I was going to write about something else to start off the KP year but current events have intruded in the form of the craziness surrounding the selection of US House Speaker and the storming of the Brazilian seats of power (Congress, the Supreme Court and Presidential Palace) by (so-called “Trump of the Tropics”) Jair Bolsonaro supporters who refuse to concede that he lost the October 2022 presidential election to Luis Ignacio da Silva (Lula). I thought I would briefly address the connection between them
When Trump was elected in 2016 I wrote here and in other outlets that one of the problems of his success was that it would encourage imitators at home and abroad. The imitators at home would seek to emulate and deepen his retrograde messages on immigration, race, gender, and other cultural-idelogical issues (such as how to treat the Confederate legacy), whereas external imitators would adopt his nationalist-populist style to tailor their similarly retrograde messages to domestic audiences. The Trump “ripple effect,” I argued, would spread like a grease stain across the global political landscape, including here in NZ. Sure enough, it has.
To continue the analogy, it is now clear that Trump ripped off the scab that covered the festering pustulence of authoritarian bigotry and intolerance that lie under the surface of most democratic societies. He made it “cool” to be a proto- or neofascist. He made it safe to be an ignorant, anti-scientific xenophobic, conspiracy theory believer. He coddles anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers and praises murderous dictators. He normalised pathological lying as a political tactic and he attempted to wield presidential powers as personal weapons with which to settle political scores and pursue personal vendettas. He turned public sector nepotism into a family and friend cash cow. He is, in a word, a pox on humanity.
I say this because the sequels to his presidency are now being seen in the US and elsewhere. In the US the election of a new Republican House Speaker turned into a clown show after MAGA diehards (first known as the “Taliban Twenty,” then recast as the “Fascist Five”–or Six, if you are a pedantic MAGA purist) voted in opposition to Kevin McCarthy, who himself is a 2020 election-denying Trump bootlicker who did everything in his power to cover up and diminish the January 6, 2021 storming and occupation of the US Capitol. The MAGA fanatics, who are also pro-Russian, wanted to outflank McCarthy on the Right, tying personal benefits and unworkable policy demands to their support for his candidacy. (We must remember that the Democrats control both the Senate and the Presidency for the next two years, so some of the MAGA proposals are dead in the water even if they pass in the House).
After 15 rounds of balloting spanning 4 days, they eventual allowed him to win by voting “present,” which lowered McCarthy’s threshold for victory from 218 votes to 216 (Democrats voted unanimously 15 times for Opposition Leader Hakeen Jeffries to be Speaker giving him 212 votes each time). In winning McCarthy became the biggest loser. He is now beholden to this fanatical fringe of MAGA sociopaths, which includes several Jan.6 collaborators, assorted anti-vax loonies, a guy being investigated for child sex trafficking and a former high school dropout-turned-escort and bar owner who got her entry into politics courtesy of being introduced to GOP Senator Tom Cruz at a conservative convention in Las Vegas in the early Trump years (she clearly made an impression on him). This collection of Einsteins now hold the entire House hostage to their demands on the Speaker.
The biggest winner in the House Speaker election was Donald Trump. He backed McCarthy from the onset and once the MAGA morons dug in their heels in later-round balloting it was he who called them and convinced them to switch their votes from other (equally unqualified) candidates to “present.” McCarthy acknowledged his influence once the dust had settled, and it is now McCarthy who will be in the grip of a political vise made up by the Fascist Five inside his party conference and by Trump outside of it. To put it in more organic terms, Trump and his Fascist Five minions have McCarthy by the gonads, assuming that they are still in his possession.
This is a very bad thing. Trump, who was becoming increasingly irrelevant and a spent force in GOP politics as he contends with the imminent possibility of criminal indictments at the state and federal level on a host of charges, including inciting the Jan 6 insurrection and unlawful possession of classified material, has now been gifted a lifeline back into the core of the party. He had already announced his candidacy for the presidential elections in 2024 but was in danger of being eclipsed by younger reactionaries like Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Now he is back front and centre in the primary mix, with Congressional GOP support behind him. He will have to be dealt with, and unless he is indicted, on his terms. (The irony of the GOP mainstream and people like DeSantis needing a Democrat-appointed Attorney General and his subordinates in the Department of Justice to kneecap Trump’s 2024 political ambitions is a bit delicious).
It is possible that the Democrat Party will ultimately benefit from the GOP in-fighting and Trump’s political resurrection, especially if he is indicted and charged and the House GOP spend their time wasting taxpayer dollars on investigations into Hunter Biden’s laptop, Benghazi, the “weaponising” of government agencies against conservatives and fighting “wokeness” and other culture wars in federally-funded projects and agencies. None of this political theatre actually improves the lives of their constituents at a time when the Biden administration and then-Democrat House and Senate majorities passed dozens of items of legislation that actually do have a real positive impact on middle and working class voters (like social security payment increases, physical infrastructure projects, technology industry support measures, capping insulin prices and student debt relief). The more the House Republicans fight over incidentals and fail to deliver tangible benefits to society as a whole, the greater the chances of Democrat victories in 2024.
The Republican House majority need to be seen as doing something concrete that serves the interests of their voting base and it is not clear, with a Democrat majority in the Senate and a Democrat president, that they have the intellectual capacity and political ability to do that. At the moment it is all about scratching the “own the Libs” itch and nothing about actually governing. The MAGA caucus and Trump will ensure that continues through the 2024 elections. Expect Republican House chaos for the next two years, to potential Democrat benefit.
This spills over into the external world. Trump may limit his ambitions to the US or see the presidency as his vehicle towards global reification, but there are those in his circle who have global ambitions that transcend Trump. If anything they see him as a vehicle for their ideological aspirations.
Leading that crowd is Trump ally Steve Bannon. Bannon, a primary instigator/ architect of the Jan 6 insurrection now out on bail after being convicted of contempt of Congress and sentenced to five months imprisonment for not answering a subpoena to testify about his involvement, has been identified as one of the instigators of the Jan 8 insurrection in Brasilia. In fact, one of his henchmen, Jason Miller (a married former Trump advisor who has the distinction of having put an abortifacient in a girlfriend’s drink after she told him that she was pregnant) was detained in a plane waiting on the Brasilia airport tarmac to take off during the insurrection, having spent the previous week working with Bolsonaro’s brother and chief advisor to establish pro-Bolsonaro resistance camps in Brasilia and other major Brazilian cities.
There are many other proven instances of connections between pro-Bolsonaro seditionists and MAGA leaders like Mike Liddell (the pillow magnate), Trump advisors, CPAC (the conservative political action committee led by Matt Schapp, the married traditional family values champion who has just been accused of groping the genitals of a male staffer during a fund-raising trip), and a motley crew of Christian conservatives, anti-communists and white nationalists. The tactics used by the Brazilian mob copied and expanded on the Jan 6 insurrection, broadening the occupation to include all three seats of power while emulating the symbology of the US event (including sitting at the Speaker’s office desk and vandalising artwork and statuary). They may have been abetted by the pro-Bolsonaro governor of the federal district of Brasilia, who, much like Trump’s Acting Secretary of Defense, reportedly ordered the security detachment around the government complex to stand down and use minimum force when faced with crowds trying to force their way into it. (Unlike the Trump glove puppet, he has now been suspended pending an investigation into his actions by the Supreme Court).
Unlike the Jan 6 crowd, the Brazilian insurrectionists made their move on a Sunday when the buildings were unoccupied. That made it easier for security forces to respond when they were eventually summoned because no hostages of any significance could be taken and no crowds of innocent bystanders and tourists were around into which the seditionists could blend into and escape. 1500 were arrested and now wait on charges.
This gets to the heart of the matter. Trump has helped create a global network of rightwing anti-democratic agitators whose main goal is to subvert democracies from within by challenging their legitimacy as a form of governance. He continues to support them (as he did with Bolsonaro, claiming that the Brazilian elections were “rigged”), with Bannon and his cohort serving as the architects for individualised national strategies to pursue that end. Bannon has publicly said that he wants to create a global “nationalist-populist” movement that returns to “traditional” values and social hierarchies. Read into that want you want but in practice it basically stands for white economic and cultural nationalist xenophobic heterosexist patriarchy. (You can find various biographies of him with a simple internet search, the best of which spell out the full extent of his vision).
In NZ anti-government groups on the far Right use Trump/Bannon rhetoric to denounce not only the current government but also the NZ “Deep State.” This was amply seen during the parliament protests, occupation and riot early last year. Platforms like Counterspin and VFF reportedly have funding support from Bannon’s media conglomerate, with people listed as his correspondents misusing press credentials to get close to the Prime Minister in order to harangue her. (The security implications of this are serious and need to be addressed as a priority by those responsible for her protection).
A key tactic in Bannon’s playbook is to take local grievances and turn them and government responses into seemingly existential issues . In NZ pandemic mitigation efforts are framed as government attempts to control–even mind control–the population via quarantines, lockdowns and masking mandates. Efforts to rationalise water purification and distribution are construed as attempts to impose Maori control over water access rights. Initiatives to promote acceptance of transgender rights are seen as usurpations of traditional values while efforts to promote the everyday use of te reo is considered to be an insidious assault on NZ’s European heritage.
For Bannon, as with Trump, the specific issue is not as important as the overall effect. Agitators can slide from issue to issue (as VFF has done now that public health orders and pandemic mitigation mandates have been discontinued), but the objective is to undermine faith in the government (first) and pubic institutions (ultimately). The end goal is subversion of democracy as a political regime and social construct, to be replaced by some imaginary version of libertarian anarchism in which the strong rule over the weak and people behave and organise their lives accordingly.
The key to cauterising the septic spread of the Trump toxin is to confront its physical agents and ideological vectors as the very real subversive threats that they are. The threats are not to just the government of the day, or the police, or the Courts, or bureaucrats in the public service although they re all in the firing line of the more extremist elements in the alt-Right in NZ and elsewhere. The threat is to the democratic organization of society, from the institutional structure of its politics to its social norms and mores to its economic rights and responsibilities. Whatever the libertarian anarchist/nationalist-populist pipe dream may be, it will not bring social order, much less peace, prosperity and stability, and during the transition from the flawed but incrementally perfectible democratic system that we currently have to the imaginary system that the Trump/Bannon perspective cynically offers, there will be destructive chaos.
In fact, it is this “valley of transition” that ultimately gives practical grounds for rejecting the dark utopianism of the nationalist-populist hallucination. Faced with the clear costs of moving abruptly away from the flawed-but-improvable socio-institutional frameworks that currently condition our behaviour and the long-term uncertainties inherent in that move (i.e., will things in fact get better for all if the Trump/Bannon model prevails as a social construct?), the most prudent choice for most people is to work to improve the system from within (which includes pushing the envelope at its margins when it comes to social, economic and political convention).
For the moment that Brazilians have shown that they take the seditious threat seriously by arresting the seditionists and remanding many of them for prompt judicial adjudication while bailing others deemed less involved in the move to attack the government complex. They are also investigating larger networks of security officials and pro-Bolsonaro politicians in order to determine if they have any complicity in the January 8 events. The US has faltered in this regard, with relatively prompt arrest, trial and conviction of various foot soldier insurrectionists but little in the way of prosecution of their intellectual leaders and material sponsors and relatively light sentences for the majority of those convicted so far. NZ has done even worse, working very slowly (if at all) to bring the organisers of the parliamentary protests to justice and reportedly willing to allow at least some of the eventually violent trespassing mob to walk free rather than face the Courts.
That is a terrible precedent to set that will be seen as a victory by the NZ seditionists and will encourage others of similar disposition to try their luck at subversion as well. In that context, it is only a matter of time before someone in Aotearoa gets killed by Trump’s toxic tail.
Hello Pablo, Happy New Year (seeing as this is your 1st post) – and – you do have a way with words ! “…ripped off the scab that covered the festering pustulence of authoritarian bigotry and intolerance…” “This collection of Einsteins now hold the entire House hostage to their demands on the Speaker.”
Of course I realise in a superficial way this is yesterdays news now: it will have ramifications however, and time will tell. I enjoy your intel and insights – you always have little gems of info that spice and pepper up your posts, and inform and extend, deepen, our understanding.
I am an optimist. I think all these people are like squeaky wheels, unfortunately they get the most publicity. And it can descend into anarchy by a relative few (the stormings of the seats of govt. in both countries. (I really felt the loss of the artworks in Brazil.) And the occupation of parliament’s grounds here).
But the US electorate in the mid-terms voted to return the Dems to the Senate, and almost the House. THAT is encouraging. You are correct – the Republicans look to potentially self-destruct. Like the opposition here, they seem to have little to offer.
So as the New Year progresses, I have 2 concerns : 1st is the election here in NZ this year. It is NOT to be hoped that the Op. will be successful, it appears whats-his-name with the bald head has so far little to offer except old policies (which have not worked, like the bootcamps! so unimaginative and tried and not-true) … and the repealing of new laws, like the 3 Waters, and the emissions plan for farmers. But of course they are offering nothing in return (not yet). Given the last polls, does the electorate have no faith in the current govt., that lead them through one of the most serious times (the pandemic) in recent history? I often wonder where we would be if the Nats had been in govt. Down the gurgler and dead, I have no doubt. Also I take the economists and their predictions with a heavy grain of salt! they routinely seem to get things wrong.
The 2nd thing of course, is the invasion of Ukraine. I hesitate to call it a war, as that implies there were 2 opposing factions in the first place. It was an invasion – first and foremost – by the Russian Federation, of a peaceful, sovereign nation. But I am currently concerned that if the ‘war’ turns in Russia’s favour, that Europe and NATO, will get involved. It is dragging on, more Ukrainians killed today, infrastructure lost etc. – it cannot go on, surely. I am concerned that with a possible offensive by Russia in the early Spring (Feb), that the Ukrainians will find themselves on the back foot, and NATO, Europe, and ultimately the US (IF the House will allow it) will feel some deep obligation to come to their aid – thereby starting what could possibly be the 3rd World War. (Things do come in 3s, don’t they ?).
Thanks so much for your writings and knowledge, insights and intel, keep well and kind regards.
Cheers Barbara, and my apologies for the delay in responding.
Let’s see how the year goes. I too fear a change in NZ government because the opposition a) have no real ideas of their own other than the usual (and now largely discredited) post-neoliberal rubbish about lower taxes and cut in public spending; and b) has adopted some of the US Right approaches to politics, including flirting with anti-vax conspiracy theories and engaging in race-baiting and fear-mongering for their Pakeha base. Nothing good, IMO, can come from an Opposition win and yet it seems that a part of the electorate–or at least the corporate media purporting to report on them–have “incumbent fatigue” and just want a change for change’s sake. That is not good.
The traveling circus that is the Republican Party and its media acolytes will continue its bankrupt and corrupt ways, adding more stupidities into the culture wars mix (you may have seen the uproar about female M&M candies). They may inflict some its the Biden administration but to me this is just a slow process of ideological unraveling occurring before our eyes. I hope that it continues.
This year will be pivotal for the Aruso-Ukrainian War. If Ukraine gets the weapons its needs from NATO partners and continues to mount effective counter-offensives, then see the so far muted criticism of Putin and his Kremlin advisor turn into a chorus. Europe is weathering the energy shortages better than expected, which means that the sanctions regime, even if porous and violated by the likes of India and China, can continue its slow stranglehold on the Russian economy. More forced conscriptions will add to growing public unrest, which in turn will help undermine the Russian military’s will to continue the stalemate.That may or may not be good news, as the possibility of escalation increases as desperation mounts in Russian military circles. Of course, if Russia can regain the initiative and force Ukraine into retreat, then the stage is set for another bloody year without resolution.
And on that cheery note I shall bid you adieu for now.
‘The world works in mysterious ways’.
Part of the reason why Europe is weathering the energy problems is that simply it has not been so cold! Global warming. Unusually high temps reported everywhere, including traditional winter ski resorts – no snow. Amazing, crazy photos.
‘A week in politics is a long time’.
It seems a day in politics is a long time, as later the same day as you replied above of course Jacinda Ardern resigned. Such a shock, and a loss.
Now this year’s election truly will be thrown into disarray, as who can follow her successfully, she has big boots to fill. They will be half the woman (or will it be a man – I’m not sure lol). They will try to follow her calm and rational, intelligent and compassionate example, but they will not be the same, no-one will be her equal.
The Nats must be gleeful (never mind that See More/See Less person).
I am not looking forward to it at all.
I was pleased to see your comments in the press yesterday (Stuff, and then RNZ), highlighting the need for ongoing protection and security for Jacinda Ardern and her family after she leaves office.
I had been wondering about that myself, and was concerned. I do not inhabit these sites myself, and am deeply disturbed when I see the posts quoted; anyone who tries to play it down (like Bridget Morton on TV3’s breakfast show) is being disingenuous and I suspect somewhat political (I have heard Ms Morton on RadioNZ’s politics show on Monday mornings, and found her rather stridently right wing). I was pleased to see Chris Hipkins come out and say that men should be more vocal in their criticisms when it happens – they need to publicise more their abhorrence of it. Meantime the other Chris (is it fortunate or unfortunate that we have 2 ? – will swinging voters be confused ?) … has put foot in mouth again, 1st saying he thought women weren’t subject to threat and abuse any more than men were, later walking this back (again – its a habit he’s developing lol). (He really does seem to have nothing to say of any import at the moment. I think he’s waiting for his policy wonks to come up with the ideas. But I digress.)
It is enough to see that 8 men have been before the courts for threats and online abuse of the outgoing PM and her family. It would only be a matter of time before some crackpot really would have a go.
Helen Clark made an interesting comment that in her day as PM it was only talkback radio flack that she had to deal with (and being public radio that is quite controlled). Social media, the websites and messageboards, is a whole new ballgame. I look forward to the day when twitter and facebook etc, these sites cease to be relevant to the thinking public and decline and die (Elon Musk’s silly egotistical behaviour I’m sure will help.) They are no better than cesspits, as one headline noted. And no-one can live in a cesspit for any length of time, and survive.