A short note on the alt-right and nonviolence

“There’s a contrast between the alt-right and the well-minded people that find themselves somewhere else on this one-dimensional axis: whether you’re liberal, conservative, not sure or don’t know: condemning the alt-right nonviolently is only sane.”

In Jesse Singal’s careful, pragmatic case against punching Nazis, Singal makes a convincing case for nonviolence, a method of protesting that has existed for thousands of years and has caused the successful disruption of government time and time again. Strikes are an excellent example. Albeit more prevailing in the past century, when most workers were still unionized, they have had considerable effects for strikers and their families. As for an older example, take the period of the Conflict of Orders in Rome (494 B.C. to 287 B.C), when the common Plebeians sought to achieve political equality with the aristocratic Patricians. In 494 B.C. this consequential period started with the first ‘secession of the plebeians’, who nonviolently seceded to the sacred mountain, just outside Rome. Eventually, a series of protests and conflicts led to further democratization of the Roman Republic. For more timely examples, note the relatively nonviolent Bolshevik revolution, India’s struggle against British rule or King’s civil rights movement.

counterprotest
Counter-protest

As Trump fails to fully condemn the far-right fringes of the political spectrum and hence further isolates himself in indefensible immorality, nonviolence is the only acceptable reaction. Singal argues the same, on the grounds that for liberals and progressives, violence is always a last resort, ‘the last refuge of the incompetent’ to quote Asimov. Who would not agree with Singal? The relatively small alt-right feeds on violence by its counter-protesters: it’s ‘proof’ that the ‘alt-left’ somehow suppresses the white American who is peacefully exercising his right to free speech.

For this message, I strongly urge you to read Singal’s article, however, I disagree with his categorization. At the end, Singal concludes that progressives and liberals should refrain from “punching Nazis” and that “in most other situations, progressives understand — or claim to understand — the moral gravity of calling for violence. They shouldn’t let a scary but small group of deeply loathed bigots steer them off course.”. The assertion that only liberals and progressives agree that violence is a method of protest so childish and primitive that it should be avoided at all cost, undermines his point.

Singal seemingly understands that neo-Nazism and white supremacy attempt to argue for a society so unsupported and feared that they are vastly outnumbered by their saner countrymen, however different it may appear on Twitter. None of this means, however, that we should group people according to their political beliefs again. There’s a contrast between the alt-right and the well-minded people that find themselves somewhere else on this one-dimensional axis, whether you’re liberal, conservative, not sure or don’t know: condemning the alt-right nonviolently is the only sane thing to do.

As a short addendum, a Martin Luther King quote:

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.

Bannon possibly ousted as chief strategist

According to the New York Times, who cite two administration officials, Trump has decided to remove Bannon from his powerful position. Considering Trump’s loyalty seems to last only a short time, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Considering that Bannon is, despite my mild praise yesterday, the chief engineer of his alt-right base and therefore a valuable asset in maintaining his most consistent following, it is.

Whether this is a noticable change remains to be seen, Bannon’s influence in the White House seemed close to none in recent weeks. The chief strategist even refuted Trump’s statements concerning North Korea in an interview last Wednesday.

Nonetheless, quite interesting.

G20 Aftermath: New Global Leadership

The tides have indeed turned; the US’s position has weakened as the Trump administration seems to have no interest in global leadership, while China’s domestic problems negate its interest in a similar leadership role. All the while Europe has shrugged off its recent wave of right-wing populism. Economic stability followed political stability as the Union self-handedly recovered from its lows, rewinding the economy to pre-crisis levels. From the start it would be clear that the EU would now set the tone.

G20

Before attending the G7 summit on his previous foreign trip, Trump took the time to increase tensions in the Middle East by sympathizing with Saudi-Arabia and affronting Iran, after which Trump seemed perfectly content with letting Palestine and Israel find a way of solving their increasingly complex conflict. Safe to say, Trump was more of a crowd-pleaser than he was a problem solver, visiting only the countries he knew welcomed his electoral college victory.

Similarly, preceding the G20 summit, Trump took to the stage in Poland, a country that shares with Hungary its illiberal, right-wing government. PiS, the Law and Justice party, strongly opposes immigration and espouses values of Euro-skepticism unseen elsewhere in the union. Its party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, unsurprisingly hailed Trump’s visit as a “new success.” The underlying strategy seemingly entails first to do something that can’t possibly go wrong and can only be touted as a ‘success’ by his base, only after these successes come the summits. Besides cozying up to his supporters at home and in Poland, commentators swiftly described his visit as an attempt to deepen divisions within the European Union, hoping to spur the populists who only reached second place in many of Europe’s elections.

On the other side of the aisle, a new trade deal between the EU and Japan was ratified. This deal not only establishes an economic relationship between the two countries, it entails further cooperation with regard to defense and cyber-security. Less evident than these obvious benefits involved for the two power blocs, however, is the political statement that it symbolizes. Hastily finished before the gathering, it sounds a strong voice against protectionism and isolationist economic policy, showing that Japan and the EU hold hands whilst Trump is letting them go.

Trump and Putin might have been the center of attention during this summit, it was Angela Merkel, German chancellor, whose job it was to channel the summit and make sure that its result – a communique – was of any significance. With her reelection at stake, Merkel had presented herself as the front woman of the liberal west and free trade, with ‘difficult tasks’ ahead, she had to be careful not to give away too much of these values in negotiations with Trump, Putin and Erdogan: The Terrible Trio – as the Economist once named them

After all, however, it wasn’t Merkel, who assiduously persevered and dabbled between the G20 and fierce protests in her own country, who will be remembered. It isn’t for the meager fifteen page communique, full of boilerplate and cliche statements either, which will be largely forgotten by the time of the next summit. Quite frankly, it will be remembered for its stark contrast with previous international gatherings, when a respected US president helped lay the foundation for the Paris accord.

New roles

Let us return to the aforementioned terrible trio; Trump, Putin and Erdogan. The three will set the stage for global relationships in the upcoming decade.

For one, many leaders question Trump’s unpredictability. On the one hand, Trump’s disdain for international cooperation seems clear; on the other hand, this message seems to show only in general diplomatic incompetence, not in actions.

In the case of Putin and Erdogan, it’s not so much a case of questioning, it’s a case of fear. Putin leaves Russia with severe domestic problems, however, his presence on the world stage is prominent as ever. Leaders fear his ever growing sphere of influence in the Eastern parts of Europe, where Putin supports the pro-Russia, illiberal and isolationist countries, one of which is the aforementioned Poland. More worrying is his relationship with Erdogan, the self-made autocrat whose one-man control in Turkey abolished the once secular NATO member. With Turkey moving to Russia, the recent refugee treaties with the EU aren’t as sure a case as they seemed; furthermore Turkey is a key NATO-member as a result of its location and a possible EU-member – although accession talks have stalled – making further cooperation with Russia a frightening development.

It’s these factors combined that divide the world into a small number of huge power-blocs, competing in the arena that Trump’s economic- and national security adviser argue for. Many acclaim that this terrible trio casts a looming shadow over Europe, one that may break apart the Union. If anything, however, it seems to make the EU stronger, as a result of blocs such as Russia, China and the US isolating themselves, it has to take matters into her own hands, leading the way to closer cooperation within the Union and a possible pan-EU defense initiative.

Now, I’d not argue that the world will be at war within the foreseeable future, nor that the world will return to a competition of Western civilizations much akin to the world before the first World War. These dynamics do make for a worrying – albeit interesting – future that, however speculative, shouldn’t be ignored.