American indie singer/songwriter David Rovics takes a look at the increasing political polarisation in the West.
The slope keeps getting slipperier, and the snowball rolling down it is growing fast. The liberal and conservative media has much of global society siloed into one bullshit narrative or another, and most everyone seems to get their talking points from one side or the other. Then their loyal viewers go on my social media accounts and have arguments, talking past each other, neither side making much sense.
I want to start out by going way back, to set the scene a bit. Each country’s history is different, but in much of the industrialized world, the history is similar to the trajectory in the US. That is, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that government programs existed that generally meant people who were too old to work usually didn’t have to die in poverty. This was the beginning of serious government efforts to establish some kind of a welfare state, a conscious effort to lift up the working class and the rural poor, so there might be schools some of the kids could go to, and laws preventing most of them from working in the mines.
This very half-hearted attempt at some form of social democracy in the US lasted for two generations, at most. In other industrialized countries it started earlier and lasted longer, like arguably to the present day. But some things that have been common among so many of these industrialized countries that generally refer to themselves as democracies is the gradual weakening of the welfare state, combined with a rise in the cost of living, and a growing gap between the classes. Another thing many countries have in common is the popularity of the libertarian orientation, prior to the growth of the welfare state especially. Back then, libertarianism was associated with anarchism, which in turn was generally associated with the left.
Along with the long-term process of economic stratification over the past several decades in so much of the world, with the waning of the welfare state, there has been increasing political polarization. In multiparty democracies such as Italy, France, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, or Germany, among others that come to mind, this process can be seen, easily demonstrated by the rise in popularity of both left- and right-wing parties, while those perceived to be more centrist lose popularity.
As welfare state institutions continue to weaken or dissolve in so many countries over the past few decades, there is one powerful tendency that says what we need to do is strengthen the welfare state, make society more egalitarian (for the first time, in so many cases, or once again, in others), and cause other contradictions in society to fade away, as they do and have done in situations where there has been the kind of engagement in society where state institutions and community organizing have successfully eliminated poverty and illiteracy, etc.
But there is another powerful tendency that says screw the state, it just serves the interests of the big corporations and doesn’t care about the little people — if we get the state to bug off, we can just take care of ourselves and each other. That, in a nutshell, is the libertarian orientation.
Now, any of the more educated socialists and anarchists reading this may be thinking, yes but that’s too simplistic! We know what happens with this libertarian perspective — take away the state, challenge the democratic institutions thereof and the laws they pass to look after us, and the corporations will run rampant, with no democratic institutions left to try to control them. In other words, libertarianism will inevitably be the midwife for fascism. Therefore libertarianism must be opposed as an orientation that facilitates corporate rule, even if that’s the very last thing the actual libertarians want, and libertarianism is an orientation that will give birth to fascism, even though authoritarianism is also the last thing most any libertarian actually wants.
Pretty soon you have all kinds of people calling libertarians fascists.
To me, this is shocking and appalling, in equal measure, and I wonder, how did we get here? How is it that all I have to do is post on social media expressing how impressed I am at the militancy and commitment of the truckers occupying downtown Ottawa, and I spark a lengthy argument on various platforms, with some folks agreeing that it is quite impressive (which doesn’t mean good, necessarily), and others saying that all the truckers are Nazis?
Obviously, the truck convoys are being supported by major corporate media figures, and at the core of the movement, according to lots of reliable-looking reports, are far-right, xenophobic, racist organizers who are not libertarian at all. They are, in fact, the polar opposite of libertarian — authoritarian.
But across Europe, across the US, and clearly across Canada, the far right has had success in hijacking widespread libertarian sentiments present in large swaths of most societies, and bringing more people into their fold.
Effective grassroots organizing methods and lots of funding are advantages the right has in so many instances, which shouldn’t be understated. But part of their success lies, undoubtedly, in the intolerance and outright stupidity of large swaths of those who consider themselves to be on the left, both in terms of organized groups, and left-oriented individuals, by my observation, anyway.
Since I don’t trust the liberal media any more than I trust the conservative media, I called a friend in Ottawa the other day, to try to get a first-person take on what’s going on there. As someone who travels for a living, I have friends in a lot of different places, so I’m less dependent on media or social media for first-person accounts, which is the next best thing to going there myself, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve also spent a lot of time in this wildly expensive national capital, and most other major cities in Canada, over the years.
My friend in Ottawa, as I suspected, had not been sitting at home watching the news to find out what was happening downtown. He spent a lot of time there, and engaged in conversation with truckers and their supporters, out in the bitter winter cold.
His conversations with the occupiers of downtown Ottawa mirrored my own conversations with anti-mandate protesters in Europe. These are largely people with legitimate grievances related to their work, and to what look to them to be blatant double-standards of all kinds, coming from the government. Their solution to these problems is the most straightforward one they could think of — tell them to leave us alone. Stop making our lives difficult, and we’ll take care of ourselves.
Whether they’re right or wrong (whatever that means in this case) is not my point. My point is this is how they are looking at what they are doing, and this is also how their many supporters see what they are doing — supporters who are coming out in large numbers all over Canada, in the bitter cold, in cities and in the small towns.
In the liberal media we are hearing constantly about the Confederate flags and the swastikas flown by some of the truckers. And on all of my social media accounts I am seeing people who consider themselves to be progressive, leftwing, socialists or anarchists in many cases, condemning the whole convoy as a bunch of Nazis as a result.
When I attended (by accident, but anyway, I was there) an anti-mandate rally in London, England, a few months ago, I was also offended by the swastikas I saw there. I’m not in favor of using swastikas or yellow stars or other imagery like that for just about any reason, because there just aren’t any really relevant comparisons today to the Nazi holocaust, which was a singularly horrific event in the history of humanity, that has no parallel of which I am aware. However, what I saw in London, and what my friend saw in Ottawa, was the use of the swastika in combination with other imagery, in this case a Canadian flag (in England it was something about the pharmaceutical companies) which is intended to communicate a revulsion for authoritarian overreach by government. This is, in fact, intended as an anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian statement.
For anyone my age or older who grew up in North America, the Dukes of Hazard was on TV every day. While for many people in society today, and back then, the Confederate flag was and is a horribly offensive symbol of institutional racism and slavery, the Rebel Flag, along with Rebel Country music, has very different connotations, which, once again, have libertarian associations, for them. Don’t tell us what to do, don’t tread on me, I can do it myself.
I wonder if the liberal media pundits are aware of the way actual people on the ground at these protests understand their use of such symbols. My only question is whether the media is generally spreading disinformation on purpose, or through ignorance. As to whether or not they are spreading disinformation, I have no question whatsoever about that. And as to whether they and my more rabid leftwing social media commenters are helping to drive people who might otherwise be libertarian socialists into the camp of national socialism, I have no doubts about this, either.