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Trump & Weimar America

Lessons for the Anglosphere from the National Front's near-loss

UK conservative columnist Peter Hitchens openly despises the National Front in France, but he says that the mainstream media are taking the wrong lesson from the Front’s loss Sunday in the French elections. Excerpts:

My attitude towards such parties of the so-called ‘Far Right’ (How far is far? Who measures it? Who decides when to apply this epithet?) is that their existence and strength is a reproach to cultures which have expelled responsible and civilised conservative opinion from their parliaments, academies and media, dismissing them as ‘fascists’ . Such cultures have created a large and gormless class of frustrated, voiceless people who will, if provoked long enough, vote for almost anyone who is not the establishment.

It’s a sort of Weimar Republic problem. The liberal left have the upper hand, and use it so carelessly and arrogantly, so totally despising those who disagree with them,  that they risk losing not just their own superficial gains, but the whole of free society. I believe this to be true, and have tried arguing it with members of the new elite, quite often. They haven’t been interested.

Hitchens points out that even though the FN did not win the presidency of any region, the “Maginot Line” against them held only because the woebegone Socialist Party withdrew its candidates from regions where the FN was riding high, and urged its voters to vote for Sarkozy’s Republican Party, as the only effective means of stopping the FN. It worked. Nevertheless, the FN represents one-third of the French electorate. As Hitchens points out, if the only way the Establishment can keep the FN from taking power is by showing itself as essentially the same party, it only confirms the FN’s diagnosis of the Establishment’s corruption. More:

But in any case I have little doubt that the growing success of the French National Front (FN) has been made possible by the collapse into social liberalism, and EU worship, of the old French Left. It is in the former dominions of the old French Left that the FN flourishes.

To describe the FN’s results as a rout, as some media did, is absurd. The FN ended the battle in good order and well-prepared for the 2017 Presidential election, where it may well force the two establishment parties to combine against it once again.

This tactic obviously works, in that it stops the FN from winning – for now. But it also completely confirms the FN’s (perfectly justified) propaganda, that the official parties of Left and Right are really the same thing.  And the more this realisation takes hold, the more defectors, in the long term, the FN will get from the old parties. Both are wholly committed to the EU, open borders, the Euro and all the other disasters which liberal dogmatists have visited on the Continent over the past 20 years. How will things look in 2020? And, once tactical voting has failed to stop the NF capturing regions and seats, what defence will France’s ‘centre’ have against the Le Pen revolt? Certainly it has no ideas. My suspicion is that, once the FN is big enough to get round this new Maginot Line of centrism , it will do so.

Read the whole thing. 

Hitchens speculates what this might have to do with the British political system. Neither France nor the UK have quite the same problems that we do, nor the same political structure and dynamics. Still, I think we would be foolish to ignore the lessons here.

Donald Trump comes from somewhere. His biggest issue has been immigration. David Frum explains why Trump has been so effective:

Donald Trump’s noisy complaints that immigration is out of control are literally true. Nobody is making conscious decisions about who is wanted and who is not, about how much immigration to accept and what kind to prioritize—not even for the portion of U.S. migration conducted according to law, much less for the larger portion that is not.

Nor is there much understanding of what has happened after it has happened. A simple question like, “How many immigrants are in prison?” turns out to be extraordinarily hard to answer. Poor information invites excessive fears, which are then answered with false assurances and angry accusations.

Nervous about Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris massacre? How dare you! Would you turn away Jews fleeing Hitler? Oh, you think that analogy is hyperbolic? Tell it to the mayor of New York City.

This frequent invocation of the refugee trauma of the 1930s shuts down all discussion of anything that has happened since. Since 1991, the United States has accepted more than 100,000 Somali refugees. Britain accepted 100,000 as well. Some 50,000 Somali refugees were resettled in Canada; some 40,000 in Sweden; smaller communities were settled in the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark.

How’s that going?

It’s a disaster, Frum shows. And in this quite good essay, Frum talks about how complicated and messed-up our immigration policies are. Then:

Americans talk a lot about the social difficulties caused by large-scale, low-skill immigration, but usually in a very elliptical way. Giant foundations—Pew, Ford—spend lavishly to study the problems of the new low-skill immigrant communities. Public policy desperately seeks to respond to the challenges presented by large-scale low-skill immigration. But the fundamental question—“should we be doing this at all?”—goes unvoiced by anyone in a position of responsibility. Even as the evidence accumulates that the policy was a terrible mistake from the point of view of the pre-existing American population, elites insist that the policy is unquestionable … more than unquestionable, that the only possible revision of the policy is to accelerate future flows of low-skill immigration even faster, whether as migrants or as refugees or in some other way.

Even as immigration becomes ever-more controversial with the larger American public, within the policy elite it preserves an unquestioned status as something utterly beyond discussion. To suggest anything otherwise is to suggest—not merely something offensive or objectionable—but something self-evidently impossible, like adopting cowrie shells as currency or Donald Trump running for president.

Read the whole thing. 

Trump has lately been in the news for his harsh opinions on Islam and Muslims. I think it’s fair to ask to what extent Trump’s views find support because the political and media establishments have discouraged a full, frank airing of the very real challenges contemporary Islam poses to the Western political and social order. Over the last day or so, I’ve had a fruitful, private e-mail exchange with an American Muslim reader of this blog who writes under the pseudonym “Jones”. I’ve learned things about the diversity and complexity of the American Muslim community that I didn’t know from the news media, fixated as it has long been on managing the news audience rather than searching for and revealing difficult truths.

And Jones tells me he has learned things from me about the leadership of American Islamic institutions that he did not know either — things that neither he nor anyone else would have learned had they only depended on the liberal media for their information. I’ve asked him to write an essay for this blog, and he’s agreed to do it. I look forward to reading it and publishing it. I don’t know if he agrees with me or not, but I think the news media’s deep reluctance to ask and attempt to answer troubling questions about the American Muslim community makes it much easier for we who are outside that community to project our own hopes or fears onto it. We conservatives are too quick to believe panicky claims about American Muslims, but it’s also true that the mainstream media has little to no credibility with us on this issue because we believe it has a vested interest in telling only one side of the story.

This is a problem for all of us, conservative and liberal, Muslim and non-Muslim. The absence of a real and well-informed public discussion, even a politically incorrect one, gives space for demagogues to operate.

Donald Trump has not made the gay rights/religious liberty conflict part of his campaign, and I doubt he ever will. Same-sex marriage is a settled issue in America, and despite the stupidity of GOP presidential candidates chasing the religious right vote (more on which tomorrow), gay rights in general are close to it. But I do wonder if the trans thing is going to end up as the spark of an illiberal backlash — not from Trump, necessarily, but in the near future. Recall this Peter Hitchens quote:

The liberal left have the upper hand, and use it so carelessly and arrogantly, so totally despising those who disagree with them,  that they risk losing not just their own superficial gains, but the whole of free society.

For “liberal left,” in America, think “Establishment”. Frum has already said how anathema questioning immigration policy is to both parties. The Democrats are already deep in the tank for whatever the LGBT lobby wants, and the Republican elites either agree with them, or are too afraid to say anything meaningful in defense of religious liberty. Probably because they live and move and have their being in the rarefied air of elite opinion, they are also too timid to defend schools against the Obama administration’s order that they must allow transgenders to use locker rooms without any modification for privacy, or anything else. The Houston business elites, not a liberal Democratic constituency, were behind the recent gay rights ballot proposal in the city, and had their heads handed to them by a majority-minority electorate. It was widely observed that had the proposed law covered only gays and lesbians, it probably would have passed. There is something about transgender that is a bridge too far for many people — and the way the Establishment news and entertainment media keep pushing it, the greater the backlash may well be.

Or not. You know how pessimistic I am about the social order in this country when it comes to sexuality and individualism. But the Houston vote surprised me. Some libertarians are already considering bailing on the gay rights movement because of its emerging illiberality. Should the cultural liberalism of the Democratic and Republican elites overreach on immigration, LGBT rights (including religious liberty), or other hot button issues, leaving masses of working class and middle class people (not all of them white; see Houston) alienated, another Trump may well emerge, a populist more electable than the reckless billionaire.

I’m not saying that liberals of the cultural left and right have to abandon their principles to accommodate the rest of us. I am saying that we are in a period of political instability, and if we were to have an economic meltdown … well, let me simply repeat Peter Hitchens on the UK/Europe situation, and say again that with a few modifications, we are facing something similar here:

The liberal left have the upper hand, and use it so carelessly and arrogantly, so totally despising those who disagree with them,  that they risk losing not just their own superficial gains, but the whole of free society. I believe this to be true, and have tried arguing it with members of the new elite, quite often. They haven’t been interested.

(H/T: Niall Gooch.)