Category: Political Opinion

Can March for Science participants advocate without losing the public’s trust?

As the March for Science nears, questions about whether scientists can and should advocate for public policy become more important. On one hand, scientists have relevant expertise to contribute to conversations about public policy. And in the abstract, the American public supports the idea that scientists should be involved in political debate. On the other hand, scientists who advocate may risk losing the trust of the public. Maintaining that trust is imperative for scientists, both to be able to communicate public risks appropriately and to preserve public funding for research. The Conversation

Little existing research had tested how audiences react when confronted with concrete examples of scientific advocacy. Led by my colleague John Kotcher, my colleagues and I at the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication devised an experiment to test these questions in the summer of 2014. Our results suggest there is at least some tolerance for advocacy by scientists among the American public.

Testing a scientist’s perceived credibility

We asked over 1,200 American adults to read the biography and a single Facebook post of a (fictional) climate scientist named Dr. Dave Wilson. In this post, Dr. Wilson promotes his recent interview regarding his work on climate change. We varied the message of this statement to include a range of advocacy messages – from no advocacy (discussing recent evidence about climate change) to clear advocacy for specific policies to address climate change.

We found that perceptions of Dr. Wilson’s credibility – and of the scientific community more broadly – did not noticeably decline when he engaged in most types of advocacy.

When Dr. Wilson championed taking action on climate change, without specifying what action, he was considered equally credible as when he described new evidence on climate change or discussed the risks and benefits of a range of policies. In fact, perceptions of Dr. Wilson’s credibility were maintained even when he argued in favor of reducing carbon emissions at coal-fired power plants.

Only when Dr. Wilson advocated for building more nuclear power plants did his credibility suffer.

Advocacy received differently than partisanship

A nonpartisan message may be well-received.
AnubisAbyss, CC BY-NC-ND

Our study suggests that the American public may not see scientists who advocate for general action on scientific issues as lacking in credibility, nor will they punish the scientific community for one scientist’s advocacy. Yet this study represented only one case of scientific advocacy; other forms of advocacy may not be as accepted by the public. For example, more caution is required when scientists promote specific (unpopular) policies.

Most notably, our study did not test overtly partisan statements from Dr. Wilson. Our research participants saw it that way too; they rated all of Dr. Wilson’s statements as more scientific than political.

The March for Science, however, risks being seen as motivated by partisan beliefs. In that case, scientists may not escape being criticized for their actions. This is especially true if the march is seen as a protest against President Trump or Republicans. In our study, conservatives saw Dr. Wilson as less credible whether he engaged in advocacy or not. If conservatives see the march as a protest against their values, they may dismiss the message of the march – and the messengers – without considering its merits.

This risk is exacerbated when media coverage of the March for Science is considered. In our study, people saw Dr. Wilson promoting his interview in his Facebook post, but were not exposed to the actual interview in which Dr. Wilson made his case for a given policy. Nor were his actions disruptive; a single post on social media is relatively easy to skip or ignore, and Dr. Wilson could frame his interview in the way he liked.

The March for Science will be the opposite. If successful, the march will garner attention from news outlets, who may reframe the purpose of the march.

Balancing the advocacy message

So what can be done to limit accusations of partisan bias surrounding the march?

Researchers can aim for an inclusive message, avoiding the appearance of being just another interest group.
Adam Salsman, CC BY-NC-ND

One way marchers can minimize this possibility is by crafting an inclusive message that resonates with many people, stressing the ways science improves our society and protects future generations. However, the march’s similarity to other explicitly anti-Trump marches may make it hard to avoid a partisan connotation.

Moreover, in our research Dr. Wilson was portrayed as an older white male, matching cultural stereotypes about scientists; he may have had more freedom to engage in advocacy than would female or nonwhite scientists. An inclusive and diverse March for Science may challenge these traditional portrayals of scientists. While many (the authors included) would see that as a desirable objective in itself, it may complicate successful advocacy.

A goal of the March for Science is to demonstrate that science is a nonpartisan issue. It represents a unique opportunity for scientists to highlight the ways in which science improves our society. Scientists participating in the march should emphasize shared values with those who might otherwise disagree – such as the desire to create a better world for our children and grandchildren.

If the event remains a March for Science, rather than a march against a party or group, the chances increase that it will effectively focus attention on the importance of scientific research.

Emily Vraga, Assistant Professor in Political Communication, George Mason University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Media and liberals: Changing words to change the narrative

By Robert J. Garrison 

The biggest news story the past few days has been President Trump’s signing of an executive order banning immigration from seven middle eastern countries.

I want to make the record clear this is NOT a Muslim ban, it is an immigration pause! Yet every protester and media outlet is calling it a Muslim ban. It’s a small yet significant change. It is also a popular psychological tactic. This is a psychological tactic is used by an opposing faction to gain control of the narrative. Also, this is only a temporary ban imposed for 90 days.

So many people are talking about an issue that they don’t even have a clue about. They believe the talking points of the MSM like MSNBC, CNN, or the Huffington Post. So many protesters and media outlets haven’t even read the text of the executive order.

For my readers, here is the text of the executive order.

I understand that we are busy with work, texting, posting on social media or running out to protest but let us stop and take the time to actually read the text without viewing it through the filter of news commentators and writers.

I also implore that we all take the time to actually study the topic or issue rather than allow our emotions whip us into a frenzy. For instance, this is not a permanent ban. It is a temporary one, so the new administration can review the vetting process and make tweaks to the vetting process if needed. Also, the government is not stopping everyone from coming in, they are granting waivers to those that were in transit or have already been cleared. Now that we have cut through the hysteria a little, let us look at the premise of the executive order.

So what’s the big deal with these seven countries that President Trump banned immigration for 90-120 days? Well, the commonality between the majority of these countries is that they do not have a stable centralized government.

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Well, the commonality between the majority of these countries is that they do not have a stable centralized government. These countries are known as hotbeds of terrorism and since they do not have a strong centralized government it is hard to nearly impossible to get reliable intelligence on those wishing to come into the US. Let us not forget that ISIS has stated that they will use the refugee crisis to infiltrate the West. Places like France and Germany have felt the impact of ISIS’ plan to infiltrate the refugees and President Trump is taking measures to make sure that the US doesn’t. It is not like he made that decision on a whim.

The State Department reported last summer that ISIS tried to enter the US posing as refugees. Also, ISIS bragged back in 2015 that it has successfully infiltrated 1000s of terrorist among the refugees entering Europe. Since ISIS knows that they couldn’t possibly get to the US from countries like Syria, Iraq, or Libya they need to get into Europe and try to get into the US from there. This is the heart of what the executive order is trying to prevent. Now, why only these seven countries? Why wasn’t an obvious country, Saudi Arabia added to the list?

Now, why only these seven countries? Why wasn’t an obvious country, Saudi Arabia added to the list?

Some suggest that it is because of Trumps business ties with Saudi Arabia as to why it wasn’t on the list. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus denied that accusation on Meet the Press by explaining how they came up with those seven countries:

“Just like I said very clearly, the countries that were chosen in the executive order to protect Americans from terrorists were the countries that have already been identified by Congress and the Obama administration,”

White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer on Monday also suggested that other countries could be added to the list at a later date.

Saudi Arabia should be added to the list, not only because 15 of the 9-11 hijackers were from there but because of their government sponsor of Wahhabism, which is a very extreme form of Islam. Also, Saudi Arabia sponsors 100s of madrasas (Islamic education institutions such as elementary/high schools or colleges) that teach this extreme form of Islam here in the US!

So, are Trump’s business ties the reason why Saudi Arabia wasn’t added to the list? I don’t think so and here’s why. What is more likely the reason why and fits the Trump method is leverage.

The reason that more likely fits the Trump method of doing deals, is leverage. President Trump last weekend made calls to many major world leaders, one of them being the King of Saudi Arabia, King Salman. During this call, King Salman agreed to provide safe zones in Syria and Yemen and to provide help for displaced refugees. President Trump during the election campaign has always called on the Arab world to step up and help the refugees themselves and not leaving only the West to deal with it. So, the leverage theory is more in line with what President Trump has stated before and his political tactics than the business dealing ties.

While the implementation of the executive order was not perfect nor was the list of countries, the reasoning behind the order was. The Trump administration is erring on the side of caution when it comes to the nation’s security and for that, we should be grateful.

While some might be inconvenienced because of this order isn’t that better than being inconvenienced by an attack on US soil?

Photo Credit: Wikiepedia

Robert J. Garrison is a political and religious writer for The Systems Scientist. You can connect with him directly in the comments section, follow him on Twitter or on Facebook, or catch up on his articles in the Archives.

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Donald Trump’s ban will have lasting and damaging impacts on the world’s refugees

US President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration fundamentally alters decades of bipartisan US practice. It blocks immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and stops all refugee resettlement for at least 120 days.

Trump’s justification for the order is:

… the US must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles.

The first element includes blocking any immigration from seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – for at least 30 days.

The first day after the order was approved dual citizens and US permanent residents – usually called green card holders – were prevented from boarding flights to the US and even detained on arrival. A temporary injunction has provided at least some protections, though it is being applied patchily and only to those people who have already entered the US.

The order also suspends all refugee admissions for a minimum of 120 days. After that the US will still admit only nationals of countries where the government has “procedures [that] are adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the US”.

In a continuation of current congressional practice, the US will also prioritize refugee claims based on religious-based persecution, where the person is a member of a minority religion in their own country. And no Syrian refugees will be admitted until the US refugee admissions program aligns with the national interest.

Finally, the US will limit the number of refugees it admits in 2017 to 50,000. So, what does this all mean for refugees?

What does it mean for refugee acceptance?

The UN Refugee Convention provides refugees with a strong set of rights. However, it applies only when a refugee is within a signatory country’s territory or jurisdiction. The convention does not oblige any signatory to accept other refugees.

However, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considers resettlement to be one of three “durable solutions” for refugees, alongside voluntary repatriation and integration in a host community. These solutions enable refugees to live their lives in dignity and peace.

The UNHCR has determined, in most cases, that the people awaiting resettlement are refugees. Resettlement is used especially in cases where a refugee’s:

… life, liberty, safety, health, or fundamental human rights are at risk in their country of refuge.

Thus resettlement can be critical to provide refugees with protection.

Resettlement also has important geostrategic implications. It helps, as several former US government officials have noted, support the stability of allies that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees.

Similarly, in a call with Trump on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly argued that:

… the necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain origin or a certain religion.

The US resettlement program has long had strong bipartisan support. But it is also critical to global refugee resettlement. The US takes in by far the most resettled refugees of any country. Canada and Australia are a distant second and third.

Top ten countries for refugee resettlement in 2015.

The justification for the shutdown is to improve the US’s own security measures by introducing, as Trump has previously argued, “extreme vetting”.

But this already exists for resettled refugees. As part of the Refugee Admissions Program, individual refugee cases are screened through a seven-step process, including security and background checks, personal interviews with agents from the US Department of Homeland Security, and other measures. This process can take up to two years.

This system has worked; virtually no terrorist attacks on US soil have been caused by refugees. As a September 2016 report by the Cato Institute, a right-leaning think-tank, noted:

The chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is one in 3.64 billion per year.

Similarly, in 2015, a State Department spokesperson said of the nearly 785,000 refugees admitted to the US since 2001:

Only about a dozen – a tiny fraction of 1% of admitted refugees – have been arrested or removed from the US due to terrorism concerns that existed prior to their resettlement in the US. None of them were Syrian.

The wider effects

Trump’s ban will also have two wider effects.

It appears not to be affecting the November agreement between Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island in the US in exchange for Australia accepting a group of Central American refugees. Many of those on Nauru and Manus Island come from Iran, Iraq and Somalia.

The Australian government remains keen for the deal to go ahead. But US Republican politicians have previously been critical of the deal. Republican congressman Brian Babin said earlier this month he was confident that Trump:

… will do everything in his power to put an immediate stop to this secret Australian-US refugee deal that should have simply never happened in the first place.

But in a phone call between Trump and Turnbull on Sunday, Trump appears to have given assurances the deal would still go ahead. The order gives the power to the secretary of homeland security to continue to admit refugees for resettlement on a case-by-case basis, irrespective of the wider shutdown.

Globally, the shutdown will have lasting and detrimental effects for refugees. In the Middle East, it may prove to be a boon to the Islamic State. The terrorist group has long sought to disrupt refugee movements.

The ban will also put more pressure on refugee-hosting countries. About 90% of the world’s refugees are in the developing world. The international refugee system works through burden-sharing: host countries know that at least some refugees will be resettled and that they will receive financial assistance for the refugees from the UNHCR and other organizations and governments.

Trump’s move challenges this directly, and will likely lead to further restrictions on the ability of refugees to receive basic protections.

The Conversation

Phil Orchard, Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies and International Relations; Research Director at the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, The University of Queensland

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

2017 isn’t ‘1984’ – it’s stranger than Orwell imagined

A week after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, George Orwell’s “1984” is the best-selling book on

The hearts of a thousand English teachers must be warmed as people flock to a novel published in 1949 for ways to think about their present moment.

Orwell set his story in Oceania, one of three blocs or mega-states fighting over the globe in 1984. There has been a nuclear exchange, and the blocs seem to have agreed to perpetual conventional war, probably because constant warfare serves their shared interests in domestic control.

Oceania demands total subservience. It is a police state, with helicopters monitoring people’s activities, even watching through their windows. But Orwell emphasizes it is the “ThinkPol,” the Thought Police, who really monitor the “Proles,” the lowest 85 percent of the population outside the party elite. The ThinkPol move invisibly among society seeking out, even encouraging, thoughtcrimes so they can make the perpetrators disappear for reprogramming.

The other main way the party elite, symbolized in the mustached figurehead Big Brother, encourage and police correct thought is through the technology of the Telescreen. These “metal plaques” transmit things like frightening video of enemy armies and of course the wisdom of Big Brother. But the Telescreen can see you, too. During mandatory morning exercise, the Telescreen not only shows a young, wiry trainer leading cardio, it can see if you are keeping up. Telescreens are everywhere: They are in every room of people’s homes. At the office, people use them to do their jobs.

The story revolves around Winston Smith and Julia, who try to resist their government’s overwhelming control over facts. Their act of rebellion? Trying to discover “unofficial” truth about the past, and recording unauthorized information in a diary. Winston works at the colossal Ministry of Truth, on which is emblazoned IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. His job is to erase politically inconvenient data from the public record. A party member falls out of favor? She never existed. Big Brother made a promise he could not fulfill? It never happened.

Because his job calls on him to research old newspapers and other records for the facts he has to “unfact,” Winston is especially adept at “doublethink.” Winston calls it being “conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies… consciously to induce unconsciousness.”

Oceania: The product of Orwell’s experience

Orwell’s setting in “1984” is inspired by the way he foresaw the Cold War – a phrase he coined in 1945 – playing out. He wrote it just a few years after watching Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin carve up the world at the Tehran and Yalta conferences. The book is remarkably prescient about aspects of the Stalinist Soviet Union, East Germany and Maoist China.

Orwell was a socialist. “1984” in part describes his fear that the democratic socialism in which he believed would be hijacked by authoritarian Stalinism. The novel grew out of his sharp observations of his world and the fact that Stalinists tried to kill him.

In 1936, a fascist-supported military coup threatened the democratically elected socialist majority in Spain. Orwell and other committed socialists from around the world, including Ernest Hemingway, volunteered to fight against the rightist rebels. Meanwhile, Hitler lent the rightists his air power while Stalin tried to take over the leftist Republican resistance. When Orwell and other volunteers defied these Stalinists, they moved to crush the opposition. Hunted, Orwell and his wife had to flee for their lives from Spain in 1937.

George Orwell at the BBC.

Back in London during World War II, Orwell saw for himself how a liberal democracy and individuals committed to freedom could find themselves on a path toward Big Brother. He worked for the BBC writing what can only be described as “propaganda” aimed at an Indian audience. What he wrote was not exactly doublethink, but it was news and commentary with a slant to serve a political purpose. Orwell sought to convince Indians that their sons and resources were serving the greater good in the war. Having written things he believed were untrue, he quit the job after two years, disgusted with himself.

Imperialism itself disgusted him. As a young man in the 1920s, Orwell had served as a colonial police officer in Burma. In a distant foreshadowing of Big Brother’s world, Orwell reviled the arbitrary and brutish role he took on in a colonial system. “I hated it bitterly,” he wrote. “In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the gray, cowed faces of the long-term convicts…”

Oceania was a prescient product of a particular biography and particular moment when the Cold War was beginning. Naturally, then, today’s world of “alternative facts” is quite different in ways that Orwell could not have imagined.

Big Brother not required

Orwell described a single-party system in which a tiny core of oligarchs, Oceania’s “inner party,” control all information. This is their chief means of controlling power. In the U.S. today, information is wide open to those who can access the internet, at least 84 percent of Americans. And while the U.S. arguably might be an oligarchy, power exists somewhere in a scrum including the electorate, constitution, the courts, bureaucracies and, inevitably, money. In other words, unlike in Oceania, both information and power are diffuse in 2017 America.

Those who study the decline in standards of evidence and reasoning in the U.S. electorate chiefly blame politicians’ concerted efforts from the 1970s to discredit expertise, degrade trust in Congress and its members, even question the legitimacy of government itself. With those leaders, institutions and expertise delegitimized, the strategy has been to replace them with alternative authorities and realities.

In 2004, a senior White House adviser suggested a reporter belonged to the “reality-based community,” a sort of quaint minority of people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.… That’s not the way the world really works anymore.”

Orwell could not have imagined the internet and its role in distributing alternative facts, nor that people would carry around Telescreens in their pockets in the form of smartphones. There is no Ministry of Truth distributing and policing information, and in a way everyone is Big Brother.

It seems less a situation that people are incapable of seeing through Big Brother’s big lies, than they embrace “alternative facts.” Some researchers have found that when some people begin with a certain worldview – for example, that scientific experts and public officials are untrustworthy – they believe their misperceptions more strongly when given accurate conflicting information. In other words, arguing with facts can backfire. Having already decided what is more essentially true than the facts reported by experts or journalists, they seek confirmation in alternative facts and distribute them themselves via Facebook, no Big Brother required.

In Orwell’s Oceania, there is no freedom to speak facts except those that are official. In 2017 America, at least among many of the powerful minority who selected its president, the more official the fact, the more dubious. For Winston, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.” For this powerful minority, freedom is the freedom to say two plus two make five.


John Broich, Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Punching Nazis: what would Indiana Jones do?

While millions of people joined a worldwide women’s march to protest the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, and a smaller number gathered to celebrate it, parts of the internet were debating the vital question: is it OK to punch Nazis?

The debate was sparked when Richard Spencer – the antagonistic president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank – was punched in the face by a masked assailant during a television interview. Captured by the cameras of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, footage of the punch quickly spread across social media.

By the end of the weekend, a number of dedicated hashtags such as #punchmorenazis and #punchyourlocalnazi had sprung up. These hashtags countered the recent rebranding of white supremacy as the “alt-right”. Instead, users drew historical comparisons between contemporary events in the US and those of 1930s Germany.

Social media users also remixed the footage of the Spencer punch to music, from Disney’s Frozen, Rage Against the Machine and the Indiana Jones theme tune.

The choice of Indiana Jones was not coincidental. In fact, it tapped into the growing symbolic value of the film franchise to many of those who resist the world’s political slide to the extreme right.

In the films, archaeologist Professor Indiana Jones is a staunch anti-Nazi. This is perhaps best illustrated by his exploits in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and the moment in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) when Jones remarks, “Nazis – I hate these guys”.

So it is not surprising that after Spencer was punched, Indy returned to our screens, albeit on mobile devices rather than in movie theatres. He appeared in memes featuring Nazi fight scenes from both these movies and in one tweet from comic book writer Gerry Duggan, alongside a still of the Spencer punch and an image of Captain America punching Hitler, dating to the superhero’s first appearance in 1941.

Do it like Indiana Jones

Significant research has been carried out on the geopolitical symbolism of Captain America but Indy has escaped similar degrees of scrutiny.

A cursory attempt at such an analysis reveals how Indiana Jones, partly through his new associations with Captain America, personifies certain ideas of American patriotism.

This is interesting given that one of the earliest symbolic uses of Indiana Jones can be attributed to a Berlin-based anti-fascist group, whose members would surely find patriotism’s close relationship with nationalism a little problematic.

A sticker that appeared on street corners throughout the German capital between roughly 2008 and 2013, and which is now archived in the Street Art Graphics Collection at St. Lawrence University, shows Indy, in his famous fedora, punching a large bare-chested, skin-headed Nazi. Its slogan implores: “Do It Like Indiana Jones”.

Antifaschistische Aktion

Nazis: the ultimate bad guys

Professor Susan Aronstein has described the Nazism depicted in the original Indiana Jones trilogy as an “interchangeable force of darkness”. Casting the Nazis as the bad guys tapped into easily recognisable categories of good and evil helped the films re-establish America as a land of liberty after the Vietnam War.

Since then, Indy’s patriotism has found new targets that complicate his symbolic value for the political left.

In the 2008 reboot, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the Soviet Union stepped in to become his main adversary. Besides being widely criticised for jumping the shark, or more specifically, nuking the fridge, the film drew the ire of the Russian Communist party, which called for its boycott.

This reaction was reminiscent of the Indian film certification board’s response to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). They temporarily banned the movie for its negative depiction of Hinduism.

Until recently, few leapt to the defence of Indy’s Nazi enemies but this might soon change, given the alt-right’s recent negative reaction to Star Wars.

Indy in the academy

Ultimately, the binary logic of good versus evil has masked some of the more problematic aspects of Indy’s escapades, not least their neo-colonialism and sexism. Real archaeologists have highlighted these deficiencies but for the most part, Indiana Jones is still generally held in high regard by scholars who are keen to attract public interest.

But where does the rallying call to punch more Nazis leave an academic discipline that openly acknowledges the character’s huge influence on its public perception and student enrollment numbers?

Watching the Indiana Jones led me to study archaeology at university and I still remember learning about the Nazi regime’s abuse of the discipline to promote their racist ideologies. Thus I partly agree with those who are glad to see archaeology channelled through popular fictional characters like Jones to influence opinion against far-right extremism.

And yet I cannot shake the nagging feeling that using Indy in this way might also come to reinforce growing anti-intellectualism and contribute to the deepening divides between academics and those segments of the public that sympathise with or are vulnerable to far-right ideologies.

These cleavages recently became evident with the launch of the Professor Watchlist, which encourages students to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom”.

The initiative attracted criticism on social media and opponents responded by trolling the website with fake reports relating to fictional academics including, yes you’ve guessed it, Professor Indiana Jones.

Landing heavier punches

So is it OK to use Indiana Jones as an excuse to support punching white supremacists?

Certain moments may allow only a small number of reasonable responses, some of which may involve the use of violence. However, it is worrying when popular icons are flattened and their advocates or fans filtered into bubbles on the right and left in ways that close down the opportunity to exchange opinions for the better.

As the video of Richard Spencer continues to be remixed online, some users have joked that if they began an archaeology degree today they could start fighting Nazis during Trump’s expected four-year term as president

We rarely see Professor’s Jones intellectual skills in action but perhaps it would be productive to encourage him to land heavier punches through recourse to knowledge, rather than his fists.

Ideally, those drawn to the field of archaeology by Indy’s most recent outings would learn to defeat the rise of the right through the use of intellect rather than violence. Perhaps they will even manage it by the time the fifth Indiana Jones film is released in the summer of 2019.The Conversation

Samuel Merrill-Post-Doctoral Researcher in Digital Sociology, Umeå University

Photo Credit: Eva Rinaldi

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump is not a European-style populist. That’s our problem

Two days after the U.S. presidential election, Marine Le Pen – the leader of the right-wing French National Front – tweeted out congratulations to Donald Trump.

During a controversial BBC interview that aired a few days later, Le Pen summed up how she believes the American election will affect her own electoral chances. She said Trump’s victory “renders possible what had been presented as impossible – that what the people want, the people can have.”

Brexit and the election of Trump have given hope not only to Le Pen, but also to her European confrères, such as the leader of the Dutch nationalist right Freedom Party Geert Wilders, as they look forward to their own elections in spring 2017. As savvy politicians, they are exploiting the American election for their own purposes.

Yet, despite the temporal coincidence and surface similarities, I believe the election of Trump in the U.S. is fundamentally different from what is occurring in Europe. The Trump phenomenon is not simply an American iteration of European populism. It’s also potentially more dangerous.

As I argue in my book “Illiberal Politics in Neo-liberal Times,” populism – or extreme nationalism – began to gain ground in Europe during the 1990s as a reaction against the accelerated process of European integration. European populists sought to preserve their national institutions against encroaching Europeanization – a term they use sometimes interchangeably with globalization. Globalization is a force that has contributed to putting large numbers of people, particularly young people, out of work and facing a bleak future on both sides of the Atlantic.

In contrast, Trump questions the legitimacy of political institutions and the reality of facts in a manner that European populists do not.

Let’s consider the important ways that America and Europe differ by first turning to the European example.

An imperfect union

Le Pen has been gaining ground since the 2012 French presidential election. Recent polls place her on track to move to the final round of the 2017 presidential elections, although most analysts agree she’s unlikely to win the presidency.

For years, scholars have debated whether the lack of direct popular participation in EU governance mattered.

They got their answer beginning in 2008 when economic crisis and austerity politics proved that democracy did matter. European citizens began voting in national parliamentary elections for parties that advocated economic protectionism. For example, in 2011 the True Finns scored 19 percent of the vote. In 2010, the Swedish Democrats had their first breakthrough. In 2012, the Greek left populist party Syriza polled at 16.8 percent and is currently the main party in Greece, and the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn broke through at 7 percent.

The festering European economic crisis was joined by two additional crises in 2015 – the refugee crisis and the security crisis that public terrorist attacks generated. All of this was played out in mass media and provided the final push for nationalist parties across Europe to come close to achieving political power.

An all-American election

Donald Trump is more than an Atlantic Ocean away from Marine Le Pen.

As I see it, Trump’s electoral victory is a peculiarly American product of working-class unemployment, a deep distrust of and resentment of educated elites and a celebrity culture that valorizes street smarts.

We should not forget that Trump was elected at the margins – razor-thin layers of non-college-educated voters living in rural Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania appear to have tipped the outcome of the election.

Trump tapped into what Richard Hofstadter identified in 1966 as “anti-intellectualism” in American life in a way that his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton never could.

Trump’s 3 a.m. tweets exploited social media. His tweets and retweets generated many more millions of followers than traditional media. In a popular cultural world where “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol” tell their audience anyone can be a “star,” Trump reigned supreme. On his reality television show “Celebrity Apprentice,” he was the uber-successful billionaire and alpha male who lived in a golden tower – an image that is arguably more accessible to the average person than the closeted world of Hamptons cocktail parties that Clinton was portrayed as inhabiting.

Trump exploited the fears, feelings of neglect and fantasies of his voters. He deployed rhetoric that combined a cadence of danger with megadoses of emotional empathy. Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention invoked law and order and was replete with descriptions of violent acts that victimized ordinary Americans – particularly those who live in inner cities. Trump claimed that he was the “only one” who could save ordinary Americans. He would be their “champion.” He would “fight” for them. He would “win” for them.

A different reality in Europe

In contrast to Trump, European populists are committed conservative nationalists. They are responding to a crisis of management on many levels in EU governance – debt, migration, and security. Many are experienced politicians who have held office and have thought out policy positions – no matter how one feels about those positions.

The media often emphasize the anti-immigrant positions of European populists. But these politicians are more than single-issue xenophobes. When European populists say they want to express the will of the people, they have some specific issues in mind. They want to exit the European Union and reestablish national governance. They want to return to the “social Europe” that began to crumble in the 1970s.

An American rootlessness

Trump has tapped into what sociologist Emile Durkheim identified as anomie – a state of profound rootlessness and dislocation that occurs when institutions such as family and work break down. The salesman in Trump seemed to have grasped this instinctively. He was willing to say what perhaps others were thinking and to shatter verbal taboos.

Pundits have also compared Trump to another European figure I’ve studied – Benito Mussolini. Some see similarities in the men’s physical appearance, personal style, and authoritarian ways.

This may be a more apt comparison.

The motto of the Italian fascist party was “Believe, Obey, Fight!” – an injunction to action without a defined object – a command to do anything that the leader requires. In other words, style without content.

“Make America Great Again” is a similar slogan. It opens the door to virtually anything. So far it has encouraged white nationalists to justify public attacks on Americans of color which have risen since the election.

It is a rare event when citizens turn their back on things that even basic civics teaches about good governance – such as the legitimacy of political institutions, the free press, and the electoral system. This, to my mind, is the true American exceptionalism, and it is profoundly dangerous.

-Professor of Sociology, Cornell University

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shame as a political weapon: Donald Trump and the US presidential election

Many reasons are still being advanced to explain Donald Trump’s win over his experienced, accomplished, much-fancied-in-the-polls rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election. White working-class anger has received a lot of attention, but Trump’s success exploiting anger’s inner manifestation – shame – should be getting a lot more focus.

Shame has a political pedigree in modern US politics. So strong has been its impact that merely a tincture is usually enough to have big consequences:

  • Joseph Nye Welch, chief counsel for the US Army, is credited with turning the tide against Communist witch-hunter and senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954. He declared during a hearing: “You’ve done enough. Have you no decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
  • Democratic vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen called out Republican rival Dan Quayle during a debate in the 1988 presidential election campaign, when Quayle compared himself to John F. Kennedy, with: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Quayle replied: “That was uncalled for, senator.” Perceptions of Quayle never really recovered from Bentsen’s put-down.

By comparison with what might be described as surgical shame strikes, Trump’s use of shame in 2016 was more carpet-bombing in nature. Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild says Trump employs a “choreography of shame” that diminishes everybody – except working-class men.

Strangers in their own land

Hochschild spent five years interviewing poor Louisianans – most of whom were Democrat voters, but who have now traveled to the Trump camp via the Tea Party.

Her recent book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, provides an empathic account of working-class men and women who not only feel without hope but, worse, misunderstood, or – worst of all – not seen or heard at all.

The profile of white, blue-collar men – the demographic which by a considerable margin voted most strongly for Trump – that emerges in Hochschild’s research goes some way to explaining their vote. They feel crunched by technological change and economic crisis on one side, and perceive their remaining white male privilege subsiding in absolute terms simultaneous with its redistribution towards women and minorities.

This much has broadly registered and been understood on both sides of politics. But it receives a complex mix of empathy and aggravation on the progressive side of politics: empathy for obvious class-based reasons; aggravation because women and minorities are due a fair share of that privilege whether it is subsiding or not.

Hochschild is going for something more in her research, however, than the topline economic and demographic facts. She pursues, too, an understanding of the “emotion in politics” of her subjects’ situation, of how they feel and what they are getting emotionally out of their move from the political left to right.

Hochschild wants their “deep story”. After repeated interviews with scores of subjects over a period of years, she summarizes it thus:

You are patiently standing in a long line for something you call the American dream. You are white, Christian, of modest means, and getting along in years. You are male. There are people of colour behind you, and ‘in principle you wish them well.’ But you’ve waited long, worked hard, “and the line is barely moving.

Then ‘Look! You see people cutting in line ahead of you!’ Who are these interlopers? ‘Some are black,’ others ‘immigrants, refugees.’ They get affirmative action, sympathy and welfare – ‘checks for the listless and idle.’ The government wants you to feel sorry for them.

And who runs the government? ‘The biracial son of a low-income single mother,’ and he’s cheering on the line-cutters. ‘The president and his wife are line-cutters themselves.’ The liberal media mocks you as racist or homophobic. Everywhere you look, ‘you feel betrayed.’

In short, you are resentful, and perceive yourself as ridiculous to the rest of America; you can’t hold your end up economically, therefore neither socially nor familially either; and you feel ashamed.

But shame is a secret emotion; pride prevents its utterance. Could this be the key, perhaps, to most pollsters’ failure to capture the full extent of Trump’s support?

Here lies the likely explanation for that hidden vote. By sustained rhetorical attacks on women and minorities, Trump negated – absolved – white working-class shame. And, by winning the election, he relegitimised white working-class men’s place in American society.

Trump’s campaign slogan – “Make America Great Again” – was not simply a narrative of national decline typical of proto-fascist political campaigns: it was also code for “Make White Working-Class Males Great Again”. In restoring them to the center of the national narrative, Trump turned women and minority group members into strangers in their own land.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Like Hochschild, feminist legal scholar Joan C. Williams also has a deeper take on what is happening in the “white working class” – which she sees as driven by a “class culture gap”.

Among other things, this makes more advantaged Americans blind to several features of white, working-class culture – including a resentment of “professionals” alongside what seems, at first blush, a paradoxical admiration for the rich.

Poses Williams:

Why the difference? For one thing, most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day. The dream is not to become upper-middle class, with its different food, family, and friendship patterns; the dream is to live in your own class milieu, where you feel comfortable – just with more money.

Trump personifies Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous; Clinton personifies the professional class perceived to boss the white working class around. Trump promises – and embodies – a return to the era:

… when men were men and women knew their place … it’s comfort food for high-school-educated guys.


-ARC DECRA Fellow, Australian National University

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.