***This a fantastic piece written by Josh Richards, a 20-year-old lefty science student who depressingly finds his entertainment in watching political media till the early hours of the morning. Aside from being passionate about getting everyone involved in politics, he is also a football fan, beer enthusiast and occasional emotional Instagrammer. All views presented are his own.***
Shit you should care about… Understanding and fighting the rise of the far right
Another day, another rise of the far-right wing rhetoric it seems. And as Bolsonaro supporters take to the streets of Sao Paulo screaming “yes him!” my optimism for the future of humanity takes another hit. I’m pretty bruised by now.
For those who aren’t aware (from either the news or my emotional Instagram stories), Brazil has chosen to elect Jair Bolsonaro to the head of its democracy. The man, who is famously anti democracy, has the following political views; anti-immigration, pro-Israel, pro fossil fuels, negative climate change, negative LGBQT…
Sound familiar? Oh, and he’s pro torture.
Whilst perhaps the most radical example yet, these developments aren’t new news. Rising populist far-right wing agendas have swept rapidly across the globe from the U.K to hungry from Italy to the U.S.
The divisive politics seem to activate a dissatisfied population. Playing on the pain and fear caused by economic upsets and an evolving culture, populism seeks to protest against mainstream politics. It seeks to break the moulds that have “punished” the average citizen. Outsourcing a population’s misfortune onto conspiracies, groups and organisations, the right wing rise spreads and utilises the belief that current politics cares more about outsiders than its electorate. It states that the average citizen isn’t valued. That it’s us and them.
It’s an emotional surge, and the right wing discovered before the left that emotion dictates government far more effectively than logic ever will. It’s not logic that gets you up in the morning to vote and it’s not logic that pushes you to make a change. These parties make promises of a better time. They recall a romantic version of history where everything was “great”, where their country was “strong”. They invoke feelings of pride and satisfaction, driving patriotism. Convincing you that your life, in your country, is better and more important than other lives around the world. When you are poor, side-lined or just feel abandoned by the society you live in, why would you not believe them, why would you not invest in this kind of hope? I think I certainly would.
What’s important is that the rise of all these movements all use the same tactics and they all play off the same feelings in the population- that is; they all motivate a disgruntled working class to vote against their interests in the hopes of changing the norm they find themselves in. The real question however is: why are these parties dangerous?
Jumping over the obvious thorns of nationalistic racism and inherent sexism, simply, the rise of the far right threatens the pillars of democracy, the structures that make a free society. The four pillars of democracy are; freedom of information, equity, representation and justice. All pillars are important components to examine when assessing a populations general freedom. For the sake of this article I will examine the two issues that are most important to me (also because I don’t have a legal understanding of the other two and don’t want to embarrass myself): Freedom of information and representation. The United States, currently, is a prime example where many of these issues are under threat of which unto I will now elude.
Freedom of information:
Nothing is more important to a democracy than a well-informed, well-educated electorate. The news plays an important part in this. It informs the public of the issues facing their country. People form opinions from what they see and hear and then act on them. However, as Mark Twain once said “There are laws to protect the freedom of the presses speech, but not laws to protect the people from the press”. With the advent of 24 hour news, and later- social media and the internet- news evolved into a competitive market that moved from stating what you needed to hear into what you wanted to hear. Right-wing news for right wing people, left wing news for left wing people and everything in between competing for recognition. This isn’t just a right-wing problem, the issue effects everything and everyone. However, the confusion it causes plays into the hands of the right.
A growing mistrust in what we hear allows easy manipulation of the facts to help spread the rhetoric. Trump portrays many professional media sources – any which speak out against him – as the enemy of the people. He tells his listeners to mistrust everything a journalist says (apart from those he endorses). People who go to watch Fox news (or similarly Trump approved right wing sources), are then subject to selective stories that gloss over the problems with the government, and cherry-picked facts. They are hit with a subsequent demonization of any contrasting political opinion. Not only does this continue to further divide citizens – ruining bipartisan cooperation between parties – but it activates followers who believe what they’re hearing to take aggressive action.
The resulting recent CNN bomb incident is a prime example of how the right attempts to operate, sent by a triggered Trump supporter. Fox news reported heavily that that the bomb was just a hoax made to boost support for the left wing. The right attempts to utilise the makeup of the news today to hide and distract from the real issues. It strives to manipulate the facts and spread falsities and mistrust in all that run against it. In doing so, it can control the way citizens receive their information and the way they judge issues. This is how it can succeed. With control, it can push views that strive to marginalise and discriminate against the group they blame for the current state of the country. In Nazi Germany- Jews, in modern Europe- immigrants and Islam, in the U.S- immigrants, liberals and Islam.
Representation in democracy is achieved with the election of a person who makes decisions (with feedback) for the betterment of the group. Representation, in this idea, affects all of us throughout the world. Politics should be a mixing ground of opinions based on what do about a given fact and how to solve the problem that a fact puts forth. It is not up to politics to question or decide the facts presented, but with Trump pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement and Bolsonaro now announcing he will do the same (along with an accelerated deforestation plan of the Amazon rainforest), we see an obvious denial of facts and evidence rising with the right. It is not a question of believing in human induced climate change anymore, we know it to be true. The negligence of these parties towards the good of human kind, whether it be due to funding from big business or a fear of losing their support base is a breach of democratic values.
The U.S is the second largest polluter on the planet, Brazil the twelfth, but an unchanging course of direction from these governments will adversely and selfishly effect the entire globe. The belief sown into the people that climate change is another conspiracy, I’d assume for instant financial gain, should and I believe will be, in the future, viewed as a crime against humanity. It’s this selfishness in the face of fear that fuels the right wing. People think only in self-interest- the working class keeping their jobs in the coal and oil industry, the upper class wanting their taxes cut, the big industries denying climate change. Ultimately it should be a government’s responsibility to be able to use scope, to see a bigger picture and not succumb to the instant gratification.
So, the right wing rises and our freedoms and wellbeing is at threat because of it. It’s been a horrifying and polarizing few months in the United States all things considered and with the formation of similar governments around the world now following in the small, but wide, footsteps of Trump, it looks like the rampant problems could be just getting started. So, what do we do about it?
We are very lucky in New Zealand not to really have a party that occupies that space out on the far right- I don’t know what happened to the conservative party last election, did even they bother running? Even so it is important to stay aware of what is happening around us. The recent feud in the National party showed glimpses of a dirty side of politics that should be, for the good of our nation, kept out of the arena. Politics should encourage cooperation and yes, compromise, between all. To push back against the right, I think, isn’t to directly fight it. To push back against a rising right is to understand why people feel the way they do and offer, another, better solution.
Here are a few things I think we should all do:
Watch the news! But be critical, look for good sources, fact check what you are watching. Critically approach what you hear and don’t just accept word as gospel.
Take in a wide range of political sources and viewpoints. From Ben Shapiro’s ‘The Daily Wire’ (great if you want to understand how a conservative virgin, living in sheltered bubble of pseudo logic views the world) to CNN, to the Young Turks. Don’t do this just to learn new things, but do it to understand the opinions and see what right-wing voters are subject to – this allows us to approach a situation fully prepared for what could be spewed back at us. Just don’t watch Prager University on YouTube, that’s too much. It’s a big business backed right wing scam trying to convince you that complete capitalism is the way to go and climate change isn’t real.
Learn your terms! Communism, Socialism, Liberals. The right-wing media seems to clump these all together as one definition. This is completely false. Most western democracies are already quite socialist really, but it’s coined as an evil term in right wing states for interesting reasons. You see it goes back to World War Two, Hitler and Stalin were both really fascist dictators (one came from the right one from the left). But the U.S was allied with Russia to fight the Germans, so they couldn’t call them a fascist state- Instead they called them socialist for whatever reason and hence when Russia became the enemy so unfortunately did socialism. The U.S won’t tell you that before the 1950s citizens that earnt more than $250 000 a year were taxed 91%….It is fine to be socialist! All the best countries are! Ask people why socialism is bad and they probably won’t actually have an answer.
Critique but don’t scorn differences, attempt to educate but never get hostile.
The Right succeeds by dividing and conquering its population, by polarising people with inflammatory issues. We can fight this if we, as a population, stay in control of the true facts and remain critical of what we are told, if we treat everyone with respect and understanding and if we connect with others though love – not hate. If everyone does that then the right will never truly win, (at least not for long, huh).
Banner image courtesy of NELSON ALMEIDA