Donald Trump has a thing for rebuking America’s democratic allies and their leaders—his latest target being Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull. The UK appears to be an exception to this trend. In his first interview with the British press as president-elect, Trump explained that the UK has a “special place” in his half-Scottish heart and pledged to support a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal. Reportedly a big fan of Winston Churchill—and of Boris Johnson’s Churchill Factor—he also asked the UK government to loan him a Churchill bust that his Republican predecessor George W. Bush kept in the Oval Office.
In our final post centring on the US presidential inauguration, Ulises Ali Mejias reflects on the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ and the role of social media. Ulises is associate professor at the State University of New York at Oswego. He is the author of Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World (2013, University of Minnesota Press). With Nick Couldry, he is currently writing a book on data as a capitalist social relation.
While we didn’t exactly predict the rise of ‘fake news’, in 2013 a Russian colleague and I completed an academic article on the disinformation tactics used during the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Like many others, we started to recognize the ways in which citizens generate, consume and distribute false information by interacting with old and new media, contributing to a social order where lies acquire increasing authority. While we focused on the Russia-Ukraine case, we felt it was important to point out that these tactics might serve as a template for future scenarios, including in Western democracies.
The article will not see the light of day until this year, four years after it was finished. Interestingly, part of the reason it has taken so long to get it published is that some reviewers felt our argument should omit references to Western democracies. The sentiment seemed to be that this kind of stuff could not happen here.
That was, of course, before the 2016 US presidential elections.
The election of a manifestly incompetent, billionaire bigot as president of the USA has come as a shock to many people, as indeed it should, and a vigorous debate has emerged over the causes. Many progressives, rightly horrified by the vile, nativist and sexist rhetoric of Trump’s campaign, seem to be concluding that it is this rhetoric that explains his success. Trump’s victory – enabled above all by white men – exposes the appeal of retrograde sentiment on gender – because voters rejected a highly-qualified woman for a self-declared ‘pussy-grabber’ – and race – since his supporters endorsed or at least disregarded his intensely racist rhetoric and policy pledges. Trump’s win thus expresses a ‘whitelash’ – a vile defence of threatened, white, male privilege. However, while sexists and racists undoubtedly supported Trump en masse, this thesis cannot explain how he was able to win. Indeed, it distracts attention from the most glaring cause of the outcome: the rot at the heart of America’s democratic system in general and of the Democratic Party in particular.
This is a guest post by Konstantin Kilibarda, originally blogged on the Abolition Journal blog and reproduced here. Konstantin is a PhD candidate at York University. His dissertation, Making Montenegro Work: Refashioning Labour After Socialism, addresses neoliberal restructuring in Montenegro and its impact on working lives and notions of citizenship in the newly independent state. His research interests include post-socialist transitions; processes of neoliberalization; labor market reforms; globalization; precarious work; gendered and racialized labour market segmentation, and more.
A key component of an apartheid system is the ability to disenfranchise those populations that may tip the political scales. Currently in the United States there are between 30-40 million residents (including millions of US citizens) who remain systematically disenfranchised. The fact that the disenfranchised are primarily racialized or poor, underlines Charles W. Mills’ contention that America’s democracy continues to be premised on a hierarchically structured ‘racial contract.’ Below I’ve compiled a short list of groups in the US who can’t vote, despite living, loving, caring, participating, and working everyday in communities and neighborhoods throughout the country.
If those feeling perplexed by Trump’s rise to power want to build a strong (and lasting) coalition against the Republican politics of hate (and the accommodation of such a politics by some wings of the Democratic party), efforts to expand voting rights, narrow voter suppression, and fundamentally transform the electoral system will play an important role. Racialized communities most directly impacted by these policies have been at the forefront of these struggles since the beginning; it’s now time for those just recognizing these facts to also get involved. The following is a quick breakdown of some of the major groups who live under the US system – some with citizenship, some without – but are nevertheless barred from having a say in the choice of President. Any one of these groups if enfranchised could have made a decisive impact in the 2016 election. Taken together they represent a formidable group that could radically transform American politics. It is perhaps no wonder that Republicans (and some Democrats) are committed to sustaining and even expanding the scope of their disenfranchisement.
(1) 13.3 million permanent residents
Many countries allow permanent residents to vote, yet in the United States those who have attained this status are barred from exercising their franchise. In the rhetoric of the Republican Party, ‘legal’ immigrants are often compared favorably to ‘illegal’ (i.e. undocumented) immigrants. Nevertheless, the Republican Party and some Democrats continue to ensure that all non-citizens (regardless of status) are unable to participate in elections. It’s worth remembering that the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996, which was pushed forward by a Republican controlled Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, expanded the grounds on which people can be deported, including explicit prohibitions against and harsh penalties for non-citizen voting.
America’s moral crisis
Luke Cooper is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Anglia Ruskin University. He is currently writing a book on the historical sociology of the long nineteenth century.
Parallels of Trumpism to some of the darkest moments in America’s past affirm Barak Obama’s recent claim that the ‘fate of the world is at stake’, argues Luke Cooper
It was springtime in America, but the thoughts of citizens were more preoccupied with the fallout from a distant war and an economic recession at home, than they were the change of seasons. Europeans may have looked on anxiously at how the pressures of a brutalised capitalism and great power politics appeared to have toxified a deeply polarised American public debate. But with their own countries facing similar, if not even more egregious, rise in racial populism, they were hardly in a position to judge.
I want to begin by thanking Karen, Anthony, Kirsten and Elke for their comments on the book–and a special thanks to Elke for organising. It is a rare treat to have so much attention paid to one’s work, especially by such thoughtful and insightful colleagues. My profound thanks to you all. I also need to offer some explanations for my much delayed post – first I was starting a new job and time ran out, then I was ill, and then my iCloud account somehow ate my draft. So, I’ve had to start from scratch, which has forced me to be direct and straightforward to save time. Any curtness of tone is a reflection of circumstances rather than my appreciation of my critics.
I learned a great deal from all the posts—about the gaps, limitations and possibilities of my book. Therefore, in my response I want to reflect upon what I have learned through this forum. What I have to say here is only a brief continuation of the collective intellectual journey taken through this forum. You have all given me much to think about it the future. Continue reading
The first in a forum on Joe’s recently released Reconstructing Human Rights: A Pragmatist and Pluralist Inquiry in Global Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2016). A number of commentaries will follow in the coming days.
Earlier this year I visited Sylvia’s Corner, the home of the Focus E15 campaign, to give a talk about the human right to housing. As I shared my research, based on work I had done with housing campaigns in Chicago and Washington DC, I was struck by how this specific moment illustrated what I most hope Reconstructing Human Rights might accomplish—namely, helping to reconstruct human rights as a more democratic idea, and practice.
In London, Focus E15 has been fighting for the human rights of those struggling to secure a decent home for themselves and their families, often struggling against the very public agencies who should be assisting them. Their work not only draws on an ethical and political language of human rights, but it also remakes that language, renders it suitable to their needs and responsive to their experiences. I have witnessed this same process with other campaigns, such as the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, and with community organising groups like ONE DC in Washington DC. It was revealing to act, even briefly, as a conduit through which the experiences of these distant groups could be relayed. Human rights are constantly being remade, repurposed—reconstructed—to serve the ends of those suffering from injustice. It is this reality that motivates my book, which is at its core an attempt to understand how human rights can be both an instrument of the privileged and powerful, and also a weapon for the oppressed and disempowered. I wrote this book because I wanted to know, what should we make of human rights?