The American Right still seems to be convinced that Sweden is in, or very close to, a state of ‘civil war’ through its generous asylum policy, and its admission of hundreds of thousands of inassimilable Muslims hell-bent on Islamicising the country through terrorism. I’ve commented on this before, after a false claim made about Sweden by Donald Trump in the last American presidential election: https://bernardjporter.com/2017/06/27/sweden-on-the-brink-of-civil-war/. The latest version is this very recent article in Frontpage Mag, edited by David Horowitz, a well-known Right-winger: http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/267764/shooting-messenger-sweden-bruce-bawer; which cites the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby as evidence of this kind of thing. I’ve been to Rinkeby; it was a fairly fleeting visit, which I described in another post: https://bernardjporter.com/2017/02/24/rinkeby/; but I was there long enough to allow me to positively contradict a number of assertions made in the Frontpage article – such as that there are ‘grocery stores that have signs only in Arabic’. Other more shocking ones, such as that there are ‘no-go’ areas there, or that women are stoned or ‘set afire’ for wearing the wrong clothes, I can’t disprove absolutely – I might have missed them – but my general impression of the area, and what I’ve read in the Swedish press, which doesn’t usually block such news, made me highly dubious about them. As I was, incidentally, of the signs that were pictured on Right-wing blogsites purporting to demarcate ‘sharia-only’ areas there – not in Arabic or Swedish, but in English! But we all know about this kind of ‘fake news’, don’t we?

Ah, ‘fake news’. We see plenty of it on Right-wing blogsites. But it’s mainly a charge made by them the other way. Only the other day the Right-wing ‘shock jock’ Rush Limbaugh claimed Hurricane Irma was fake news, put out by Democrats in pursuit of their climate change agenda; only to be forced to flee from his Florida home – not, he insisted, by the hurricane itself, but by the panic the reports of it was stirring up. (See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/rush-limbaugh-irma-hurricane-florida-evacuation-hoax-conspiracy-theory-a7937201.html.) I imagined that would discredit him for ever thereafter; but possibly not. I’ve seen dozens of ‘ordinary Americans’ interviewed in the streets on TV expressing ridiculous beliefs in the face of all the objective evidence, and excusing themselves on the grounds that their status as ‘free Americans’ allowed them to think whatever they wanted. (For an example, see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/22/btl/, first para.)

‘Freedom’ – of thought – is undoubtedly an important motive. More important, however, will be the mistrust of authority that, in many situations, this gives rise to. ‘Mistrust’ is, of course, healthy. I wouldn’t have become as averagely-good a historian as I like to think I am without a good measure of it. It involves scepticism, checking back, requiring evidence, asking questions, and being open to persuasion at every stage. (In other words, ‘scientific method.’) But it has to be subjected to the same processes itself. The American Right doesn’t just mistrust authority; it automatically discredits it. This is no better than automatically trusting governments, politicians, the mainstream media (MSM) or whatever. It’s just as lazy; a way of avoiding thinking and discriminating: which is, to be fair, hard work. But it’s certainly a process behind much Trumpian (and also Farageist) ‘thinking’ these days. If an ‘authority’ tells you something, it must be fake. This applies not only to political authorities, but intellectual ones too. ‘We’ve had enough of experts’, as our own Michael Gove once notoriously said.

That kind of argument does something else: it hitches these Rightist arguments to an anti-elitist popular culture. For the ‘elite’ is made up not only of the social elite of the country – the sense in which it used to be understood – but also of experts, intellectuals, the educated, people who know things. Read that Frontpage piece, and the BTL comments appended to it, and you will find this is a thread running all the way through. The Swedes who rejected this Norwegian minister’s criticism of their asylum policy were simply an ‘elite’. It was the little boy and the Emperor’s clothes once again. Elites and experts have their own agendas, which only ‘ordinary folk’ can see through. And these agendas cover everything. Which is why you can’t even trust them on something as obviously verifiable as a hurricane. So dismiss them out of hand; especially if so doing confirms your own prejudices, and saves you from the mental labour of thinking.

None of this is new. Richard Hostadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, published in 1963, suggested it was an enduring tradition in free-thinking American history.  But it seems to have got more assertive in modern times, emerging no doubt out of the very real deceptions by governments, parties, corporations and others that have been revealed since then, which have slowly chipped away at the confidence in these agencies’ integrity which is essential to trust, and hence to real democracy. On the extreme Right, and also in some quarters of the extreme Left, this has left people with no solid evidential footholds for their opinions, and the idea therefore that what one believes is simply a matter of subjective choice. Fox, Breitbart, the Daily Mail and the rest of the proto-Fascist (yes) media then exploit this to pursue their own agendas. – Sometimes. Not always; or we’ll be falling into their trap, but in reverse: of simply and automatically believing the opposite of what they say.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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2 Responses to Elites

  1. TJ says:

    Yes, Trump has been able to exploit the long US tradition of distrust of government of all kinds ‘draining the swamp’, and the myth of ‘rugged individualism’ which ‘made this country great’. (importance of ‘myth’ as a political motivator) This total distrust (frequent and many-layered elections to ‘kick the rascals out’ in the US is based on the myth that politicians are either actually or potentially corrupt and self-serving (of course some are), has spread to the Europe helped by press exploitation of the MPs expenses scandal, Berlesconi and multiple other scandals in Germany and elsewhere. This dospose people to believe lies (Brexit campaign) and paves the way from populism to outright authoritarianism (dispensing with politicians entirely)

    Liked by 1 person

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