Friday, February 26, 2016

What Rules do Harper and Trump follow??

Watching the gradual deterioration of rightwing politics into racism, extremism, and economic and environmental disaster, it is surely shocking how easily, here in the 21st century, the bugs crawl out from their hiding places. As cynical as I am it even surprised me how quickly Harper's regression into overtly racist politics led to the sudden emergence of increased bigotry in Canada. As soon as leaders legitimize such ideology, as Harper and his minions did and as Trump is doing now, the real ugly underbelly of the rightwing emerges. And it is both depressing and shameful.

It seems to me that the deterioration of traditional conservative parties in both Canada, the US, and elsewhere, is largely a result of the gradual failure of neo-liberal ideology which has now fairly conclusively demonstrated that it leads nowhere. Traditional conservatives who so gladly backed neo-liberalism, are now left bereft of a meaningful way forward and as they flounder and tread water the vacuum of their failure is filled by the wackos who seem to know nothing about anything and so they largely simply rely on the politics of hate, anger, and scapegoating to fill their ever increasing void.

Here in Canada in the wake of a decade of such hate and anger, we now are faced with the embarrassing presence of an opposition leader whose ignorance about just about everything is matched only by her spiteful mean-spiritedness. I mean, who would have predicted 20 years ago that we would have an opposition leader who glorifies Ayn Rand??!! (The shear stupidity of Rand's thought is matched only by the ridiculous performative contradiction of claiming to be a Randian while simultaneously being a public servant. I mean you really couldn't make this stuff up)

The other day I heard a Trump supporter complain about immigrants by saying that "These people come here and don't want to obey the rules." There are many levels of ignorance on display here, but I will talk about the one that I find most telling.

When a rightwing wingnut talks about immigrants not "obeying the rules" what they are really saying, of course, is that they are not "obeying my rules." What this ignorant Trump supporter was conflating was the difference between rules and laws. Laws are things you have to obey, while rules are something with which you choose to abide. Laws apply (or at least should be applied) to everyone equally. Rules, on the other hand are largely things we voluntarily engage with depending on time and place. If we want to engage in certain professions, for example, we can chose to abide by the rules of the professional association that grants accreditation. If we want to join a gym we choose to adhere to certain rules about, say, clothing or wiping down the machines after use. At a wider scale, rules are really just norms and standards of behaviour. But these are flexible and we can choose to flout norms even if we pay a social price for that.

The reason I am making this distinction is that the conflation of laws and norms, so poignantly expressed by that Trump supporter, is very revealing about the decline of the rightwing into a movement of anger, hate, and division. Western Liberal democracy, imperfect as it has been, was founded on an assumption that while laws should apply to everyone, norms and standards of behaviour should be as flexible as possible to allow for the greatest degree of diversity and personal belief and action. But as Western Liberal democracy has begun to falter and fail (both as a result of direct attacks by the rightwing and a growing social/political/economic inequality) the rightwing leaders (largely in an effort to divert attention from their own ideological failures) have increasingly attempted to focus people's attention on the actions of the perceived "other." They don't want us to think about the fact that there has been a significant decline in people disobeying laws, and they want us to think about how people aren't abiding by our (read traditional white) norms of behaviour.

When rightwing ideology (which even at its best is largely a defence of selfishness) fails over a long period to "deliver the goods," it is left with an empty shell of hate and anger. Where it fails to legislate this negativity (largely because courts have prevented it) it refocuses attention on the more abstract and more easily manipulatable notions of norms of behaviour. Ironically, the phenomena of Harper and Trump is actually a sign of the failure of rightwing ideology to deliver the promised prosperity, just as a bully who is losing an argument reverts to physical violence. The rightwing want us to believe that norms of behaviour are the most important thing in society not because they believe in peace and social harmony but because they have failed legally and legislatively and so they want us to believe that the apparent failures of our society (for which they are most responsible in the first place) are a result of people who have come into "our" society and don't want to play by "our" rules.


Owen Gray said...

I read today that Lindsay Graham believes his party his gone "batshit crazy," Kirby. Some on the Right understand just how badly their project has failed.

Lorne said...

A very interesting proposition, Kirby. Combined with a lack of critical thinking skills, education and genuine self-awareness on the part of the targets of the demagogues in our midst, it is a prescription for disaster on so many levels.

Askingtherightquestions said...

Really important piece Kirby! I was dumbfounded last night to watch Coyne, Wells and Hebert try to put a face on this and also compare the US situation to Canadian politics. Wells suggested that we have had a Trump moment in the guise of Toronto mayor Rob Ford. What no one seems to want to address is the critical issue I believe is at the heart of the disaffection for both voters on the "left" and "right" sides which is truth telling. It is not lost on most Americans that they have received a gigantic basketful of leadership lies and deception from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the great recession and Wall Streets role, to the overall war on terror, the list goes on and on. They know their "greatest democracy the world has ever known" is bought and paid for by an shameful system of lobbying. They do not trust anyone in the current system. Trust is a very difficult thing to recover when it is lost! This should be lesson number one for our Cons, but they seem oblivious. Like the oil and gas industry they have so brazenly embraced (or arisen from in the case of many Alberta politicians), they CANNOT tell the truth because it is damaging, toxic or otherwise unacceptable. I hope every Canadian reads Nikiforuk's "Slick Water" so they can understand how important regulatory oversight is - and what happens when these corporate types are not kept in check. I honestly thought this could not happen in Canada!

the salamander said...

.. another timely essay (keep them coming, please) .. and well aimed. These are stunning times, and certainly via social media we essily see how dogmatic and shrilly partisan, the odd followers of Harper, Trump et al are.. and of course their retinue and funding enablers etc. What personal ideology or psychological drivers are behind The creeps like Harper or wealthy blowhards like Trump are hard to fully understand. Ego, narcissism, conceit.. but even more interesting is the evolution of Stephen Harper to attain.. and then maintain his exalted position.. when deceit, secrecy, obstruction, manipulation etc were on display daily. A classic example was Harper telling Canadians he never said an inquiry into missing indigenous woman was not on his radar.. and 99.9 % of mainstream media let that utter lie go away essentially unreported. Pardon me.. but the Prime Minister of Canada just told a ridiculous lie.. or has lost his memory completely. It seems 'situaltional ethics' are the new Accountability.. and both Harper and Trump are highly evolved practitioners .. and recognize there is essentially no penalty for such outrageous behavior. Even now, Our ex PM is 'special' .. and rules don't apply.. or decorum, or taking responsibility.. or even showing up for work. Again we find mainstream media essentially giving a free pass to such insulting behaviour..