Celebrity Survivor: Trump Edition

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Donald J. Trump will be the 45th President of the USA. While many people struggle to get their heads around the reality of this, the postmortem of the election campaign season is well underway, and there are many possible explanations for Trump’s victory:

  • a genuine feeling amongst many of the population that the political system, and those with power within in it, have left them behind economically and are not heeding their concerns. Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign harnessed a desire for the ‘good ol’ days’, offered a non-politician to ‘sweep clean’ Washington and pitted ‘urban elites’ against an ‘underclass’ abandoned by globalisation whilst promising renewed prosperity;
  • a breakdown in left-wing politics which have become more centrist, leaving many to feel abandoned and unrepresented by the political process and the dominance of the two main parties;
  • a failure within the mainstream media to counter lies and unacceptable behaviour from the very beginning of the campaign, creating a false equivalency between the two candidates, while social media circulated fake news to a huge number of people unchallenged;
  • the eleventh-hour intervention by James Comey which only helped bolster the perception of Hilllary Clinton as “crooked”;
  • the general backlash that almost always occurs following a two-term presidency, with people seeing wholesale change as the solution to dissatisfaction;
  • the additional aspect of a ‘whitelash’ in response to eight years of the first African-American president;
  • a last-gasp attempt to retain control by white members of the population who feel threatened by immigration and the global, multi-cultural nature of the world today, with the growing voices of ethnic minorities;
  • a deep-seated rejection of a female president by a society conditioned to believe that women are not suited to positions of power;
  • a resistance to ‘identity politics’ and a fear that any gains made in society by women, people of colour, non-Christians, indigenous peoples and members of the LGBTQ community result in an equivalent loss of influence to those who see themselves as the core of America’s ‘European” (WASPish) culture.

Trump’s success is probably due to a heady cocktail of all of these influences, with individual’s choices to vote, and who to vote for, driven by a combination of factors within their own lives. But perhaps there is another component which should be added to the list: Trump’s election could be seen as an oblivious conclusion for the nation which leads all others in its elevation of celebrity to the highest possible level of ambition and achievement.

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Recognition is essential in gaining the votes of the population and optics are vital in presidential campaigns, with the televised debates dating back to 1960. There is no shortage of examples of successful political candidates with whom the voting public were already familiar before they ventured into public office, including Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger and of course President Ronald Reagan. Trump and Clinton were possibly two of the most recognisable candidates ever to run for the presidency, but while Clinton’s life had been in the stuffy world of policy and public service, best known to many for her husband’s libido, Trump was a ‘real’ celebrity with 14 seasons of a reality television show behind him. The requirements of public office were once intelligence, hard work and experience, in the form of years of public service. However, celebrity often seems to be valued above all other qualities in the US today, with people regularly achieving a degree of fame and riches for no other discernible achievement or talent than appearing on television. Trump is media savvy and, with his background in reality tv, understood the system, fully aware that his outrageous rhetoric and behaviour would be grasped upon by the media, garnering him hours of free attention. For Trump, all publicity is good publicity.

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Meanwhile, Michelle Obama gave what were undoubtedly the best speeches of the election season but her description of Hillary Clinton perhaps betrayed a failure to understand what the qualities are that many in the population really value today:

The fact is that Hillary embodies so many of the values that we try so hard to teach our young people. We tell our young people “Work hard in school, get a good education.” We encourage them to use that education to help others — which is exactly what Hillary did with her college and law degrees, advocating for kids with disabilities, fighting for children’s health care as First Lady, affordable child care in the Senate.”
Michelle Obama cites the value of education while much of the Trump campaign involved sneering at ‘elites’, a term used disparagingly as a poorly-cloaked attack on ‘experts’ and those from the ‘liberal’ colleges. Post-truth politics as it has been called doesn’t care about facts and critical thinking, and indeed prefers that people employ neither. Just like reality television, the preference is for highly-fabricated and orchestrated interactions masquerading as truth.

We teach our kids the value of being a team player, which is what Hillary exemplified when she lost the 2008 election and actually agreed to work for her opponent as our Secretary of State — earning sky-high approval ratings serving her country once again.”
Next, Hillary is lauded as a team player but the whole basis of much of reality television is that of a fight for individual survival, with The Apprentice being a perfect example with its dog-eat-dog, backstabbing nature. The show, in emulating Trump’s approach to business, tells us there can be only one winner and any means needed to take down your rivals are acceptable.

We also teach our kids that you don’t take shortcuts in life, and you strive for meaningful success in whatever job you do. Well, Hillary has been a lawyer, a law professor, First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, a U.S. senator, Secretary of State. And she has been successful in every role, gaining more experience and exposure to the presidency than any candidate in our lifetime — more than Barack, more than Bill. And, yes, she happens to be a woman.”
Finally, the First Lady praises the rejection of short cuts in attaining success while the media and entertainment today teach us that education, training and the thousands of hours of practice required to hone a skill or talent can be bypassed if you are willing to behave outrageously on television or the Internet. In spite of Trump’s total political inexperience and highly questionable knowledge of how government and the international community operate, he has skipped the whole process of learning by gaining attention and support through bad behaviour, soundbites and rhetoric capitalising on fear.

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When twelve women came forward with allegations of sexual assault against Trump following his open admission that he uses his position of power to press unwanted advances upon women, his campaign dismissed them all as liars. When pushed in interviews to explain why the women might lie about such traumatic ordeals, Trump’s surrogate Katrina Pierson suggested it could be for their 15 minutes of fame. Trump himself gave the same reasoning at one of his rallies.  For many this is a horrifying explanation, being inconceivable that someone would voluntarily subject themselves to the scrutiny, scepticism and vilification that people face when they go public with allegations of abuse and rape. But to Trump and many others, to whom fame, regardless of the route taken to it, is the pinnacle of success, it may seem a logical conclusion to make.

Trump capitalised on his fame, raising it to such a level that his serious shortcomings and offences (failed businesses, tax avoidance, fraud cases, sexual assault, racist policies, misogyny, unsteady temperament, lack of experience, absence of knowledge) were either ignored or deemed irrelevant by many. Meanwhile, any one of Trump’s failings would have been disqualifying for a ‘regular’ political candidate. However, Trump’s obvious narcissism is a positive quality in the world of celebrity and he succeeded in turning the election campaign, from the primaries on through the presidential competition, into the ultimate reality television show. One by one he eliminated his GOP rivals, employing name calling and insults in his bullying strongman act. In his final showdown with Clinton he continued his use of intimidation and smear tactics to gain the upper hand. At the debates, while Clinton presented policies and was knowledgable and prepared, Trump genuinely believed he had won with his yelling, name calling, stalking and by threatening his opponent. These are all elements that are instantly recognisable to today’s television audiences as the qualities required by an ultimate ‘survivor’.  It now appears that from the very beginning the Immunity Idol had been Trump’s and ultimately he has defeated all opposition and been voted victor.

16th November 2016

The War on Political Correctness: Enabling Discrimination

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It’s the eternal cry: ‘political correctness’ acts in service of liberal thought control and is a threat to the freedom of speech which must be countered by ‘strong’ voices and unrepentant actions. Recent examples abound: Trump’s supporters’ adoration of their candidate’s propensity to ‘say what he thinks’ regardless of personal or socio-political consequences; Clint Eastwood’s recent tirade against today’s “kiss-ass” generation; the defence of the orchestrated trolling and cyberattacks on Leslie Jones in the name of freedom of speech; and Australia’s latest case of blackface in defiance of “so many politically correct extremists”. Undoubtedly, freedom of speech is an inalienable human right which must be protected and ‘thought police’, on either side of the political spectrum, are most definitely to be discouraged. However, the war on ‘political correctness’ is not a new phenomenon and it is often a defensive reaction by those who feel threatened by the growing voices of ethnic minorities and gender groups, and ultimately is used to excuse discrimination.

Minstrel Show 1843

Minstrel Show 1843

Last week in a post on Facebook, a mother gloated at overcoming politically correct critics, while inadvertently highlighting Australia’s continued struggle with the issue of race. She achieved her victory over the PC brigade by sending her son to a dress-as-your-hero event in blackface to represent Australian Football player Nic Naitanui, who is of Fijian descent.
I was a little worried about painting him (So many politically correct extremists these days) he is pastey White (sic) and if I just sent him in a wig and footy gear, no one would tell who he was. So I grew a set of balls and painted my boy brown and he looked fanf——tastic
In spite of her hinted expectation, the following day she expressed surprise and hurt at the backlash her actions received. This is not the first case of blackface in Australia in the recent past and points towards the country’s still troubled relationship with its indigenous people and racial minorities. Part of the problem seems to be a general lack of education, with many Australians seemingly still unaware of the extremely troubling aspects of blackface. The reason that blackface is increasingly becoming unacceptable in many other parts of the world is raised awareness of its disturbing past. The history of the use of blackface in performance, or ‘minstrelsy’, has ties to slavery and the later continued subjugation of freed slaves in the US. In the early 19th century, performances were given by black slaves for their white masters and this was eventually appropriated by white performers, made up with burnt cork, portraying black characters. These performances in ‘plantation dialect’ highlighted demeaning stereotypical characteristics such as naivety, untrustworthiness and lazy, stupid & infantile behaviour, for the entertainment of white audiences and profit of white performers and producers. Such portrayals of black stereotypes were used to justify slavery & discrimination and American historian Alexander Saxton called the mid 1900s minstrel shows, “half a century of inurement to the uses of white supremacy”.
In Australia, Naitanui has defended the boy involved in the blackface case from criticism, calling for more education on the history of race relations to prevent the repetition of such incidents.
It’s a shame racism coexists in an environment where our children should be nurtured not tortured because they are unaware of the painful historical significance blackface has had previously.
Perhaps the worst aspect of this latest case, and one which has received little media attention with the blame being heaped upon the mother, is the fact that the child went on to win the school’s competition. If lack of education is an excuse, this is a sad indictment of those in charge of an educational institution.

 

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The term ‘political correctness’ is generally used pejoratively, predominantly by those on the political Right, to criticise what they see as liberal interference and attempts at cultural control. It has been used to undermine policies, particularly in academia, which aim to protect people from discrimination and victimisation, such as supporting multi-culturism, “canon-busting” within curricula and sanctioning hate-speech. Those on the Left have accused the political Right of using the term as a distraction to divert discussion away from the genuine problems of discrimination within society. Societal changes and challenges to the white, male domination of the political and academic spheres can trace much of their existence today to the advances that have been made since the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 70s, in which the voices of women, blacks, indigenous peoples and homosexuals were raised, demanding recognition and respect. These movements have been faced with a constant backlash against them ever since by more conservative sectors of society. This can be seen clearly when new, democratic methods of communication arise, as vividly illustrated nowadays by the Internet and particularly social media. There are countless examples of the phenomenon of trolling, or verbally abusing other online users, but much of it is predominantly aimed at women and ethnic or religious minorities. The most recent public case was that of the orchestrated attacks on the female-cast remake of the 80s classic movie Ghostbusters, claimed hyperbolically by some to be the ‘destruction of their childhood’. Amongst the female cast members, the worst abuse was reserved for the black lead actress, Leslie Jones, eventually resulting in her withdrawal from Twitter and the hacking of her website to display private information and photographs. Those attempting to defend such abuse and protesting the closure of one of the key orchestrator’s Twitter account, did so by citing ‘freedom of speech’. Co-ordinated attacks on people based on their gender, sexuality, race or religion are not paragons of free speech; they are blatant attempts to make public communication spaces so unpleasant for certain groups of people in order to force them to withdraw and to ultimately silence them. Freedom of speech should never be used as a justification for blatant misogyny, racism and hate speech.

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In a recent interview with Esquire magazine, Clint Eastwood joined the attack on PC culture:
he[Trump]’s onto something, because secretly everybody’s getting tired of political correctness, kissing up. That’s the kiss-ass generation we’re in right now. We’re really in a pussy generation. Everybody’s walking on eggshells. We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff. When I grew up, those things weren’t called racist.
Eastwood displays a generational aspect of the issue, where things were not ‘racist’ in his day but are now. And he is right, society HAS changed, thanks to equal rights movements giving voice to many minorities, be they gender, race, religious or sexuality-based. In general, people have more knowledge of others and a greater understanding of the historic struggles these groups have had for recognition and respect. With such knowledge and understanding comes less excuses for the use of language or practices which cause offence. But inequality and discrimination still exist, so it is important that we continue to listen to these voices and if something offends, we must consider the explanations of why and not drown them out in a blanket dismissal of all that is ‘PC’. Eastwood’s longing for a simpler time, when you could say whatever offensive, demeaning thing you liked without censure, echoes Trump’s campaign slogan ‘Make America Great Again’. This is a nostalgic hankering for a return to a ‘golden age’, before global communication, multi-culturalism and anti-discrimination laws made the world so much harder to negotiate for those who wished to retain their positions of privilege.

The war on political correctness is a symptom of this dissatisfaction with the multi-cultural, diverse complexion of modern society. Ultimately, for some, the struggle by others for equal rights is viewed as a threat to, or erosion of, THEIR rights. As a result, the protection of the white, male hegemony that still exists in society today will always demand the suppression of other voices, and central to that is the minimising or rejection of the insult and injury that ‘un-PC’ sentiment and actions can cause.

30th August 2016

Fundamental Values: The Futility of “Extreme Vetting”

http://www.kplu.org/post/looking-back-malheur-opb-s-amanda-peacher

Malheur armed occupation

When Donald Trump presented his national security policy last week, the focus was very much on terrorism, and with great specificity, that which he must name: “Radical Islam”. His proposed solutions included the “extreme vetting” of immigrants to ensure they are all possessed of “American values”. If we were in any doubt who the nominee expects to fail such a test, Trump gave specific examples:
any hostile attitude towards our country or its principles, or who believed sharia law should supplant American law. . . . Those who did not believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred will not be admitted for immigration into our country.
Trump also vowed to protect the equal rights of women and the LGBT community from what he views as the US’ biggest threat:
We cannot let this evil continue. Nor can we let the hateful ideology of Radical Islam – its oppression of women, gays, children, and nonbelievers – be allowed to reside or spread within our own countries,… my Administration will speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith.

The current focus of the nominee, and the media and political field in general, is clearly on the acts of those controlled or inspired by fundamentalist Islamic groups like Al Qaeda and ISIL, and undoubtedly this is a grave problem which requires careful attention. However, such a singular view of the threat to US national security, not to mention the demonisation of a whole religion, distracts attention away from other forms of ideological extremism much closer to home.

Mike Pence

Mike Pence

Let’s first look at Trump’s claim to, “speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith”, with the specific example of his own running mate Mike Pence.  As Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, who regularly introduces himself as, “a Christian, a Conservative and a Republican, in that order”, has signed off on bills to legalise anti LGBT discrimination and to force women to have ultrasounds 18 hours prior to abortions and to bury or cremate foetal remains, even in cases of miscarriage. He has made attempts to criminalise abortion, with the women potentially bring prosecuted, supports ‘conversion therapy’ over AIDS services and was extremely resistant to implementing a needle exchange programme in the midst of an HIV crisis in his State. Not exactly the paragon of support for women and gays his boss is extolling.

Merchandise seen at RNC convention, Cleveland

Trump against the oppression of women – Merchandise seen at RNC convention, Cleveland

Trump himself has a record of making insulting comments about women and on several occasions retweeted or displayed at rallies graphics and theories found on far-right and white supremacist discussion threads. This week, in a campaign team reshuffle, he employed Stephen Bannon, chairman of news and comment site Breitbart. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, during Bannon’s tenure, “the outlet has undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas –– all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right’.”
Even Trump’s enthusiastic supporters bring into question their own ability to reach their candidate’s proposed new threshold of tolerance:

Secondly, Trump takes pains to stress that the ideological threat to American values comes from Radical Islam. However, it should not be forgotten that fundamentalism is not limited to those of one particular faith but can be found within all religions and other belief systems. In his 2003 book ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’, Jon Krakauer undertakes an examination of the bloody foundations of the Mormon Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) and more recent murderous acts committed by members of some of its fundamentalist groups. Krakauer is at pains to point out he chose to examine the Mormon faith merely because he grew up surrounded by friends who were members, and that similar examples of extreme beliefs leading to extreme actions could be found in countless other ideological systems. What makes LDS so interesting is that it is a religious movement born in the US in the fairly recent past (1830) and is quintessentially American, believing the nation to be the home of the Garden of Eden and location of Christ’s second coming. The religion had a bloody past with persecutions against it and its perpetration of the Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857, in which 120 gentiles were murdered in a treacherous ambush on a wagon train, before the group’s exodus to their current home in Utah. Schisms quickly occurred between those who agreed to forgo polygamy in order to maintain peace with the Federal Government and those who believed plural marriage was a fundamental tenet of the religion, above man’s law. As a result, the religion fragmented with fundamentalist groups (FLDS) separating from those in power in Salt Lake City.

In 1880, an early LDS President, Prophet, Seer & Revelator (to give him his full title) John Taylor said,”God is greater than the United States and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven and against the government” and such a sentiment is still to be found amongst fundamentalist LDS and other anti-government groups in the country today. The practice of polygamy has resulted in cases of abductions, rape, child marriage, domestic abuse, incest and child sexual abuse and adherents to the religion also believe that homosexuality and interracial marriage are crimes against God, punishable by death. However FLDS members defend their beliefs and actions, claiming they are Constitutionally protected under “religious freedom”.

In 1984, Dan Lafferty, a member of a FLDS group, together with his brother Ron, murdered his sister-in-law and niece in blood atonement as instructed through a revelation Ron received from God. They have both remained unrepentant for the act. Years later, still on death row, Krakauer asked Dan Lafferty how his justification for murder differed from the perpetrators of 9/11. He replied:
I have to admit, the terrorists were following their prophet… They were willing to do essentially what I did. I see the parallel. But the difference between those guys and me is they were following a false prophet, and I’m not.
When such acts occur, no-one suggests that all adherents to LDS are potential murderers and terrorists. And heinous acts have been carried out in the name of all religions, political movements and even nations. The one thing in common is not the belief system itself but the nature of adherence to that belief by individuals. A psychologist who interviewed Ron Lafferty explained:
A zealot is simply someone who has an extreme fervently held belief and is willing to go to great length to impose those beliefs, act on those beliefs.

While Trump is one of many right now who are happy to equate terrorism with only those violent acts carried out by Muslims, there are plenty of examples of violence being used to intimidate people in the US perpetrated by people holding different radical beliefs. Attacks on abortion clinics and the murder of doctors are regularly committed by Christian fundamentalist groups such as the Army of God and individuals like Eric Robert Rudolph, who was responsible for the bombing of 2 abortion clinics, a lesbian nightclub and the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 in reaction to the government sanctioning of abortion. Rudolph was a member of fundamentalist LDS offshoot the Church of Israel. Other figures with ties to FLDS and movements such as the Sovereign Citizen Movement, which recognise no higher authority than local sherifs and are literalist Constitutionalists who challenge Federal regulations and land ownership, are the Bundy family. Patriarch Cliven is famous for his 2014 standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, while his son Ammon was behind an armed militia’s occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year. Trump has praised the “spirit” of Cliven Bundy while Ted Cruz called the Malheur standoff, “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on”. Meanwhile, Tim Blount, who lives and works at Malheur, says he and the staff suffered, “threats and harassment from militia members”.
Throughout the occupation I became keenly aware of my surroundings and never felt safe… I now find myself looking over my shoulder, not feeling comfortable and realizing that I am a victim of domestic terrorism.
It should also be remembered that one of the deadliest acts of terrorism on US soil remains the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, claiming 168 lives; an act of domestic terrorism carried out by a man driven by white supremacist ideology and a hatred of government.

Oklahoma City bomb

Oklahoma City bomb

Trump’s efforts to tighten the borders and protect the nation from extreme fundamentalist ideas is destined to fail. Not only because the very idea of ideological vetting goes against the very foundations of freedom the nation claims to value and protect, but also because those who would use violence and intimidation to undermine the rights of women, the LGBT community, religious & ethnic minorities and the government itself are already inside the country and have been for generations.

22nd August 2016

Malheur photo : http://www.kplu.org/post/looking-back-malheur-opb-s-amanda-peacher

Update – Immigration: Those Closing the Doors Behind Themselves

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In January, in Immigration: Those Closing the Doors Behind Themselves, I wrote about attitudes towards immigration, citizenship and nationhood, prompted by Trump’s insistence that Canadian-born Ted Cruz was not a ‘genuine’ US citizen. Trump has continued onwards with his rhetoric of exclusion: he has questioned a federal judge’s impartiality due to his heritage, calling him “Mexican” because of his parents’ place of birth despite the fact that he himself was born in Indiana; he has repeatedly called for bans on Muslims entering the US while advocating the monitoring and profiling of Muslims already in the country, US citizens; and only secondary to his “Make America Great Again” slogan, is one associated with ultra-nationalism, “America First”.

Such blatant xenophobia is closely echoed in the UK where a toxic pall of ugly nationalism hangs over the upcoming Brexit referendum. Thomas Mair, who killed Labour MP Jo Cox on the streets of her constituency last week, reportedly yelled “Britain First” as he committed the act and gave his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Many of those in the Leave campaign and the public on the streets of the UK, when asked why they support the move to leave the EU, state that they “want the country back”. As James O’Brien asks in his much-viewed response to Jo Cox’s murder, “back from whom?”. What is it that people feel has been taken from them by the rest of Europe in the years since the country became part of the EU? And what do they think will be returned to them if the UK leave again?

People seem to be feeling a nostalgia for a pre-Globalisation world where the citizens of countries all held common values, borders were closed and each nation was self-sufficient, i.e.a world that has never existed. The ship has already sailed on isolationism and we live in a globally connected world where trade and business are conducted worldwide, borders are porous, migration commonplace and actions have international consequences. This has been the reality of our world for several hundred years now and it is a world more easily navigated through cooperation with other nations. However, in times of economic hardship it is easier to whip people into a flurry of fear and paranoia that what they have is going to be taken from them by ‘outsiders’, be they EU bureaucrats or Syrian refugees, and the media and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have done a very efficient job of this since the Global Economic Crisis.

Nigel Farage, fearmongering

Nigel Farage, fearmongering

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The results of the upcoming Brexit referendum and US Presidential election will tell us whether the fear-mongering of Nigel Farage’s UKIP and Donald Trump has succeeded or whether we want a society in which we use acceptance, openness and cooperation to solve our problems rather than a world of exclusion, restriction and fear of others.

20th June 2016

See also Global Migration, Global Responsibility

 

Immigration: Those Closing the Door Behind Themselves

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Donald Trump is planning to build a wall around the USA. His claims that the majority of people crossing the border from Mexico are murderers and rapists, and his plans to stop all Muslims from entering the country until he ‘works out what’s going on’, have seen his poll numbers steadily rise. Proud of making headline-grabbing comments on controversial issues, his latest foray into patriotic defence of the nation has been his questioning of Ted Cruz’s eligibility for the position of Commander-in-Chief. Constitutionally, eligibility is described as a “natural-born citizen” which has been defined as anyone born to a US citizen. In Cruz’s case, he was born in Canada to a US American mother but Trump seems willing to question the citizenship of anyone not born on US soil. In January’s GOP debate in South Carolina, Cruz, in defending himself against the charges of ineligibility, raised Trump’s own heritage and his Scottish-born mother. Trump revealed his true feeling on the matter when he countered with, “but I was born here, big difference.” Of course this is not Trump’s first incidence of questioning a candidate’s right to the Presidency, with his prominent position in ‘the birther’ movement which demanded Obama make his birth certificate public in order to prove his citizenship. Obama was shown to fulfil Trump’s high standards of being “born here”, although conspiracy theories surrounding forged certificates still abound.

The concept of citizenship being linked solely to the geographical location of a person’s birth is a difficult one. In today’s globalised world with it’s long history of migration, many people can trace a heritage containing forebears of various origins and races. A person may have grandparents from four different nations, be born in a fifth and then choose to live their life in a sixth. How does one define citizenship in such cases? For some, rather than attempting to untangle such webs or revelling in the diversity that such instances bring to cultures, it is easier for them to hold onto the ‘born here’ definition of citizenship. A few years ago in New Zealand, t-shirts showing the country’s map and boldly emblazoned with “Born Here” had a summer of popularity, and although the t-shirts have now faded and been worn out, the attitude they exhibited is still very much apparent. In a recent discussion with a couple of middle-aged, white New Zealanders, they visibly bristled when I classed myself as a ‘Kiwi’. As someone who has lived in the country for 11 years and chosen citizenship of a place I love, in their eyes I could never be a ‘real’ New Zealander. This was by no means the first time I had encountered such an attitude from within the same demographic, themselves descended from migrants to the country sometime within the last 200 years. It points towards a desire to close the doors of immigration after themselves, just as Trump, who so highly values his own status of being born in the USA, is ready to deny citizenship to all US-born children of illegal immigrants.

Such negative attitudes towards immigration held by some in New Zealand was further evidenced last week when I broke my own rule and made the terrible mistake of reading the comments section on an internet news report. The story concerned the arrival to New Zealand of the first 80 Syrian refugees of the 750 the country has pledged to receive.  Against the background of a 5-year conflict which has claimed 250 000 lives and made 11 million people homeless, there were examples of typical myopic parochialism with comments such as, “why help others if we can’t help ourselves first?”. Then came the examples of outright discrimination:
Most of those Syrian’s are terrorist. get refugees from other countries, but not syria (sic)”,
take the Christian refugees. They are genuine refugees and get killed by the Muslim Syrian refugees“,
Escort them back home. Let them fight for their country” and
We don’t need Muslims in New Zealand“.
Perhaps the comment which showed the greatest lack of empathy for the refugees’ suffering and eligibility for a life in New Zealand was one bemoaning the trifling inconveniences of their own migration to New Zealand. Again the ‘I’m here, now let’s not make it easy for anyone else’ attitude.
Absolutely agree [we should not accept Syrian refugees].. When I applied visa for my holidays, they asked tons of questions n juz issued 1 month special visa.. And also when I made enquiry about my relocation n migration there, many many forms have to b filled up.. 😒😖. I love NZ n wish to spend rest of my life here .. But they are funny.. They have so many bars to the person who love their country n wish to contribute knowledge..(sic)”

The ultimate hypocrisy of the ‘birthers’ movement and ‘born here’ proponents can be seen in their attitude to the indigenous peoples of their countries. The same European-descended New Zealanders who questioned my right to citizenship in a proud display of their own ‘born here’ status were unwilling to extend bonds of national fraternity to Maori, who can date their presence in the country back more than 500 years before the Europeans. They openly espoused a desire for Maori to “get over the past” and “stop relying on handouts” while expressing concern that new Maori residents in the area were “disrupting the neighbourhood”. Such disregard for the indigenous people of the country, while viewing themselves as more Kiwi than those who come after them is a clear example of white nationalism. In the US, Trump is currently being endorsed by some in the white supremacist movement, who see his hard stance on immigration as a possible way to avoid the white population becoming a minority. Trump also has a terrible record when it comes to Native American issues spanning the last 25 years. Recently he has supported the Keystone XL pipeline, which is being challenged by Native groups fearing its potential damage to their sacred sites and water supplies. He has also pledged, if he becomes President, to reverse Obama’s renaming of Mount McKinley in Alaska to Denali, calling it, “a great insult to Ohio” (President McKinley’s home state). When asked his opinion on the rebranding of Washington’s NFL team to remove the logo and the Redskins name, Trump stated, “Honestly, I don’t think they should change the name, unless the owner wanted to…. I know Indians that are extremely proud of that name.

Countries such as the US and New Zealand were built on the foundations of colonial land grabs, subjugation and, in some cases, slaughter of the lands’ earliest residents. Now, the majority of the population of these nations are immigrants or descended from immigrants, many of whom were escaping atrocities elsewhere in the world, others who made the move in search of a better way of life or economic gain. It would seem that some of those are content with the idea that the “huddled masses” are no longer wanted and now is the time to draw in the welcome mat and securely bar the doors to prevent any new interlopers from sharing in the benefits they themselves have enjoyed.

25th January 2016

Hysteria & Hypocrisy: The ‘Post-Paris’ World

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One thread which runs through many of the articles published here is an attempt to highlight hypocrisies and inconsistencies within society and politics. My recent silence has not been due to a lack of relevant examples but rather to being overwhelmed by possible illustrations, as well as being rendered speechless for a while by the volume of divisive rhetoric and dangerous invective in the media, social and mainstream, ‘post-Paris’.

It should go without saying that the November 13th terror attacks in Paris were an horrific event resulting in the tragic loss of many innocent lives. However, the ‘Eurocentric’ reaction to such loss of life should not be ignored. The media and individuals across Europe and the US, as well as in far-flung places like Australia and New Zealand, dedicated hours of coverage and endless threads of social media posts to reporting and commenting on the events in Paris in minute detail. Facebook enabled users to emblazon their profile picture with the tricolour in a show of solidarity with the French. After the initial uptake, some began to point out that Facebook had never offered the Nigerian, Lebanese or Malian flags in such a manner as a result of terrorist attacks there, questioning why Paris was different. And in that lies the problem, as the media and politicians actively fan the flames of fear that Europeans and Americans are the number one target and (most important) victims of terrorism. However, a look at the statistics shows a different picture. In the 6 months from July to December 2015, the Paris attacks and the shootings in Chattanooga and San Bernardino, as well as the downing of the Russian plane in Sinai, took the lives of around 370 people. During that same time, ISIL and affiliates were responsible for deaths in Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia and Lebanon numbering over 900. Meanwhile, Boko Haram also killed over 900 people in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, while Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda were between them responsible for another 50 deaths in Kenya, Somalia and Mali.  In comparison to the European and US incidents, most of these received very little, or in some cases, no media attention or outpourings of collective grief. Our sympathy for victims of terrorism is selective and it is very apparent from this which lives we in the ‘West’ believe matter.
This discrepancy is in itself disturbing, but what is equally worrying is how politicians and the media use the fear of attacks on the ‘homeland’ to drive political agendas, despite ‘death by terrorism’ being far down the list of statistically likely ways to die. The post-Paris political world echoes strongly of the post-9/11 world and the attacks in France are being used to bolster and enliven the idea (fearing it may have been fading after 14 years) that the West is in a necessary war with Islam and extremism. Paris is being used to justify the continuation of the War on Terror. It’s open season again for government surveillance of their populations, sweeping aside any post-Snowden concerns over the Patriot Act and mass collection of data; the UK’s ‘snooper charter’ is back on the table and in the US the Paris attacks are being cited as a reason to challenge civilians’ right to use encryption. Meanwhile, just as governments were finally beginning to take responsibility for the growing refugee crisis, partially created by the war in Syria, the attacks in Paris are now being used as a reason to backtrack on the commitments some nations made to accept refugees from the war-torn region. And just as 9/11 was used to justify the invasion of Iraq, following Paris the UK government voted to increase its military involvement in Syria. Even that parliamentary debate had echoes of George Bush’s War on Terror declaration of, “you’re either with us or with the terrorists”, when Prime Minister David Cameron accused opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of being a, “terrorist sympathiser” for arguing against increased military intervention.

Such oversimplified, polar views of the world are also what have led to the rise of Islamaphobic attacks in the US and Europe, with protests outside mosques, including the depositing of dead pigs and bacon, apparently under the assumption that all muslims are potential terrorists. This view is only reinforced when leading Presidential candidate Donald Trump states his aim of blocking all muslims from gaining entry visas and then sees his poll results increase as a result. Painting the picture of the threat of terrorism coming solely from Islamic extremists also allows nations in the West to continue to downplay the actions of extremists of other ilks, such as the far-right or Christian and Jewish fundamentalists. In the US there is a great deal of resistance to classifying as terrorism the threats of violence, arson attacks and shootings against women’s health clinics which perform abortions, including the killing of 3 people on Nov 27th at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. At the moment, there is much debate on social media over whether the armed militiamen holed up in a federal building in Oregon to protest government ownership of land, should be classified as terrorists but the authorities and media have so far resisted doing so. It seems that when such actions involve white Christians, the word terrorism is rarely employed. It is Islam and Islamic extremism which continues to be represented as the main source of terrorist activity. However, selective outrage and political hypocrisy exists within the UK and US’s stance against the extremes of Islam, as evidenced in their dealings with Saudi Arabia. While claiming their general criticism of Islam comes from a desire to protect human rights such as freedom of speech and gender and sexual equality, they maintain close ties with Saudi Arabia, one of the strictest adherents to Sharia law. The country’s legal system sees the death penalty applied in cases of homosexuality and protesting against the government and requires women to have permission from a man before engaging in work, study or travel. After beheading almost 50 people last week, including teenage protesters and a Shia cleric, the condemnation from their Western allies was tepid, showing that whatever ideologies fuel the ongoing War on Terror, they remain secondary to lucrative oil and arms deals.

7th January 2016