There is something I have realized after being here in the west 16 years – if you tell an intellectually challenged Asian or an African he is a loser, he will probably think there is really something wrong with him. But if you tell a similarly white hillbilly in the west that he is a loser, he will come after you and probably kill you.
After years of sitting on their asses and being spoon fed the comforts of life, those losers in the west are ‘shutting down’. Race resentment and migrants from non-white nations has blinded them with a silent rage. This demographic does not bother to discern or distinguish – between Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs. If I was an Asian or Middle-Eastern father who had a son or a daughter in the US, I would have contingency plans ready, for extraction (CIA term for getting someone the hell out of there).
I have two Jewish colleagues who told me their parents left relatives behind in 1930s Germany when they sensed that things were going south for the Jewish community there. Those relatives and friends who insisted on staying back were sure Hitler was just a ‘passing fancy’. They were rapturous about their non-Jewish German neighbors who were ‘absolute angels’. Those relatives never made it through the war and their ‘angelic’ neighbors never lifted a finger to save them (and in many cases even betrayed them to the SD).
Donald Trump is not the only redneck nutcase on the rise in the developed world who is making political capital out of the state of the average rust belt white’s pocketbook.
Austria has had an ultra-right winger, Norbert Hofer of the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs come within a hair-breadth (49.7%) of winning the recent elections. Given Austria’s history of right wing politics, that has been unsettling. Britain’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) is still a minority in parliament but of late, it has gained unprecedented power with its ‘Brexit’ mantra and virulently anti-immigrant platform.
In France, President Francois Hollande is a wimp, unable to budge the unemployment statistics downward, impotent in dealing with the crisis presented by members of France’s 10% Muslim population, who simply do not want to integrate, preferring to huddle together in their suburban ghettos. Disillusionment is widespread and into the void has stepped in Marine Le Pen’s ultra-right wing Front Nationale. The NF has been a fringe element in the French polity for many decades and now it finds itself at the height of its popularity. Three out of ten white French citizens strongly feel that France should be exclusively white and Christian, music to Le Pen’s ears.
The list goes on – The Italian Lega Nord of Matteo Salvini, has gradually steam rolled its way into power, village by village, winning outright in some and now holding an unprecedented 25% approval rating overall. Then there are those rednecks that have already grabbed power – the Hungarian Fidesz of Victor Orban and the Prawo I Sprawiedliwość in Poland, not to mention Russia’s Volodya, in power for two decades now.
This time around, there is a noticeable change, from 1930s Germany. The hard right has developed a carefully cultivated veneer of civility, shedding its virulence and naked racism, because it has realized it will not get the votes that way. Would Hitler have clarified, ‘I love Jews, I have Jews among my best friends and most ardent supporters?’ Donald Trump frequently does, when he speaks of Muslims and Mexicans.
The new far right parties that we see today in Europe have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from the old fascist parties of the past. They don’t want to be associated with the likes of Mussolini and Hitler. Marine Le Pen expelled her own father and the founder of the party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, because of his over-the-top anti-Semitism and penchant for rabidly racist press releases that hearkened back with nostalgia to the days of the Vichy French.
The right-wing in the western world has also acquired a flair for the spectacular. When Donald Trump calls a press conference, he makes it right on the tarmac, in front of his humongous 767 with ‘Trump’ emblazoned on it. It was something that Hitler was known to frequently do. Interestingly, while the ‘losers’ I mentioned in para-1 hate the establishment elite, they love the ostentation of their right-wing demagogues. They identify with Trumps flashy jet for some strange reason and for a moment, it sweeps away their sense of humiliation.
If one were to summarize the numbers and draw up a broad average, I would say that around 25% of the voters in the developed world would vote for right-wing parties, if an election is held anywhere in Europe or America – an exponential increase from just a decade back.
Is the big political story of 2016 the rise of the populist right all over the world and is it something that we should be concerned about? Sure, but the other side is gaining ground too as we have seen in the resurgence of the populist left as well, in the form of Bernie Sanders in America and Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labor Party. Together with the populist right, the populist left have made the words – elitist – intellectual – technocrat – establishment – increasingly toxic, all over the democratic world.
There are two other terms that have become equally toxic now in the developed world: center-right and center-left, both being used to describe those who love to have it both ways. On one hand, they want social welfare programs, medicare, free schools – all of those paid for by taxes – and on the other, they want free markets, low taxes and laissez-faire as well. The center-left want a little more of the former while the center-right, a wee bit more of the latter, the overlap remaining quite substantial. And together, they have been in a tango like a binary star system, for decades now. In fact they blend in together so perfectly that their separation may just be an illusion. The left-wing populist and the right-wing populist may be the same guy deep inside. So the big political story of 2016 isn’t so much the rise of the populist right or the populist left, but the implosion of the middle.
Till the end of the Bush presidency, there was a binary star system governing politics in the developed world. America had an equal mix of the center left (the Democrats) and the center right (the Republicans). The world saw a two-party system succeeding in building a prosperous nation. That tango wasn’t just an American thing. Almost all democracies in the developed world were in the same party, with their left and right dancing their own tangos. All that is history now.
There was a 100-year period beginning the mid-1700s when the industrial revolution brought profound changes to the lifestyles in the west. The industrial revolution was preceded by an even more life-changing transformation, from the feudalism of the Middle Ages to the formation of modern nation states – a 300-year period between the 14th and the 17 centuries, very aptly called the Renaissance. All of these were massive changes in the way ordinary folks in the west lived and died.
We may now be at an equally profound cusp in the history of the developed world – the complete collapse of both, the center-left and the center-right and the rise of a different kind of feudalism, where the overlords are the hedge fund billionaires and oligarchs.
Until a decade ago, ordinary folks in developed nations took their quality of life for granted. You didn’t even need a high school diploma if you were a European or a North American. If you were willing to work, you had a job, a car and cash to go on vacations, knowing that when you were back, that job would still be there waiting for you. Not anymore. The rules don’t make sense anymore.
In contrast, for the third world there never were any rules. If one looks at street kids in Kolkata, playing in the gush of a broken water main, one realizes that it is easier to bear the burden of life when one hasn’t seen any better. But the children of the developed world have seen better. It will be a terrifying world for them to live in, going forward from this point on. For someone growing up in the developed world, there will no longer be anything that he can take for granted anymore. It will be that much harder, not having that sense of financial security and quality of life that he once enjoyed.
In much of Europe and North America, that ‘shut-down’ phase has already begun. It is the point where hopelessness turns to despair and then on to rebellion. Xenophobic sentiments have mushroomed and nativist-nationalist political parties are gaining ascendance across the board. Ordinary people have shut down and given in to the instinct to huddle with each other and tell outsiders to go away. They are now in denial over the huge changes that are happening to their jobs through the onslaught of technology. Do you see a postman anymore? I know at least one in our neighborhood who is delivering pizzas these days.
But ultimately, all things must pass. Progress and innovation are inexorable. I’ll say this about technology – we are going to have to live with its spread, whether we like it or not and whether we see it as being a good thing or not. We humans are wired that way.
But while we rail against the immigration-fueled rise of the right, there are still some nations that don’t have those concerns at all.
Take for example Denmark – extremely well-to-do, neat and tidy, liberal, literate and repeatedly scoring the highest in public satisfaction. Danes love their lives more than any others on the planet. There is something that Denmark does in order to ensure that things stay that way – it restricts immigration very strictly and in doing so, the Danes choose to live among their own, retaining a more homogeneous society. Suddenly, that doesn’t sound like a bad thing to me.
In contrast, take California – a diverse melting pot that is perpetually on the brink of bankruptcy, it also harbors on of the highest levels of unemployment and poverty in the west. Denmark works and California doesn’t.
Does the drive for homogeneity kill innovation? I am quite certain it does. Initially, the lack of diversity did not cramp Japan’s style or slow down its astonishing post-WW2 progress. But that was before the term globalism became a buzzword. It has now been four decades since the Japanese came up with anything new in the world of science and technology and in that period, they have spiralled downward into economic stagnation.
But unlike America, Japan’s economic woes haven’t disturbed its political stability. There is no Japanese Donald Trump there. Like it or not, the reason for that is that the Japanese have, like the Danes, deliberately controlled their ethnicity mix, making sure that when they wake up in the mornings, they see only the faces of their own.
So, post-globalization, a stable society would be one where there is a trade-off, between political stability and economic growth.
Another thing that seems to be cramping the west’s style is its current preoccupation with what in fact are completely irrelevant debates. In America, politicians spend too much time in Congress squabbling over issues that leave them with no time for real governance. LGBT rights, same-sex marriages, religious freedom (of the Kim Davis kind), abortion rights, transgender rest rooms – all these contribute absolutely nothing toward progress.
Even race is a non-issue. I remember seeing a documentary of a 1960s Ku Klux Klan rally, a grainy movie shot by an amateur – it had a Klan member, a pot bellied florid white guy, collapsed on the sidewalk in the sweltering Mississippi heat gasping for breath. His white conical KKK cap askew, his hair dishevelled, he seemed to be in the early stages of cardiac arrest. Cradling him in his arms was an elderly black man who was holding a water bottle to his lips. The white man had both his hands over the black man’s wrist, sort of steadying it as he gulped the water down.
The significant thing about the clip was that there was no sign of hate on either man – they were simply there, two human beings wrapped in a bizarre embrace, while just inches from them the marching Klansmen’s white gowns were swishing by, sometimes flapping against the black man’s face. In one other worldly moment that afternoon in 1964, the white supremacist looked death in the face and instinctively shed all his racist bigotry. In that moment, being right-wing, left-wing, center-right or center-left became irrelevant to him.
Perhaps that can be the only way that the world can right itself. A catastrophe – natural or unnatural – an alien invasion perhaps? In the face of vastly superior murderous aliens from another galaxy, who will give a flying f—k about white supremacy? Maybe an impending strike by a shower of shopping mall-sized asteroids will bring us all together, if only fleetingly.
Either way, the human race has written the script of its own doom and set it in stone from the day we were created. We are made up of those squarish blocks in Minecraft – except that there is no edit-mode.