Monday, January 11, 2021

From Nelson Mandela to the QANon Shaman

Many people in Europe are rushing to delete tweets where they were sympathizing with Donald Trump, or even pictures with him. Sophisticated élites saw in him a way to keep workers distracted from lower living standards, as explained in the famous book "Let them Eat tweets." Naive workers saw in him a quick fix to their problems, one of exploiting racial prejudices and promoting wall building. Nationalist bigots who perhaps have left the weapons behind, but not always the rhetoric, in the Basque Country, in Northern Ireland or in the Balkans, saw hope in the restoration of a narrative based on motherlands and identities. Nationalpopulists everywhere had geostrategic reasons to expect that the tacit alliance between Trump and Putin would deliver a world where illiberal democracies (or ethnocracies) might prosper and liberal ones would be destabilized. All these possibilities are not gone, but the publicity for all of them has not been good in the last few days.

Many of these European nationalists or nationalpopulists, like to surround themselves with comparisons with true freedom fighters like Mandela. That is very well explained in the book "Say Nothing" about Northern Ireland. But now, the mirror does not return the image of a liberator, but the image of the QANon Shaman and Donald Trump in his darkest hour.

Many people blame the center-left for the emergence of phenomena like Trump or Brexit. It is true that the center-left has not offered enough hope in the recent decades, and that has created a large highway through wich plutocratic populists can march. But now the center-left has defeated them in the USA, both in the Presidential and in the Senate elections, even overcoming the bias of electoral rules that favor rural areas.

It is time to refocus and learn from the US Democratic Party. Nationalpopulism has been just one more attempt to create dimensions of conflict based on identities, so that the majority of people forget about income and wealth distribution. The problems of the white poor are not the fault of the black poor, and the problems of the British poor are not the fault of the Polish poor, as explained in the book "Trade wars are class wars." There is an article in economics, by economist John E. Roemer, entitled "Why the Poor do not Expropiate the Rich in Democracies". Why not? because the wealthy supply side of politics mobilizes racial, religious or identitarian dimensions of conflict that make it possible for a white poor to vote for a white rich under the belief that the white coalition will make all the white richer. That never happens, and only the white rich benefit.

"Let them eat tweets" or more recent articles, for example by Bonica et al. or Rodrik, say similar things. There are many other reasons why democracy is compatible with increasing inequalities, but the mobilization of identities remains one of the clearest. This mobilization does not bring freedom, it brings madness like the one represented by Trump and the QANon Shaman.

No comments:

Post a Comment