I just listened to an interesting article on Radio 4 with historian Timothy Snyder discussing the Impeachment of Donald Trump for inciting political insurrection.
Snyder had an interesting ‘grand historical perspective’ on why the Impeachment was necessary – the insurrection, led by overt White Supremacists was the moment that post-truth started to manifest as fascism.
The Impeachment was important because ‘institutions’ had to make a statement that a group of people with radical views can not just come together in violence and overthrow the democratic will of the people.
He also made an interesting point about the void that’s been created by the death of local news outlets – he described the USA as a ‘news desert’ – you’ve only got the mainstream news which more people increasingly distrust, as demonstrated by the reporting of the recent election results.
Trump was one of these people, believing the mainstream media was his enemy and that the election results were a fraud, a view widely dismissed in most of the media, but popular in various alternative media outlets.
So Trump went with the ‘election rigged’ view, pushed this narrative on Twitter, and this an other right wing social media circles amplified this view, largely in isolation from what was going on in the mainstream.
Hence the Capitol Hill riots were based on a President spinning a narrative of ‘fake election’ not corroborated by mainstream news, but spread on social media, and the view kind of verified by ‘mob agreement’ rather than objective fact-checking.
That is pretty much was post-truth is – people united by narratives which have no easily verifiable basis. That’s not necessarily bad, but then when one such person who is spinning one of these post-truth narratives manages to make manifest a political insurrection, that’s the basis for Fascism right there.
Relevance to A-level sociology
It’s a tough one to understand this event, but certainly there are links to:
Theory and Methods – this is a very uncertain, polarised, post-truth event – truly the downside of the postmodern – a real event based on a fictional narrative of a stolen election!
The British Press have been all over Donald Trump’s four day visit to the United Kingdom… but predictably the focus has been mostly on the trivial details of the itinerary, the ‘intense’ security surrounding the event and Trump’s ‘outrageous’ off-the-cuff comments about Brexit, rather than on the substance of Trump’s pro hard-Brexit arguments or on the logic behind why thousands of people are protesting about his being here.
The BBC News coverage, for example, made a great deal out of the stringent security methods surrounding Trump’s first visit, and there was lots of coverage of Trump ‘in transit’ to various elegant places, such as Blenheim Palace, where we were reminded that while this wasn’t a state visit Trump still gets the Grenadier Guards playing the national anthem, a full-on Banquet, and he gets to meet the Queen.
There was, of course, coverage of the protestors outside Blenheim palace, where a couple of them told us that they didn’t like the politics he represented, or his misogynistic and racist attitudes, but this was largely stripped of any deeper logic or substance.
There was also lots of commentary on the (non)-content of the interview Trump gave to The Sun Newspaper on Thursday 12 July during which he criticised Theresa May for not listening to his advice on Brexit and pursuing a ‘soft-brexit’, suggesting that this would now mean that a ‘trade-deal’ with the USA would be very unlikely, and even lamenting the fact that Boris Johnson had stepped down from Politics, stating that he would make a great ‘Prime Minister’.
According to Chomsky, the function of such ‘outrageous comments’ is to keep ‘all eyes on Trump’ and to distract us from the wider neoliberal republican (and Tory) agenda which seeks to dismantle government protections for the average working person, and make it easier for elites to destroy people and planet for short term profit.
Chomsky outlines his views in this video, and I suggest everyone watches it:
Chomsky makes some pretty ‘hardline claims’ in this video, mainly that in reality Trump is part of a broader republican administration who knows exactly what they are doing: they have an extremely neo-liberal agenda to dismantle every part of government which protects the poor and the planet. In America the Republic Government is currently doing this, by taking away workers rights, pollution laws, consumer protections and by basically destroying the planet for short term profit.
The function of Trump needs to be understood in this context: all the time we focus on him and his personalised politics, we are not focussing on the real issues: the fact that the Republican Party are the most dangerous organised institution in human history, worse than the Nazis: because the Nazis never actually intended to destroy all life on earth for their short term gain, only some lives! (NB these are Chomsky’s words – in the video- not mine!)
Back to the media coverage of Trump – the subtle art of distraction away from the harsh realities of neoliberal politics?
Here I just want to focus on how the BBC coverage distracts us, both in the US and the UK…don’t forget that any 10 minute news item could focus on any aspect of the issue….
Firstly, at least 20% of the coverage is on triviality – itineraries, security, personalities, which has nothing to do with politics. Time wasted here.
Secondly, Trump’s comments in The Sun give us a distorted idea of how politics work – he personalises politics – giving us the impression that Theresa May is ‘free’ to heed his advice or not, that’s not how politics works, individuals are generally much more constrained.
Thirdly, Trump greatly simplifies the issues…. As he’s got the power to decide whether or not the USA does a trade deal with the UK… it’s the republican party more generally that decides that, remember he’s embedded in a power elite, he’s not a ‘lone operator’…. However, in the media, he appears like a lone operator, that’s why the elite love him so much, it’s just total obfuscation.
Fourthly…. Trump today (Friday, one day after) actually called his interview with The Sun ‘Fake News’ and denied criticizing Theresa May, even though the whole thing is recorded: another great distraction tactic, keeping the media focused on him, again away from the issues.
Fifthly… some protesters are protesting because they are against precisely the reality that Chomsky points out…. They are against people destroying the planet for the short term gain of an extremely wealthy ultra-minority. Yet does the media tell us this: no – most people are there protesting because they don’t like Donald Trump the man, the misogynist, again personalising and individualising the issues which are fundamentally social.
I’ll leave it there for today, just a few comments to illustrate what Chomskian analysis of the mainstream media coverage of Trump’s visit to the UK might look like!
All pictures screen captured from BBC News at 10.00, Thursday 12th July.
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Donald Trump’s recent retweets of inflammatory anti-Muslim videos posted by the far right group ‘Britain First’ sparked outrage last week, a row which intensified when Theresa May said it was wrong for him to do so, which in turn prompted a twitter rebuke from Donald Trump in which he said suggested she should be focusing on the destructive Radical Islam in the UK rather than criticizing him.
The videos purported to show Muslims pushing a boy off a roof, destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary, and beating a boy on crutches.
Trump’s tweets prompted The Guardian to suggest that his proposed state visit should be cancelled, because it would be inappropriate to extend such a formal welcome to such a racist bigot
However, the Daily Mail points out that state visits have been extended to all sorts of immoral characters in the past – such as Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
NB IMO the above statement from the Daily Mail is a great example of something which isn’t (technically) an argument) – that we shouldn’t cancel a proposed state visit because we have a tradition of setting a low-ethical bar for people invited to past state visits isn’t a rational reason for not changing current policy – it’s an irrational appeal to tradition/ emotion, thus not logical, thus not an argument.
According to Max Hastings in the Daily Mail, Trump’s tweets also reveal something about the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the USA – namely that the UK likes to flatter itself that there is one, but the reality is that this special relationship never actually amounts to much in terms of the USA doing anything for the UK… This might be a warning about not relying on the USA as one of our post-Brexit saviors.
As to why Trump posted those tweets, besides being an impetuous Racist, there may have been a self-interested political motive – these tweets may have been aimed at his own far-right American audience…. and he needs their support for his ‘Mexican Wall’ project.
So, all in all, as shocking as Trump’s Tweets were in terms of their revealing his horrible racism, the deeper-reality behind the tweets is even worse…
America’s two latest attacks on Syria and Afghanisatan have been headline news in the last fortnight – in case you missed either of them…
In Syria – the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles to damage and air base in response to the claimed use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces against civilians.
In Afghanistan they deployed the biggest ever non-nuclear bomb, at a cost of $16 million, to take out an ISIS stronghold.
The US claims the Syrian attack was because Assad crossed a line in using chemical weapons, and much of the news has focused on the declining relations with Russia (who support Assad), and they claimed the scale of second attack was to get into the underground bunkers used by ISIS, and here the news has focused on the message this sends to North Korea.
But why is the Trump administration playing ‘global policeman’ when just 6 months ago they campaigned on a ticket of focusing on domestic policy and making life better for ordinary America?
Noam Chomsky offers an interesting perspective and answer…
One good example of a recent neo-liberal policy which will make life worse for especially poorer working class Americans is the abolition of Obama’s anti wage-theft legislation this required a company to publish details of any violations of minimum wage or health and safety law that they’d made. The regulation forced businesses to disclose each time they broke a law in the past three years, including violations relating to civil rights, health and safety, and minimum wage and overtime violations.
There was also Trump’s recent attempt to repeal ‘Obamacare’ – which would have left 20 million more (poor) Americans without health insurance, but that was defeated, however, the defeat is an embarrassment which fuels the need for a distraction according to Chomsky.
So maybe there is some truth in this? Maybe now the real Trump is showing his colours and enacting policies which support big business and make life worse for the working man, what’s needed is a distraction – and what better than to bomb a few people, which will obviously just generate more problems abroad and more terrorist attacks on US citizens, possibly all ending up in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you like this sort of Chomskian analysis, you might also want to check out Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’, what’s going on here seems to be an evolution of what she argues too.
In this talk Noam Chomsky emphasises that Trump’s election and his climate change denial threaten the very existence of the planet and the human species; and he also reminds us that despite America’s increasing political isolationism, U.S. Corporations still reign supreme.
Chomsky starts by saying that he was in Spain when he heard the results of the U.S. election, and the various commotion and commentary which surrounded it, but in fact the first very real negative consequence of Trump’s victory happened on the very same day and yet went largely unnoticed by the world’s media.
At the very same time as the U.S. presidential election results were being announced and analysed, COP 22 was taking place in Morocco, which was the first meeting of the signatories to the Paris Climate Change agreement (COP21) at which most countries agreed in principle to take concrete action to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and try to slow down global warming.
Because the specifics of the actions to be taken had been left vague after the Paris meeting, the point of COP 22 in Morocco was to start to add in the specific details of the agreement, however, following Trump’s election, and his commitment to scrapping current environmental regulation and monitoring in the U.S., COP 22 ended with no further progress having been made.
In fact, the agenda of the global climate change framework has now changed to one of ‘how can we combat global warming without the U.S. on board’, and nations have now started to look to authoritarian, anti-democratic China for leadership if any progress is to be made in this area.
Chomsky is very clear that environmental catastrophe is now one of the biggest threats facing the survival of the species (the other is nuclear war), and he focuses on Asia to highlight the coming global problems.
In the next few years, 10s of millions of people will be fleeing from Bangladesh because of the severe level of global warming resulting in sea levels rising, which would be a real refugee crisis, unlike the present one which he casts as a ‘moral crisis’ of the European Union.
(According to one climate change scientists, these climate change migrants should have the right to move to the United States and other rich countries that are causing global warming.)
Again in Asia, a second environmental crisis looms in India and Pakistan, in the form of potential conflict over scarce water resources – two states with nuclear weapons, which potentially trigger a survival crisis for the human species.
Chomsky’s next point is that U.S. isolation in the world is increasing in remarkable ways: the U.S. had been heavily involved in South and Latin America in the decades following World War Two, but the IMF has been completely kicked out of some countries in this region and has no military basis in the region at all; elsewhere in the world the TTIP has all but collapsed and other trading blocks are growing in scope, mainly centring around China, which are drawing in some of America’s historical allies such as Peru and New Zealand; finally with Brexit America has lost it’s main ally in Europe, the U.K., which could reduce its influence in Nato.
By looking at national wealth, it seems that U.S. influence is in decline, as its share has shrunk from 50% in 1945 to 25% today,
However, these measurements fail to take into account the crucial factor of the ownership of the world economy – which is virtually never discussed – CORPORATE ownership of wealth.
If we look at Corporate wealth, U.S. Companies are well in the lead in terms of ownership of the the global economy, and they are own over 50% of the world’s wealth in nearly every sector of the global economy – manufacturing, finance, services etc… of course although this wealth is held in the U.S. and supported by public money, it is not shared by all the citizens of the U.S.
If you look at the military dimension, the U.S. is of course still supreme.
Chomsky finishes by reminding us that the threats we now face are matters of human survival and they cannot be ignored, they need to be faced directly and soon if the human experiment is not to be a disastrous failure!
How to use this in the Global Development Module?
Basically it fits into the ‘how important are nation states’ aspect of the course.
Firstly, Chomsky seems to be suggesting that the United States still has enormous influence in the world – in that its lack of action on climate change means that it is able to disrupt the ability of other nation states to take coordinated action on climate change (whether this actually happens remains to be seen).
Secondly, it seems that other countries are becoming more powerful than the United States, and the U.S. is losing its political influence in certain ways.
However, if we look at the real ‘power indicators’ – wealth and military expenditure – the U.S. is still by far the dominant superpower.
Trump’s political appointments seem to illustrate an extreme neoliberal approach to politics – those who are successful at business are being placed into senior positions in the U.S. political system which will allow them more power to shape domestic and foreign policy.
Trump’s Appointments – Transnational Corporations to Shape U.S. Social Policy
According to a recent Guardian article on Donald Trump’s political appointments he ‘has so far nominated a number of billionaires, three Goldman Sachs bankers and the chief executive of the world’s largest oil firm to senior positions…. His team [has been] dubbed the “team of billionaires”.
Trump’s (neoliberal) argument for these appointments is that the accumulation of wealth is a sign of success and that having internationally successful business people in positions of power to negotiate (or renegotiate) trade-deals will benefit the U.S. economy and the the American people.
Two of Trumps appointments demonstrate this neoliberal approach (and its problems) perfectly: his appointment (still prospective at time of writing) of the CEO of Exxon-Mobile to Secretary of State and the appointment of Steve Mnuchin to the position of treasury secretary
It is the selection of Exxon’s chief executive, Rex Tillerson which has caused the most controversy. Tillerson has a close relationship with Vladimir Putin and some years ago agreed a joint venture with Russia to drill for oil in Siberia and the North Sea, however this venture was shelved following sanctions against Russia when it annexed Crimea. As secretary of state, Tillerson (who has $250 million of Exxon stock) will be leading discussions on whether the US should maintain sanctions against Russia.
‘Rex Tillerson is exactly the man you would expect a man who rose to the top of the oil industry to be. He has no evident morals or concerns about the world that supersede a paycheck. His respect for his own nation ends when there is a business deal to be made somewhere else.’
Trump’s pick for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is also a multimillionaire former Goldman Sachs banker who went on to be dubbed a “foreclosure king” for buying up distressed mortgages and evicting thousands of homeowners during the financial crisis.
Potential problems with Trump’s neoliberal agenda
Increasing wealth and income inequality in the U.S. – With the transnational capitalist class now in direct control of U.S. domestic and foreign policy, there is every likelihood that the super rich will get richer while the income and wealth of the majority of U.S. citizens will stagnate or even go into reverse. Critics such as Warren (above) argue that Donald Trump has every intention of running Washington to benefit himself and his rich buddies”.
Less respect for human rights globally. The appointment of Tillerson as Secretary of State and his close relations with the human-rights abuser Vladimir Putin suggests that the financial interests of the super-rich will trump (excuse the pun) issues such as respect for universal human rights – it’s more likely that the U.S. will turn a blind eye to dictators who trample on human rights, so long as there’s a profit to made for U.S. companies.
More economic instability – The fact that Goldman Sachs executives now have greater say in shaping U.S. economic policy could mean more deregulation of financial markets and more instability in the global economy in the long run.
Environmental decline – this is possibly the beginning of the end of life on planet earth as oil companies will almost certainly be given the green light to dig up the arctic.
Where can you use this in the A Level Sociology Course?
Unfortunately for those of you who haven’t been given the option of studying global development, this is just extension work, but if you are one of the fortunate few studying this most relevant and interesting topic – this info fits in as follows:
It’s a great example of current neoliberal policy (so neoliberalism is still very much relevant)
It demonstrates the increasing power of TNCs – yet how they need control over nation states to empower themselves.
It’s a great example of how the global super-class work – at a level above that of the nation state.
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