Tuesday 10 August 2021

Whistling “Dixie”.

Bottom Rail On Top: Two powerful forces are driving the surges of right-wing populism which, for more than a decade, have been transforming the politics of the West. The first, as always, is the actual, or feared, impact of adverse economic conditions. The second is composed of citizens fearful that their once dominant position in society is being challenged by “subordinate” minorities. “Bottom rail on top!” – as African-Americans colourfully described the social inversion inherent in Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves.

TUCKER CARLSON is Fox News’ most persuasive voice. Mild-mannered, wide-eyed, and softly-spoken, he is a much deadlier proposition that his tiresomely stentorian colleagues. So persuasive is Carlson, that some Republicans are already talking him up as a potential presidential candidate in 2024. It is, therefore, a very big deal that Tucker Carlson, with the backing of Fox News and the Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban, has recently been broadcasting live from Budapest. Tucker, as New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait wryly paraphrased, has seen the future – and it is illiberal democracy.

No more than the Labour and Green parties right here in New Zealand, does the Democratic Party in the United States fully grasp the danger represented by illiberal democracy and the authoritarian regimes it is bound to usher in. At either end of the Pacific Ocean, the Centre-Left is displaying a singular incomprehension of cause and effect.

Two powerful forces are driving the surges of right-wing populism which, for more than a decade, have been transforming the politics of the West. The first, as always, is the actual, or feared, impact of adverse economic conditions. The second is composed of citizens fearful that their once dominant position in society is being challenged by “subordinate” minorities. “Bottom rail on top!” – as African-Americans colourfully described the social inversion inherent in Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves.

The period in American history known as the “Reconstruction Era”, which lasted, roughly, from 1869 until 1877, was an heroic effort to ensure that the bottom rail remained, if not on top, then at least not on the bottom. As such, it offers historians (and social reformers) a powerful lesson in the dangers of legislating “against the grain” of entrenched power.

For eight remarkable years, the federal government of the United States attempted to give practical effect to the equality now constitutionally guaranteed to the freed slaves of the defeated Confederacy. Nowhere on earth had such an attempt been made to politically, economically and socially empower a formerly servile population. During the two terms of President Ulysses S. Grant, former commander of the Union army, African-Americans were elected sheriffs and judges, won seats in state and federal legislatures, established schools and hospitals, and with assistance from the frankly socialistic Freedman’s Bureau, set up their own farms and businesses. “Bottom rail on top!”, indeed.

The fatal flaw of the Reconstruction project was that it could only be carried out under the protection of federal bayonets. Without the US army of occupation billeted across the South, the constitutional guarantees to African-Americans weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. In the fateful compromise thrashed out between the Republican and Democratic parties to resolve the bitterly disputed presidential election of 1876, the Republicans held on to the White House – but only at the price of withdrawing federal troops from the solidly Democratic South. It required less than 20 years for all the gains made by African-Americans since 1869 to be undone. By 1900, all-white city councils and legislatures were erecting statues to the military heroes of the lost Confederate cause all over the Jim Crow South.

The bottom rail was, once again, on the bottom.

As he was praising Orban’s regime, did Carlson detect in the Hungarian Prime Minister’s success in constructing a democratic system in which the “right” people always win, an all-too-audible echo of the American South’s elaboration of an outwardly democratic system in which the “white” people always won?

Orban has taken over the news media, suborned the Judiciary, redrawn electoral boundaries to the advantage of his party, and made it appreciably more difficult for his opponents to both cast a ballot and have it counted. By his very presence in Budapest, Carlson was signalling his endorsement of this debased form of democracy.

It is a form already familiar to Americans living in the 30 (out of 50) states already controlled by the Republican Party. By choosing to go to Budapest, Carlson was signalling to Republicans that if, by 2024, their party has reclaimed both Congress and the White House, then an American version of Orban’s illiberal democracy will be introduced across the entire United States. Such an outcome would further signal that, finally, the Southern inventors of Jim Crow democracy had their vindication, and “Dixieland” its long-delayed victory.

And the lesson Labour and the Greens should draw from this jaunt down the backroads and interstate highways of American political history is – what? Simply, that if progressive change has to be imposed and enforced by the naked power of the state, then the political reaction will likely be strong enough to undermine progressivism and democracy in equal measure.

If we think of the He Puapua Report as the blueprint for an “Aotearoan Reconstruction”, then we must also ask ourselves how it might be enforced. Are we sufficiently evolved politically to accept its radical changes without demur? Or will Pakeha, contemplating the imminent loss of their power and privilege, shout like them good-ole southern boys: “Hell, no!”? Confronted with such open resistance, who could the Government rely upon to fix bayonets?

Such questions are jarring. Only seldom are New Zealanders asked to confront the deep fissures running through their society. Since the crushing of Māori military resistance in the Land Wars, there has never been the slightest doubt as to the state’s ability to prevail over its internal enemies.

New Zealand’s long-lived and deeply-entrenched democracy further strengthens the state by furnishing its political rulers with a popular mandate for their policies. By first obtaining the permission of the electorate, even a radical programme of reform can be accepted. Introducing such a programme without a popular mandate, however, is a much riskier proposition. In buoyant economic circumstances a government might get away with it – just. But, should the economy turn sour in the midst of unpopular reforms, the party responsible will soon find itself in serious trouble.

Hard times and unmandated reforms are the classic catalysts for populist surges. Whether these surges draw their energy from the left or the right of politics is largely determined by the ideological complexion of the incumbent government. There are occasions, however, when the severity of the economic downturn and the radicalism of the government’s reform programme produce in the minds of voters fears that can only be called ‘existential’. Convince voters that both their economic security and cultural ascendancy are fundamentally threatened, and the party presenting the most convincing promise to eliminate such threats will win not only power, but be given a mandate to smash those deemed responsible for putting the rights of “the people” at risk. In these circumstances, the rights of minorities are ruthlessly overridden.

Labour and the Greens are whistling in the dark by dismissing all such considerations as “culture wars” distractions. Given that the wars are of their own making, this is a little hard to swallow. It was Labour who commissioned He Puapua – and then kept in secret. It was Labour and the Greens who promoted laws on “Hate Speech”, and defended giving nearly $3 million to the Mongrel Mob. While unemployment continues to fall, wages continue to rise, Covid-19 is kept at bay, and the National Party remains a moribund hulk, the culture wars Labour have started will smoulder rather than blaze. Let Covid breach the border, and the economy crash, however, and New Zealanders won’t need Tucker Carlson to teach them how to whistle “Dixie”.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 9 August 2021.


Nick J said...

Pretty much what I suggested in the previous post. My contention is that NZers are by nature conservative, if not politically then by personal nature. What this government has failed to understand is that being a Labour voter doesnt automatically align with progressive or woke politics.

In my view the worse thing a government can do in a democracy is assume that they have a mandate and enact policy without regard to ensuring they have persuaded a majority.

A current example is the 3Waters push that the government want local bodies to sign off by October. Very few of the public understand what the reasons for it are, fewer understand the intent. Local body politicians dont understand it, are supposed by statute to consult their ratepayers and have no time to do it. The implications are huge yet from the way this is being rushed there must be suspicions re the government motives. Yet when people see their first water bills increasing by a $1000 and its too late to argue the backlash will be seen at the polls.

Maybe it is time for Jacinda to order a Lange (tea break) on the radical stuff and to focus on health, housing, welfare... all good Labour interests. Let the Greens openly propose He Puapua and woke agendas, if there is a mandate for them they will get the votes.

greywarbler said...

A very interesting post Chris. I didn't know that about the 1869-77 period. As far as changing people's attitudes by simple means is concerned, I remember reading about a USA workshop with a film that showed all the ways that blacks had been put down over the years. It was an attempt to arouse empathy and understanding amongst the white young people that were the main audience. Result as expressed by some, that as the poor treatment of blacks had gone on for so long it must be right otherwise it would have been stopped, and that the victims must have deserved it. No change of opinion, almost a reinforcement of prejudice occurred.

If the NZ government now tries to make big changes in society to better a minority with as strong a claim to respect and making law as Maori have, people are bound to cite Labour's head-strong rush into the economic sphere, which wishes to spread its tentacles much further than understanding business matters and the movement of money. Labour has apparently bound us tightly into a position where people are subservient to a theoretical model, and on presenting unwelcome facts about this to government, find themselves akin to an insect swaddled helplessly by a spider. People struggle to manage, try to get change, largely to no avail.

Trust in Labour's ability to manage a 'cake stall' has vanished, and the belief that they would want to be bothered with anything serving people and community-involved would be doubted. Instinctively the public feels distrustful of any further upheavals from Labour. And Maori themselves might suffer from the old adage that 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely'. There is no surety that Maori, through Labour's dealings, would deliver better than their patrons. But if they can achieve better, with reasonable, adequate funding, working with their own models and programs, they will win everybody over. However that money to one of the gangs is high, maybe payment in stages, such as is done for building projects, would have been better.

As for the Hungarian attitude becoming more authoritarian, I read a book written by a Hungarian Jew who was lucky to survive WW2 with his mother. He noted that the Hungarian authorities were very quick to act on Nazi orders to deny their rights, shut down their businesses, force them to move from their houses, steal their goods and valuables to the extent of apparently searching women internally to ensure they had not withheld rings etc. Yet relatives who lived in Rumania (I think) were not treated as harshly. But making a brief google search shows me that there was quite a German population in Hungary of which some were drawn to Naziism which also indicates an acceptance of fascism - authoritarianism too?

And understanding national characteristics lasting over long periods, such as racism and authoritarianism, may come up from this excerpt that I found while I trawled: Last but not least, political science is also liable to argue that attitudes determining political culture are prone to reinforce themselves (Downs 1957). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/25739638.2020.1812942 This may be so for Hungarians as from another heading the point was made that Hungarians have a politicised culture, this being noted as compared to that of Slovaks. I wouldn't say that we have a political culture, more the reverse would apply until perhaps, recently.

Odysseus said...

Ardern appears to be under the thumb of her sizeable Maori caucus, and is perhaps also driven by the desire to receive a gold star from the UN. The He Puapua vision is however neither just nor sustainable. You cannot concentrate fifty percent of the power in the hands of the 15% who self-identify as Maori, nor give them a veto over the use of essential public goods like freshwater, without provoking a backlash. People are now waking up to the implications of the document that was kept hidden from them at the last election and are becoming very concerned about their own and their children's future under such a race-based regime.

Johnston said...

Quite right, Chris.

And the political landscapes here and in the United States seem to be merging, at least in respect of the big money and propoganda.

It was the funder of the now disgraced Lincoln Project, Pierre Omidyar, who funded all the organisations to lobby the government - specifically, the Justice Committee - to argue for the introduction of hate speech laws.

What is this Silicon Valley and National Security State partners interests here, which is so influential at least in terms of funding yet so unknown?

Will Matt Nippert write an expose on him like he did about Peter Theil?

John Hurley said...

I noted on Twitter the concern at Judith Collins "have a debate" and Maori Science: Hax Harris, Giovani Tiso, Catherine Delahunty, Russell Brown, Hiawatha (I was colonised @ RNZ) and a lot of other names with large followers.

I was surprised to see Catherine Delahunty, she's normally very sensible?

Here is some heavy reading for the keen person. Eric Kaufmann critiques White Studies

Our social reality is ultimately constructed by the way we process sense-impressions, but it is a fallacy to move from this accurate observation to the post-structuralist conceit that concepts are simply power-driven paradigms without empirical referent. Physicists have shown that the colour spectrum is simply a continuum of wavelength with
no natural breaks. Yet anthropologists have shown remarkable cross cultural agreement over colour. We all have a name for ‘blue’ as a colour in a way that we do not for ‘blue-green’ (Dawkins, 2004: 31). Much the same could be said about many objects from trees to chairs.

In this section, I argue that the White Studies approach has developed a number of limitations that derive from its American focus and methodological assumptions. The first concerns a parochialism in time, illustrated by White Studies’ focus on the recent past of white power, which extends through to the post-civil rights context. This gives rise to a belief in white omnipotence when in fact a much simpler explanation is that we are living through a (temporary) period of light-skinned civilizational success that produces a ‘psychic wage’ for whites. Already, the once unassailable WASPs have given way to non-denominational ‘whites’ in the American power structure, and the racial hybrids are coming up behind them. When civilization was centred around the Mediterranean, China and India, lightskinned people were often enslaved and viewed as barbarians. This is why the word ‘slave’ is derived from the Slavs who were the source of slaves in the Byzantine and the Ottoman empire.

That's just a sample and I'm half-way through.

Jens Meder said...

The statement "But, should the economy turn sour in the midst of unpopular reforms, the party responsible will soon find itself in trouble" - is a timely reminder that ultimately, all the "cultural war" based dissatisfactions are still subject to the immutable laws of natural economics, that regardless of ideology and theories, on the material level nothing can be created out of nothing by humans.
So, the "cultural war" discussions are actually a diversion from the real source of socio-economic dissatisfaction and conflicting interests stemming from us being divided into haves and have-nots.
Resolve that "schism", and with constructive unity without "have nots", cultural differences will merge onto a universally acceptable level, superior to the unity of universal personal "have-notism" under state monopoly capitalism.

All we need is sufficiently publicized popular support for that, so a government or party is moved to start working on it.

Barry said...

The one and only reason why "the right" or "conservative white" or whatever you call them, usually control things is due to education.
A good education will teach you that society hates change and it hates uncertainty. It teaches you that silly decisions have consequences, that you are the only person that really cares about you.
It will also teach you that systems based on a theory or a belief system dont work because these ideas always leave human nature out of the thought process.

Anonymous said...

re hate speech.... a folly sighed, tyrion[the imp] 'when you tear out a mans tongue you are not proving him a liar, you are only telling the world that you fear what he might say

John Hurley said...

Interesting that the Christchurch Shooter was an admirer of China

The West isn’t dying – its ideas live on in China
What the Western world confronts is not the threatening advance of alien civilisations, but its own dark shadows moving through China and Russia. - John Gray

The decomposition of the West is not only a geopolitical fact; it is also cultural and intellectual. Leading Western countries contain powerful bodies of opinion that regard their own civilisation as a uniquely pernicious force. In this hyper-liberal view, which is heavily represented in higher education, Western values of freedom and toleration mean little more than racial domination. If it still exists as a civilisational bloc, the West must be dismantled.

Hyper-liberalism is the ideology of an aspirant ruling class that aims to hoard wealth and position while flaunting its immaculate progressive credentials. Intractable culture wars and an epistemic crisis in which key factual and scientific questions have been politicised are a part of a bid for power by these counter-elites. But except in New Zealand and English-speaking Canada, there is no sign of them achieving hegemony.


John Hurley said...

I should add that it is the Wests "dark shadows" that appeal to Tarant

Schmitt’s theory of law is not wholly original, or necessarily anti-liberal. A similar view can be found in the work of Hobbes. The difference is in their view of politics and the state. Whereas Hobbes believed the purpose of the state is the protection of individuals from violence and insecurity – a fundamentally liberal position – Schmitt charged the sovereign with promoting the homogeneity of the people.

It is this aspect of Schmitt’s thought that appears to be most attractive to the Chinese leadership. If the state and the people are one and the same, minorities can be suppressed, or obliterated, in the name of public safety. The forced assimilation of Tibetans, Kazakhs, Uighurs and other minorities into a uniform Han Chinese culture is not oppression, but a necessary means of protecting the state from forces that would destroy it.

That is the polar opposite of Kerry Burkes "Diversity has been of immense value and will be even more so in the future.

You do need some expectation of homogeneity if you are to have trust (as in common allegiance).

Prove me wrong?

greywarbler said...

This song was written by Stephen Foster in 1854. It is a huge shock to me and a disgrace to New Zealand leaders that the words are as applicable today as then. If you don't know that, then you are wilfully ignorant, and if you have a soul you will need to brush off the modern stylish coverings, and get real with yourself and the world.

I don't know about Labour, they are too close to the pattern of the past eg India. That country used to make cotton goods then Britain took the bulk of the cotton Home, to their new-fangled clever machines and child labour, and Ghandi, a lawyer?, started a campaign of protest in India to stop the theft of the people's resource and trade. We have had our country's domestic trading superseded by imports, lost numbers of jobs, with wages compressed while housing costs have gone sky-high, and to top it off have to give 15% to the government for every business action we make, out of the insufficient income that is the lot of many, and the economists have resorted to calling Consuming an industry in lieu of all the others that have been withered and died.

It was an interesting fact that I found yesterday. Greenland has the highest suicide rate in the world. It wasn't always that way but started going up after a 1980's drive by its suzerain Denmark. They wanted to help it modernise, they arranged with 22 families to take their children to Denmark to learn modern ways, and intended to return them to act as models progressing to a new style of living. Some children totally lost touch with their parents, some felt a loss of identity. The interpolation of Danish culture into Greenland's broke the bonds at that time and it was youth that started killing themselves. We have, need bonds and shared lives to be human. Labour is trying to do a Danish on us; better just leave that approach alone and reserve the name for delicious pastries. We are obviously in NZ prey to a different sort of pandemic - the covetous world wishing to expropriate value from others.

BBC tells the story of the upheavals and the apologies. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55238090
It takes a long time to recover - https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55238090
But here is an idea that we could utilise: - https://www.arctictoday.com/in-northwest-arctic-a-powerful-tool-in-combating-suicide-training-youths-to-help-each-other/
The world suicide interactive image. Scroll to the global distribution of suicide:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"That is defined as engaging with a fool several times and expecting sense. Worse is that the fool is only capable of malicious ad hominem attacks. "
Sez the guy who called me "lazy" among other things. "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye."Matthew 7:5

David George said...

Jees GS, did you write that to anyone in particular or just for practice. A trial run?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

He who wrote the quote will know who it's directed at. That's why it's in quote marks. But if the shoe fits David.