Shift to the Right

All around the world, it seems, in the so-called democratic Western societies there is an ongoing shift to the right. What does “a shift to the right” mean? What does “the right” mean in the context of modern politics?

In the past the right stood for monarchy, the status quo and conservatism, while the left stood for republicanism, revolution and change, and socialism. The right is seen forward-looking and the left is seen as backwards looking.

The robes of HRH The Duke of Clarence, a Royal...
The robes of HRH The Duke of Clarence, a Royal Duke (later William IV), included a train borne by a page. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The right has come to espouse the capitalist view of economic matters, and the concept of free markets where there is no regulation of the market and the left has come to mean stiff market controls and social ownership of some of the more important resources, such as the roads and other infrastructure, the police, and bounds on firms and corporations.

While the right tends to individualism and capitalism, the left tends to collectivism and the rights of individuals as part of a group. In the public mind the businessman is the epitome of the right while the worker represents the left.

But why are right-wing parties gaining control everywhere? The answer is of course in the rise of Islam and of ISIS and the militant Islamic movements in many countries, coupled with the floods of refugees from countries where Islamic activists are waging war against the authorities.

The refugees came not only from states where the Islam factions were looking to take over, but also from other countries, such as Ukraine, where Russia is looking to extend its interests into the country, which it lost when the old Soviet Union was dissolved. There are also trouble spots such as Israel where minorities feel threatened and are abandoning homes and heading to other countries.

Islam in Europe 1%-2% (Belarus, Croatia, Italy...
Islam in Europe 1%-2% (Belarus, Croatia, Italy, Monaco, Ukraine) 2%-4% (Andorra, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain) 4%-5% (Germany, Greece, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, United Kingdom) 5%-10% (Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden) 10%-20% (Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Montenegro, Russia) 20%-50% (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia) 50%-90% (Albania) >90% (Kosovo, Turkey) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People in Western bloc countries have seen on television news and elsewhere how these floods of refugees are causing problems because of the inabilities of countries in the path of the refugee flood to cope. At the same time they have seen on the news of the atrocities caused by radical Islamists close to home, in London, Paris, and in the USA.

This has naturally led to a rise in xenophobic distrust of those people who might be Islamic extremists and to the influx of refugees in general irrespective of their religion or beliefs. The feeling is that Islamic extremists could enter a country in guise of refugees, with intent of setting up branches of terrorist organisations.

An 1863 meeting between Māori and settlers in ...
An 1863 meeting between Māori and settlers in a pā whakairo (carved pā) in Hawke’s Bay Province. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That may be true in a very few cases but many cases the terrorist incidents have been perpetrated by people from the country that the incident occurs in, who have been “radicalised” via the Internet. While it is or may be true that the incidents are orchestrated by those outside of the country, few seem to be perpetrated by actual refugees.

Generally refugees are glad to be taken in by other countries and are also glad to fit into those countries and be accepted by the people who live in those countries. Most are appalled by the violence done in the name of their religion and don’t believe that their religion actually requires believers to do these things.

Old woman wearing hijab
Old woman wearing hijab (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Refugees are usually happy to fit into a country which allows them to practise their religion quietly and privately. Most Christians would say the same, regardless of which denomination they belong to. If you espouse a religion aggressively, then this would cause issue with your neighbours and merely repeats the problems of your original country.

Since I do not believe in religion, but do not object to people who practise one, I see no problem, provided the believer doesn’t try to force his/her religion on me. I will happily take part in a marriage or naming ceremony in any religion, and not just in the Christianity which I was nominally raised in.

English: An Igbuzo child naming ceremony in Wa...
English: An Igbuzo child naming ceremony in Washington DC, USA. Parents of the child confer with the Diokpa (Head of he family) on the names of the child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The seeming daily “terrorist” acts have scared people. They now look askance at anyone who worships differently from them, and who dresses differently. This has led to many refugees who do not espouse the local religion or customs, adapting, so that they don’t stand out from the locals.

There is a constant dialectic between the religion and customs of their homelands and the new country to which they have moved. The refugees do not want to lose their culture, which they see as a rich heritage, which it is, yet they want to conform and fit in to their new country.

English: South Croydon bus garage on 1 April 1...
English: South Croydon bus garage on 1 April 1985. A newly-delivered ‘M’ class bus stands outside, awaiting the fitting of its destination blinds. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many people in countries to which refugees move see refugees as different. They don’t understand the customs, they don’t understand the religion and they don’t understand why the refugees are not exactly like them. They are worried that the refugees may be terrorists in disguise, but rationally, a terrorist is more likely to adopt local customs and dress, so that he/she doesn’t stand out as different.

This difference engenders fear, and I’ve seen this before. In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s many West Indians came to Britain, changing the face of the country. Many British people had not seen anyone with a dark skin before, and this shocked and in some cases horrified people. Uneasy jokes were made as how the West Indians were taking over the busses, as drivers and conductors. The tension led inevitably to the rise of the National Front party.

Thankfully the British people eventually accepted the West Indians into the country, and while there were a few incidents over the years, the British people have tolerated incomers pretty well overall.

Nevertheless, in many countries, especially those on the route of the fleeing refugees, there has been a resurgence in the nationalist movements, which laughably indirectly led to the right wing United Kingdom Independence Party congratulating itself for being annihilated by the Tories in the UK local elections. It also led to a right wing candidate reaching the run-off election for the post of the French president.

It also almost certainly led to Trump’s election as president of the United State. His promise to make America great again resonated with those who saw their jobs sliding into an abyss as a seeming flood of strangers entered the country. In the US case of course the unwanted immigrants came mostly from Mexico.

While the United States has its problems, I doubt that Trump can solve them by banning and deporting all the illegal immigrants in the country, which would remove many hard working and useful people, and declaring that the mining industry would be revived and that people would get their jobs back.

Graffiti-art in Venice, Italy. I think (basing...
Graffiti-art in Venice, Italy. I think (basing myself on the inscription “Stop deportation” and the rainbow chador) belongs to the wordlwide protests against the United Kingdom deporting an Iranian lesbian to her country, which punishes homosexuality by law. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, 16 August 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This goes against all economic common sense as the solid fuel mining industry is in decline in most parts of the world, and any gains will be short term and will rapidly fade away, leaving the miners in a worse position than before. It’s hard to see how any of Trump’s actions and reforms will turn the country around.

Miners work in a mine with a low roof
Miners work in a mine with a low roof (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Voters and non-voters

 

Hillary Clinton in Concord, New Hampshire
Hillary Clinton in Concord, New Hampshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hillary Clinton won more votes than Donald Trump in the US elections, yet she didn’t win the presidency. This has led to many of Clinton’s supporters to cry foul, and talk about getting rid of the electoral college system that they have in the US.

It’s not going to happen. The electoral college is a result of the unique formation of the United States of America. Before the Union all the states were autonomous and had their own laws and regulations and these were protected in the US Constitution. One of the safeguards which was built in was to protect the electoral system within a state from being replaced or modified by those not from that state, and this resulted more or less directly in the electoral college system.

English: 1908 Electoral College
English: 1908 Electoral College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a consequence of this being part of the constitution, it is very difficult to change. To just become a proposal an amendment requires a two-thirds vote in congress, and requires a three-quarters vote by the states to be adopted. Since the two major parties pretty much share the country, it would require all the votes of one party and around half the votes of the other party.

There have been many ways that the leader or leaders of group of humans is chosen, and there are many words that end in the suffixes -ocracy or -archy. All have their advocates and their denigrators. All have probably been tried somewhere at sometime or other.

Countries highlighted in blue are designated &...
Countries highlighted in blue are designated “Electoral Democracies” in Freedom House’s 2006 survey Freedom in the World. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an attempt to define how a person should be treated and the rights that he or she should have, Eleanor Roosevelt chaired a committee which wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a somewhat fatuous document which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Article 21 of the UDHR talks about the right of everyone to take part in the government of his/her country, and implies but stops short of prescribing representative democracy. As such, the UDHR has plenty of “wriggle room” for alternative for other methods of government, as even a dictator could argue, and they often do, that what preceded them was worse and the dictatorship is merely a step towards returning or giving the power to the people.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Many regimes though, don’t even try to argue they are merely filling a gap, but no doubt think that they are doing the best for their people. No one surely sets out to be a blood-thirsty dictator, after all. Arguably, though, a volatile country might benefit from a period with a strong leader, but eventually a strong leader will become succumb to a feeling of hubris and entitlement. Eventually he will be overthrown.

60 th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration...
60 th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2008) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There exists a strong feeling that democracy is the best form of government that humans have tried. Whether or not it is the best system that is possible is another question. In a democracy everyone has a say and theoretically at least the government can be replaced, without revolution or bloodshed, if the population at large decides that it doesn’t like those it has elected.

Most democracies are representative democracies, in that the population do not normally vote on all issues, but elect a person to represent them in governing the country. Ideally such a representative would canvas or solicit views on topics that have to be decided, but in practise a potential representative will lay out his/her views and the electors pick the person who most closely fits their viewpoint.

Women standing in line to vote in Bangladesh.
Women standing in line to vote in Bangladesh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since this is done before the representative is selected, a future contentious issue may find the representative at odds with many of his constituents on the issue. While a good representative will make his views known and may solicit electoral views, and the electors can make the representative aware of their views by various means, the communication between the representative and his electors is to say the least inefficient.

A big thing about democracy is that everyone has at least one vote. In some systems a person may have more than vote, and in almost all democracies the voter gets a chance to vote to fill various roles, such as mayor, or sheriff, or local councillor. A democracy is an involving system, soliciting voter views on a periodic basis, so why don’t people get involved?


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In the recent American Presidential election only just over 50% of the electorate voted, and this was in one of the most controversial elections of recent times. Since each candidate took almost half the popular vote only one in four voters voted to make Trump president. Of course only about one in four voters voted for Clinton (who got more votes than Clinton).

People don’t vote if they can’t be bothered, if they think that their vote will not make a difference and a small number don’t vote because they disagree with the process, maybe for political or religious reasons. The US is not alone in this, as a significant number of voters do not vote in an election in many democracies.


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I would suggest that this is true in most democracies, but I don’t have the data. Some people suggest that making the voting easier by introducing electronic voting over the Internet, but I feel that this will not make a big difference. I feel that the reason for low turnouts is disinterest and a belief voting doesn’t make any real difference.

“For politicians, passing laws is like passing water,” said Narayan. “It all ends down the drain.”
Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance

Election promises are rarely believed and seldom acted upon. There is unlikely to be a wall built between the United States and Mexico. Trump has succeeded with that promise however, not because people believe that he will do, but because he most aligns with what people would like to do, and I don’t mean build a wall. He has proposed a solution to a perceived problem, and that is good enough for those who turned out and voted. Any solution that catches the imagination of the voters would have done as well.


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Politicians


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(Photographs of politicians below are not intended to imply that the pictured politician is any way corrupt or discredited. Even Trump.)

Donald Trump appears to be on the verge of being named the Republican candidate for President of the United States. While it is unlikely that he will become president, his rise has been amazing, and his appeal surprises many, in the USA and elsewhere.

He has made some astounding promises but it is unlikely that people really believe that he is going to be able to achieve them. However, as a many shared post on Facebook has it, people are really looking more at the direction he is promising to move the country.

English: Donald Trump's signature hairstyle
English: Donald Trump’s signature hairstyle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trump is not a politician in the usual way. A politician would normally take great care not to upset people, not to rock the boat as it were. Politicians almost always try not to promise anything, as they might not be able to deliver what they promise and that will harm their re-election chances.

All human interactions involve politics to some extent. When a group of people forms, be it a family or a tribe or a nation and selects one of their number to represent them in an interaction with another group of people, that’s politics.


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Human nature being what it is, the representative feels empowered by this responsibility, and often becomes arrogant and domineering. This may or may not result in the representative being replaced by someone else.

However there are advantages in having someone as figurehead in interaction with other groups. The elevation of someone to be the group’s representative can become permanent, with the representative becoming the chief, the king, the emperor. Or even the President of the United States.

The figurehead and prow of the SS Great Britain.
The figurehead and prow of the SS Great Britain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Politicians in general do not have a high reputation. Mark Twain once said “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason”. The implication is that while politicians may start off idealistic, they may often come to become arrogant and believe that they are better in some way than the people who gave them the power.

Lord Acton’s dictum often appears to be true of politicians. The more power that they have, the more they consider themselves to be more important than the average man in the street. They may come to believe that they are above the law, and eventually fall foul of it. While power does not directly corrupt, the feeling of importance and the ability to wield power sometimes does.


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Politicians do recognise this fact and, if they are sensible, try to  avoid this trap. They try to remain “grounded”. They talk about getting back to the roots, keeping in touch and other such phrases, but it is very hard to do this as when they try to interact with those who put them in power, those people treat them as special, and tend to address the role and not the person.

Politicians are overthrown all the time. It may be that they no longer serve the people who selected them, or it may be that they have become arrogant and have been caught doing something illegal or dubious.


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Often these peccadilloes are things that would not get a normal person into too much trouble. An insulting email, maybe, or perhaps an affair with a person that the politician works with. Or getting someone to paint the roof, when the politician is in a position to help the painter.

Sometimes, though, the politician takes advantage of their position in ways which are very wrong. Sometimes they accept money to advance someone’s business, or they may divert money to their own bank accounts, when it should be spent to further the aims for which they were selected. They might take holidays overseas or travel to conferences for which their seems little justification.


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It’s no wonder then, that people look on politicians with distrust. They are aware of all the temptations that beset politicians and they are aware that such temptations are hard to resist and that some politicians may be corruptible.

That’s why we surround our politicians with laws and rules above and beyond those that apply to the man in the street. We want our politicians to be above reproach, but we know that they are fallible.


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But we do not hold them to their promises, which is why Trump can get away with promising that he would build a wall between the United States and Mexico, if he gets elected, when everyone knows that such a wall is very unlikely to be built. Even if it is, illegal immigrants from Mexico to the United States will find ways around it. Or under it. There are already tunnels under the border between the two countries.

The electors in the United States know that Trump’s promises are hogwash, but they like the way that he promises something towards dealing with the problem of illegal immigration. It shows that he is thinking about it, and may well do something.

English: American politician Hubert Work.
English: American politician Hubert Work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The same goes for Trump’s promise to prevent Muslims entering the United States for a period. It will never happen, and if it did, it would not be effective, as many potential IS terrorists are already in the country, and such a move would likely persuade them to actively attack the United States from within.

But Trump promises something to deal with the entry of terrorists into the country. Once again, while he probably will not do anything like this, people hope that he will do something.


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However, the big thing that Trump has going for him is that he is not a politician, in the sense that he has not had a career in politics, he has not worked his way up in politics. No, Trump has started at the top. Trump is a businessman. If he does get elected he will probably find that his business skills don’t really equip him for a life in politics, and persuading people to go along with his schemes will make herding cats look easy.

After all, in the business world Trump may be able to hire and fire as he wishes, but in government, the other elected representatives cannot be fired and he will need their cooperation. Trump’s (apparent) bullying tactics will not work in government. In some ways it would be interesting to see if he could achieve anything if he were the POTUS.

Plaque of the Seal of the President of the Uni...
Plaque of the Seal of the President of the United States on the southeast side of Hoover Tower on the campus in Stanford, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)