Mr Joseph Mani churns up our minds again. He writes one more thought-provoking article which cannot but be an eye-opener on the trend of world politics today. The findings in the article pose a great challenge to Pope Francis' idealilstic “FRATELLI TUTTI” (all brothers)! Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
Disclaimer: I have used the words Right Wing to denote a certain political ideology and Liberal for its opposite. I am aware that these words are value-loaded. Please take them purely as labels used for lack of any other words. I am not attaching any value to them.
In the 21st century, specially during the last decade, Right Wing ideology has been on the rise. Hard Right parties and politicians who at one time were considered fringe have emerged into the mainstream in democratic countries, focusing on national pride, strong central rule, intolerance of dissent and resentment against minorities and refugees – The Tea Party and Trump in the US, Putin in Russia, BJP in India, The National Front in France, Alternative for Germany in Germany and The Independence Party in the UK.
We shall look only at the rise of Donald Trump and his Republican followers who are closer to the ultraconservative Tea Party than to the traditional GOP. Trump had been variously described as a joker, a bigot, a liar, an egomaniac and a certifiable psycho case. Yet 74 million Americans voted for him just three months ago compared to 81 million for Biden. The Red States fare poorly on all Human Development Indices compared to the Blue States, yet consistently vote Republican. One study has shown that over the last eighty years growth, employment, deregulation and freedom of dissent were better under Democratic Presidents, yet majority of Americans voted for the far-right Trump in 2016. The Indian-origin Bobby Jindal, as governor of Louisiana, laid off 30,000 public sector workers including nurses, nurse’s aides, medical technicians, school teachers and safety inspectors saving $ 1.6 billion which he gave as incentives to highly polluting industries to bring in jobs (which did not happen) though Louisiana ranked 49 out of 50 U.S. states in pollution. Yet the people of Louisiana voted him to a second term as governor.
Why the rise of the Right Wing when everything seems to suggest that Liberal governments are better? To understand this, let us imagine the following scenario in America:
You are a middle class white American, a member of the majority community. Your son is waiting to be called for a government job. He has done very well in the test and interview for the job. Now he is in the queue to get the appointment letter. There are a few aspirants in front of your son and there is a long line behind him. At the tail-end of the queue is a large number of African-Americans, emigrants, refugees and others who have done poorly in the qualifying procedure. The queue is slow moving. But your son is confident of getting the job. After a long time, your son’s position in the queue is not moving forward. In fact, you find that his position is sliding back. Surprised, you look back and see that some of those at the end of the queue are going ahead of your son. You ask an official for an explanation and you are told that those African-Americans, emigrants and refugees have special quotas and will get the job ahead of your son. Finally the official announces that all the positions have been filled and those left out, including your son, can go home. You seethe with rage. Your son had worked so hard to do well in the test and the job has gone to others whose only claim is that they do not belong to the majority community. In the evening your daughter reports the same thing. She did very well in SAT and was certain that she would get into an ivy league college. Your daughter did not make it because there was a 28.7% reservation for African-Americans, 7.8% for migrants, 4.7% for refugees, 17.2% for minorities and 10% “management quota” which is for rich Americans who pay hefty donations to the college. You ask yourself “Where does a middle class white American go?” You are caught between the very rich and the very poor with nobody to look after your interests. Minorities and refugees are protected, even forest animals get protection, but the white American is pushed around.
Most of you had at least one African-American neighbour, at least one Hispanic colleague or one Indian boss. You never felt any resentment towards them. You had only good will towards them. Now suddenly you become aware that they are different from you, not only in skin colour but also in their attitudes, their food habits and their social and religious practices and you begin to feel resentment and even hostile towards them because you are convinced that it is their presence in your land that is depriving you and your children of life’s opportunities. You are not hard-hearted towards them, but you don’t want them to be jumping the queue, and you certainly don’t want your government to be helping these queue-jumpers.
They show on Liberal TV channels a starving African-American mother or a refugee child dying on the beach. It is not that you are insensitive to their suffering. But the Liberals want you to feel guilty and feel ashamed when you, your parents or grandparents were not responsible for their plight. Are the Hispanic people made to feel ashamed of the plunder and atrocities by the Spanish conquistadors in the Americas? If they are poor, it is their karma and the government has no business to interfere in it. Or they should work hard to improve their situation rather than take advantage of their minority status. You are beginning to feel sympathy-fatigue. You are a white American, you are not anti-minority, but you don’t like to be told that you should constantly proclaim “I am not anti-minority.”
It is like you are made to feel a stranger in your own land. Etymologically nostalgia referred to the longing one felt for one’s native land like what migrants feel. Now you are the migrants. You insult an African-American and you are accused of racism and branded a white supremacist; those who insult a white American go scot free. Why the special breaks for the minorities and emigrants? It is the white Americans who have become an endangered species.
Everyone is talking about identity politics. It is time for an identity party of the majority to take centre stage. Everyone is also playing victim politics; you as part of the white majority did not want to play victim, but you are being left behind. Every community has privileges except the majority community. What are the African-Americans playing victim about anyway? With a population of 13%, there have been so many actors, generals, sportspersons and other celebrities from their community. You even elected one of them as the President of the nation.
As a member of the majority community, you are feeling alienated, resentful and angry; yes, you feel a stranger in your own land. Even illegal emigrants whom the liberals euphemistically call “undocumented people” seem to have more ownership rights to your country.
Then comes a political party and a leader promising to restore America to its former glory. They promise to restore to the majority community the dominant position which is rightfully yours. That message vibes with you. This is reinforced by channels like Fox News. Slowly you shift from CNN to Fox News. These channels stoke fear of the “other” which you were already feeling. They give you statistics to show that a time is coming when white Americans will be a minority in America.
Trump made no major policy announcements, but he evoked feelings of national pride, pride in being a white American, pride in being a part of the majority community. The leader became a totem, a symbol around which the followers could gather around. During the 2016 campaign, Trump showcased his success as a businessman and promised to replicate that success for the whole of America. One Trump fan exclaimed “To be in the presence of such a man!” You want development, yes, but even more than economic prosperity you want to be proud to be a white American and not be apologetic about being the majority. Trump promised honour for your land, for your culture and a place of honour for you in the world.
For most Republicans, religion is high priority. Most of them are church-goers; they pay taxes but donate to the church. Every meal starts with a prayer. Trump was against abortion like you; he promised to bring in a “public Christian culture”. Pompeo was a creationist who believed the universe was created in six days and subscribed to Intelligent Design against Evolution. People of Louisiana voted for Bobby Jindal for his religiosity and family values.
Contrast this with the liberals. They advocate choice for women in matter of abortion. They consider your religious beliefs and practices as uneducated; they can insult your scriptures and your god with immunity. Multiculturalism has come to mean insulting the culture and religion of the majority. Liberals consider being lax and secular as being modern. They brand you as bigoted and outdated for adhering to the religion and scriptures of your ancestors. There is a perceived devaluation of your religion.
This is the story of the Right Wing and this story propels the rise of the Hard Right. This may be a one-sided story. Would the African-Americans, minorities and refugees have been uplifted without government intervention? Would the white Americans, on their own, have come to the aid of the minorities? Is the average African-American as well off as the average white American in terms of education, opportunities and earnings? Wouldn’t the black woman in the ghetto and the Syrian refugee in the boat have a different story?
Even if the Hard Right story is one-sided, it is still a valid story. The majority have genuine grievances and the liberals need to pay attention to them. Both have a story to tell and we need to listen to each other’s story. There is a lot common between the Right Wing and Liberals than they think. Both are committed to democracy and love of our land. There are opinionated, bigoted, backward-looking and selfish people on both sides; there are also progressive, forward-looking and sacrificing people on both sides. What is needed is empathy on both sides. We need to reach out to each other.
If both sides are committed to democracy, then we need to strengthen the institutions of democracy – free elections, free press, free judiciary and the freedom to criticize.
Acknowledgement: For many of the ideas in this article and even for part of the title I am indebted to the book Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russel Hochschild.
20. 2. 2021