book on decades of research. He tells me it was written between 2009 and 2013 to a background noise of extreme right movements on the rise. As a result, he says, one question became fixed in his brain: “What are the necessary social and psychological conditions that allow populists of Hitler’s ilk to gain a mass following and attain power?”

Making Germany great again

“There are certain traits you can recognize that Hitler and Trump have in common,” Ullrich says. “I would say the egomania, the total egocentricity of both men, and the inclination to mix lies and truth – that was very characteristic of Hitler.”

Like Trump, “Hitler exploited peoples’ feelings of resentment towards the ruling elite.” He also said he would make Germany great again. Ullrich also notes both men’s talent at playing the media, making use of new technology and their propensity for stage effects.

Ullrich, however, is keen to highlight how they differ. “I think the differences are still greater than the similarities,” he says. “Hitler was not only more intelligent, but craftier. He was not just a powerful orator, but a talented actor who succeeded in winning over various social milieus. So not just the economically threatened lower middle classes which Trump targeted, but also the upper middle classes. Hitler had many supporters in the German aristocracy.”

Trump was also democratically elected, while Hitler never had a majority vote. “He was appointed by the president of the German Reich.” Then there’s the fact that Trump does not lead a party “which is unconditionally committed to him”.

“A further obvious difference is that Trump doesn’t have a private militia, as Hitler did with the SA, which he used in his first months after coming to power to settle scores with his opponents, like the Communists and Social Democrats. You can’t possibly imagine something similar with Trump – that he’ll be locking Democrats up into concentration camps. Even Hillary Clinton, who he threatened to send to prison – that was just an empty threat, he’s not going to do that.”

“Finally, the American constitution is based on a system of checks and balances. It remains to be seen how far Congress will really limit Trump or if, as is feared, he can override it. It was different with Hitler, who, as we know, managed to eliminate all resistance in the shortest space of time and effectively establish himself as an all-powerful dictator. Within a few months, there was effectively no longer any opposition.”

According to Ullrich, Hitler’s rise was neither an accident nor inevitable, and could have been prevented very early on.

“Hitler profited from the fact that his opponents always underestimated him,” Ullrich explains. “His conservative allies in government assumed they could tame or ‘civilise’ him – that once he became chancellor he’d become vernünftig(meaning sensible, reasonable). Very quickly it became clear that was an illusion.”

“There were many situations where he could have been stopped. For example in 1923 after the failed Munich putsch – if he’d served his full prison sentence of several years, he wouldn’t have made a political comeback. Instead, he only spent a few months behind bars, [having been released after political pressure] and could rebuild his movement.”

The western powers made the same mistake with their appeasement politics, indecision and indulgence. “In the 1930s Hitler strengthened, rather than weakened, his aggressive intentions,” Ullrich says. “So you could learn from this that you have to react faster and much more vigorously than was the case at the time.”

Ullrich also contends that if Hindenburg, the president of the Reich, had allowed Chancellor Brüning, of the Centre party, to remain chancellor to the end of 1934, rather than responding to pressure from conservatives to dismiss him in 1932, “then the peak of the economic crisis would have passed and it would have been very questionable whether Hitler could still have come to power”.

At the same time, Hitler’s ascent was no mere fluke. “There were powerful forces in the big industries, but also in the landowning class and the armed forces, which approved of a fascist solution to the crisis.”

The ‘boo’ word

Ullrich is not the only historian leery of comparing like for like.

“The problem with fascism is that it’s a sort of ‘boo’ word,” says Richard Bosworth, a professor of history at Oxford and award-winning biographer of Mussolini. “If you tag somebody with it, then on the one hand you’re saying that person is going to murder six million Jews and invade Russia, and on the other hand you feel rather good about using the term and so you don’t engage in proper analysis.”

The result, Bosworth argues, is that you become distracted from “trying to work out more clearly what Trump stands for, and what the contemporary United States stands for”.

If fascism “now just means aggressive nationalism, racism, patriarchy and authoritarianism, then maybe it is back on the agenda,” Bosworth continues. But today’s context is fundamentally different. Today’s “alt-right” agitators “live in a neoliberal global order where the slogan, ‘all for the market, nothing outside the market, no one against the market’ is far more unquestionably accepted than the old fascist slogan of ‘all for the state, nothing outside the state, no one against the state’”.

“Whatever history’s instruction is, it’s not literal,” agrees Simon Schama, a professor of history at Columbia University who has written histories of the French, American and Dutch revolutions. “You don’t match present predicaments to some sort of template of what fascism is or isn’t.”

Schama is clear: Trump is obviously not Hitler. “But, you know, if you like, he’s an entertainment fascist, which may be less sinister but is actually in the end more dangerous. If you’re not looking for jackboots and swastikas – although swastikas are indeed appearing – there’s a kind of laundry list of things which are truly sinister and authoritarian and not business as usual.”

Schama points a finger to Breitbart, the website of Steve Bannon, Trump’s senior adviser. “There’s no question that, for all Bannon wants to say, Breitbart has run a kind of dog-whistle antisemitic show because the crucial headlines were: Bill Kristol: Renegade Jew, or [Washington Post columnist] Anne Applebaum singled out as ‘Polish, Jewish, American Elitist’. You don’t use a word like that unless you’re operating from a set of dog-whistle assumptions about an antisemitic constituency.”

Schama also points to deeply worrying messaging, such as “the parallel universe of lies which are habitual, massive, cumulative”; the criminalization of political opponents; the threat to change the libel laws against the press and the demonization of different racial and ethnic groups, going as far as proposing a Muslim registry.

“What is that if it’s not racially authoritarian?” asks Schama. “If you want to call it fascist, fine. I don’t really care if it’s called that or not. It’s authoritarian, you know, ferociously authoritarian.”

Six history lessons to keep in mind

On 2 May 1935, Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons after the Stresa Conference, in which Britain, France and Italy agreed – futilely – to maintain the independence of Austria:

When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind.

Now that the world has lived through the brutal years that followed Churchill’s grimly prescient oratory, what can we do to prove him wrong? If historians are best placed to distinguish between illuminating and misleading historical analogies, how do they think history can help us and what is distinctive about the present?

Don’t ignore what people vote for

If you’re of German heritage, it’s hard to understand how so many people could have bought Mein Kampf and gone on to vote for Hitler. Maybe no one really read it, or got beyond the first few pages of bluster, or took antisemitism seriously, you tell yourself.

“Or they liked what he said,” Mark Mazower says bluntly. Mazower is professor of history at Columbia and author of Dark Continent, the acclaimed study of the forces that shaped 20th-century Europe.

“I think one of the mistakes this time around would be not to think that the people who voted for Trump were serious. They may have been serious for different reasons, but it would be a big mistake not to try and figure out what their reasons were.”

Politicians need to rethink their modus operandi

Hitler presented himself as a “messiah” offering the public “salvation”, Ullrich points out. With austerity and hostility to the EU and to immigrants riding high, there is fertile ground for European populists next year to seduce with equally simplistic, sweeping “solutions”.

The problem, in Mazower’s view, is that establishment politicians currently have no response. “The political class has very impoverished historical memory and as a result it has a very limited imagination,” Mazower contends. “It is by and large made up of people who do not see themselves in politics in order to effect sweeping change and so they tend to operate very incrementally and very technocratically. They’re very suspicious of vision and as a result what fills their brains is party calculation – which of course always occupies politicians but in the past coexisted with bigger things. The current crop of leading political figures in Europe in particular is just not up to the task.”

Mazower goes on to argue that the development of an alternative narrative able to inspire is, “going to be a long-term project”, which will be, “in the hands of people under 30, 35, not the current political class”.

Beware the rise of the surveillance state

“The Gestapo was piddling compared with the size and reach of surveillance equipment and operations today,” says Mazower.

“Very belatedly, everyone is waking up to the fact that there was a general assumption that no government in the west would fall into the wrong hands, that it was safe to acquiesce in this huge expansion of surveillance capabilities, and the debate wasn’t as vigorous as it could have been.”

“Now, there is a lot of discussion about allowing this kind of surveillance apparatus in the wrong hands,” he adds. “And we’ve woken up to this a bit late in the day.”

Deal with the inequalities caused by neoliberalism

Ullrich calls crises, “the elixir of rightwing populists”, and urges that politicians “do everything they can to correct the inequalities and social injustice which have arisen in the course of extreme financial capitalism in western countries”.

Jane Caplan, a history professor at Oxford University who has written about Trump and fascism, highlights the want of “dissenting voices against marketisation and neoliberalism. The failure to resist the incursion of the market as the only criterion for political utility, or economic utility, has been pretty comprehensive. That’s pretty problematic I think.”

Build alliances

Narrow sectarianism plays into the hands of populists. Bosworth points out that the Italian fascists “only had 35 seats out of 500-odd in the Italian parliament after the 1921 elections” when Mussolini became prime minister. The establishment was so desperate to sideline socialists and trade unions that it preferred to “give him a chance”.

The fasces – or bound bundle of wooden rods, from which the word fascism derives – symbolises strength through unity, and if opposition to fascism is to be successful it is essential to combat like with like.

“I think all of us will say that you must have alliances,” Caplan says. “You can’t do this on your own. In a crisis situation like America it’s got to be a broad-based alliance. There’s not room to say, ‘Well, we’ll wait for things to get worse and then we’ll have a communist revolution’ or something. That’s not going to happen. The objective is so much more important and so much more urgent.”

But as Caplan points out, there is cause for hope too: local institutions like the churches and the NAACP, “are very, very rooted organizations and it would take a huge effort to crush them”.

Don’t normalize fear, intimidation and self-censorship

Paranoia, bullying and intimidation are a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. They are also alive and well in our culture today, where online trolls, violent thugs at rallies, threats of expensive libel action and of course terrorist acts are equally effective in getting individuals and the press to self-censor.

“You just have to call this out,” says Schama. “It requires government. Trump should have repudiated the Ku Klux Klan. Not just left it out there. It requires responsible, moral, aggressive repudiation. The Daily Mail ‘Enemies of the People’ front page was disgraceful and the government should have made that clear. It’s the kind of thing Stalin would have said, or Robespierre.”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/01/comparing-fascism-donald-trump-historians-trumpism

Black America and the Passing of Fidel Castro

HUMAN RIGHTS
Fidel Castro immediately had a special significance for countless Black Americans.

Photo Credit: U.S. News & World Report collection at the Library of Congress.

It is impossible to discuss Fidel Castro outside of an examination of the Cuban Revolution. And, while I hear that there are many Cuban Americans dancing with glee upon news of the death of President Castro, I know that the emotions within Black America are and will continue to be quite different.

For any Black American who knows anything about the history of the Western Hemisphere, both Cuba and Haiti have a special significance. Haiti, of course, for successfully ousting the French in 1803 and forming the second republic in the Americas; a Black republic. Cuba, in 1959, kicked out the USA, the Mafia, and a corrupt ruling class that had enforced racist oppression against most of the Cuban population.  In the cases of Haiti and Cuba, their audacity in the face of a racist imperialism brought forth the wrath of their opponents. How dare the Cubans stand up to the USA? How could a country of all of these ‘brown’ and ‘black’ people insist that they should determine their own destinies?

Thus, Fidel Castro immediately had a special significance for countless Black Americans.  When I was quite young I remember my father telling me how his brother-in-law, a professor at Johnson C. Smith University, had sat watching the television as pictures were shown of Cuban exiles entering the USA after the 1959 Revolution. His comment to my father was that all that he saw were white-looking Cubans stepping off the planes or boats. No brown and black Cubans. This told him something about the nature of the Cuban Revolution and its leader, Fidel Castro.

Castro further endeared himself to much of Black America when he visited the USA and took up residence in the Hotel Theresa in New York’s Harlem. It was there that he met another icon, Malcolm X. It was situating himself in the Black community that shook much of the US establishment and told Black America that something very unusual was unfolding 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

In the weeks, months and years to come there will be exhaustive examinations of the work and life of Fidel Castro and his impact not only on Cuba but the world.  If you have not read Castro’s “spoken autobiography”, Fidel Castro:  My Life  I strong recommend it. I will not try to offer anything approaching an analysis of the man and his times.  What I can say, however, is that there are certainly criticisms to be offered, and differences of opinion of the dynamics of the Cuban Revolution. That is all fair game. At the same time, it has been a rare moment when a leader, particularly of a small country, has been willing to thumb his or her nose at the capitalist juggernaut and seek a different path. Added to this has been, particularly in a Western Hemispheric context, the challenge of taking on racist oppression and approaching it as the cancer that it is, a disease to be removed.

The one and only time that I met Fidel Castro was in January 1999 when I was on a TransAfrica delegation led by the organization’s first president, Randall Robinson. At the last minute, the night before we were to leave Cuba, we were informed that we would have an opportunity to meet with President Castro.

It was close to midnight when we were informed that we needed to board the bus and head to his office.  When we arrived we walked into a waiting room in anticipation of the meeting. Suddenly a door opened and out came an old man in an olive green uniform. Yes, it was Castro. I think, quite irrationally, I was expecting the young Castro of the 1960s. But here was someone about the same age as my father. He circulated around the room and was introduced to our delegation. We then retired to another room to begin our meeting.

It is hard to describe what happened next, and probably equally hard for anyone to believe it. We sat in the room with Castro until about 3:30am.  He never lost a beat.  He never seemed tired.  In fact, as the minutes and hours went forward, he seemed to gain energy! Castro spoke with us about the Cuban Revolution, race, and many other issues.  Yes, he spoke a lot, but we were transfixed. And, when we asked him questions, he would consider the matter and always offer a thoughtful response, rather than retreating into rhetoric.  It was particularly illuminating when he informed us that the Cuban Revolution had underestimated the power of racism. As he said at the time, when the 26th of July Movement (the revolutionary organization that led the anti-Batista struggle) took power they thought that it was enough to render racist discrimination illegal and that should settle the matter. The entrenched power of racism, even in a society that was attempting to root it out, was more substantial than they had anticipated.

Hearing this from Castro represented a special moment. There has frequently been a defensiveness among Cuban officials about matters of race in Cuba, despite the tremendous advances that they have made, advances probably of greater significance than any other country in the Western Hemisphere.  Yet, manifestations of racism remain and, to our surprise, Castro was prepared to address them.

Fidel Castro’s demise comes as no surprise. He had been facing health challenges for some time. Nevertheless, given the number of attempts on his life and the other challenges that he had faced, there has been a bit of magical thinking for many people, believing that he would, somehow, always be there.

For many of us in Black America, Castro represented the audacity that we have desired and sought in the face of imperial and racial arrogance. While it is unfortunate that some of us have withheld concerns and criticisms out of respect for Castro and the Cuban Revolution, it is completely understandable. After all, this was the country that deployed troops to Angola that helped to smash the South African apartheid army and their Angolan allies. This was the country that has deployed doctors in the face of countless emergencies, to countries that could never afford such assistance. This is the country that has studied and come to understand hurricanes in a way unlike most in the hurricane region, so much so that it offered assistance to the USA in the aftermath of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, assistance that the then Bush administration turned down.

Let his soul rest easy. And, let the Cuban people continue on their way free of outside interference. Theirs path has been one upon which they have insisted.  Fidel Castro was one important component in making that happen. And, if that was not enough, he and the Cuban Revolution shook the world of the 20th century.