Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Angry Populist Surprises

All across the world, there are angry people speaking their mind. Is this a macro-trend? Are these reactions to the side effects of global warming… the result of millions of people losing their farms to never-ending droughts with nowhere to go and nothing to lose? Could they be a backlash against jobs and opportunities lost to economic globalization, not looking after those displaced by the shift of work to distant cheap-labor outsourcing and no-labor automation? Is there lingering outrage over decades of repression or the atrocities of civil war? Or is this a manifestation of Malthusian overpopulation fighting for limited or shifting resources?
Let’s look at the most recent events, beyond the Arab Spring, or the earlier Iraq war and the toppling of brutal dictators, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East. We know that ISIS arose, ostensibly to represent majority-Sunni Syrian and Iraqi farmers left to twist in the wind at their drought-decimated lives by callous Shiite governments. We watch as Russian and Assad-Syrian forces pound strongholds of rebellious Syrian citizens – well beyond attacks on ISIS and its ilk. But there were also signs of hope, over half a century after one particular conflict began… in Colombia. Did that turn out well as we had hoped?
“Colombia voted to reject a peace deal with FARC rebels by a razor-thin margin of 50.24 to 49.75 percent, throwing years-long negotiations into chaos and threatening to prolong the country’s half-century war. Sunday’s outcome also amounts to a huge setback for the U.S. and Obama administration, which had backed Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and pledged to boost U.S. aid to the country by nearly 50 percent, to $450 million a year. The fate of that funding proposal is also now up in the air.” Washington Post (Daily 202), October 3rd.
Both the FARC and the government, noting the narrow margin by which this peace accord was defeated, have gone back to the drawing board to tweak some of the more objectionable passages. The President does, apparently, have sufficient authority to close this agreement without a popular vote, but experts predict he will call for another vote after the fix. Who knows?
We’re also watching a strong tide of rising anger at the willingness of governments, under clear EU “free travel” laws and high-level immigration policies, to welcome significant numbers of Syrian migrants – escaping war and brutality in their homeland – to enter Europe to find a new start. Brexit, most believe, pulled the United Kingdom out of the European Union precisely because the Brits were powerless to control their own borders to close off East Europeans seeking jobs or Syrian migrants seeking a new home.
Hungary even called for a referendum that would mandate that Budapest refuse to comply with the EU free travel directives or its efforts to relocate Syrian refugees. Although those voting in that referendum overwhelmingly voted to support populist strongman, Viktor Orban, in his quest to close Hungary’s door to migrants despite EU requirements, the turnout was so low that the referendum did not carry sufficient weight to force that Hungary’s parliament adopt such anti-immigrant policies.
In Germany, 26 years after the East and West reunited, there are still hard schisms, with Easterners being prone to be more extreme in their efforts to keep these Syrian migrants out. Angela Merkel’s long tenure as Chancellor seems to be facing its end as her own party and her constituents are voicing strong opposition to her open door policy toward these immigrants. Recent local elections are sending her a rather clear message.
Generally, the tone in East Germany is not particularly warm and friendly. “In Dresden, eastern Germany's largest city, protesters called German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other politicians ‘traitors’ and shouted ‘Merkel must go.’ Those slogans have become common in the city, where anti-foreigner demonstrations have taken place every Monday for about two years now. In a tweet, the regional government of Saxony, which hosted the ceremony this year, condemned the slogans [on the morning of October 3rd], saying officials were ‘saddened and ashamed.’
“Only a handful of people attended the demonstration. But their shouting put a painful public spotlight at the continuing divisions within Germany. Many eastern Germans feel left behind and excluded from the economic prosperity in the west. But some western Germans have accused their eastern neighbors of complaining without being willing to embrace change.
“No issue has caused more tensions than the influx of refugees into Germany last year. Eastern Germany has taken in far fewer refugees than western Germany. Yet, it was in the country's east where xenophobic attacks spiked.” Washington Post, October 3d. White, under-educated workers clinging to the hopes of the obsolete jobs and skills were be resurrected if only those damned immigrants were tossed out. Sound like the mainstay of the Trump constituency?
Clearly here in the US, “build a wall and make them pay for it,” “throw the undocumented Mexicans out,” and “put a moratorium on Muslims traveling to the United States” Donald Trump is touting pretty much the same anti-immigrant hate-mongering that is spreading fast throughout much of Europe. He tells us that we have the same kind of terrorist risks and potential job threats that his populist European counterparts have made.
What’s the BIG message? What are the real reasons? We know that they are most fear-based, change that threatens economic values and political stability to those most challenged by a new, reconfigured world. But is this a macro-trend, one that will fractionalize what was once globalized and create a 21st century equivalent of the Dark Ages, or the merely dying gasps of marginalized minorities who will slide out of existence as they age and die? It will get a lot nastier before we have any clear answers.
I’m Peter Dekom, and even if those who support openness and moderation prove victorious at the polls, those who feel truly left behind may just ramp up their opposition one huge notch higher.

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