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A recent opinion piece by the Herald’s John Roughan raises the question of how far society should go to bring right-wing extremists back into the fold of political acceptance. Chris Trotter offers an answer

A recent opinion piece by the Herald’s John Roughan raises the question of how far society should go to bring right-wing extremists back into the fold of political acceptance. Chris Trotter offers an answer

By Chris Trotter*

One could almost feel sorry for them. Until, that is, their propositions are subjected to robust interrogation. All around the world, conservatives are feeling the fresh winds blowing out of Washington – and they are shivering. They fear that ideas hitherto denied the full imprimatur of state power have been issued arms and are on the march. In short, today’s conservatives are feeling what old-fashioned Labourites and social democrats felt in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was sworn-in as the fortieth President of the United States.

President Joe Biden is 78 years-old. He has trod the floor of the Capitol Building for nigh on 40 years, trimming his sails to the prevailing winds as all successful politicians learn to do. All those years of experience are speaking to him now: warning him that the mighty gale currently filling the sails of the American ship of state cannot be tacked against, only run before. This will not be a “trimming” presidency: the Biden years will be a time of surging forward.

As one recent comment on The Daily Kos put it: “This isn’t Biden 2008. Something in the last 12 years has broadened his horizon and pushed him to centre-left territory. He put RFK’s bust in his office along with Caesar Chavez. If that’s where he’s looking for inspiration, I’m happy.”

Which explains the cold shivers running up and down the spines of conservatives everywhere. Donald Trump may have gone, but all the signs point to there being something much more momentous in the wind-shift than a simple return to the status quo ante.

Biden’s victory was built on the votes of America’s youth, America’s women, and, most triumphantly, on the votes of America’s people of colour. “Sleepy Joe” knows that his campaign was dead in the water until the veteran black congressman from South Carolina, James Clyburn, rallied his people behind the former Vice-President and pushed him all the way to the White House. As a long-time mover-and-shaker in the US Senate, Biden also knows that without the astonishing efforts of black activist Stacey Abrams in Georgia, neither he nor his party could have uplifted the legislative tools of change.

Someone else who knows this is the forty-third President of the United States, George W. Bush. Encountering James Clyburn in the Capitol Building on Inauguration Day, ‘Dubbya’ told the veteran congressman that he was America’s “saviour”. Without his intervention, said Bush, the only politician who could have beaten Trump would not have won the nomination.

Most certainly it was no accident that the person who ended up stealing the show on Inauguration Day was young, female and black. Rightly celebrated for the power of “The Hill We Climb”, her poem in honour of the new President, Amanda Gorman was also a flesh and blood celebration of the new America that is rising. Clearly, it is not going to be an America dominated by the values of conservative white males. Equally clearly, that message has been received loud and clear by conservative white males everywhere.

Fourteen thousand kilometres to the south, the Weekend Herald’s columnist, John Roughan, offered words of advice on the best way to reach out to Trump’s defeated army of followers. He addressed his remarks not only to the US Democratic Party, but also the American news media:

“If American Democrats and the country’s respected newspapers and television networks really would like to bridge their country’s cultural divides, rather than simply saying they do, they need to come halfway over the bridge. They need to overcome their aversion to certain views and respect the fact that a lot of people, about half the population, think that way.”

Wrapped up in those two sentences is pretty much the whole of the world view that conservatives believe to be threatened and which they are moving heaven and earth to protect. Under no circumstances should “respected” media outlets give extensive access (and, by implication, validation) to the voices of those on the receiving end of these “certain views” held by “about half the population”. Rather, it is the duty of the mainstream news media to “overcome their aversion” to such views.

Another way of saying this might be to invite responsible journalists to come halfway across the bridge (Selma Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, perhaps?) to meet the racism, sexism, climate change denial and white supremacist thinking that has allegedly enthralled half their fellow citizens – along with every other ideological defence of inequality the political right sees fit to advance.

Failure to display such tolerance will have consequences. “If the world is not to suffer more populist disasters,” warns the author of hundreds of NZ Herald leader articles, “possibly even an encore for Donald Trump, news media have to find an open mind again.”

Or, it might have to narrow its mind somewhat.

“Many journalists have had a tertiary education in liberal arts and it shows”, writes Roughan. “Some of their news angles reflect the values and explanations of a social science seminar where nobody’s misfortune can be attributable to poor personal decisions, society is always to blame, if an ethnic minority is underperforming it is evidence of ‘systemic’ racism.”

Is Roughan accusing the graduates of New Zealand’s universities and journalism schools of disseminating “fake news”? Or, is he merely giving credence to Kellyanne Conway’s classic Trumpian assertion that it is perfectly acceptable, when debating politics, to advance “alternative facts”?

Then again, if we are not to trust the evidence of social scientists: or, if we are being asked not to rely upon evidence at all; then in who and in what should we repose our trust? In the scepticism of those whose world views cannot survive the introduction of contradictory evidence? In the ‘reckons’ of people who believe democracy consists of one’s own ignorance being regarded in every respect as the equal of others’ knowledge? Or, are we simply being invited to accept that, politically-speaking, everything goes more smoothly when educated citizens agree to meet ignorance and prejudice half way?

John Roughan argues that Joe Biden struck a series of “clanging notes” when he used his inaugural address to call out “political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism . . . anger, hatred, extremism . . . racism, nativism, fear . . . facts that are manipulated, even manufactured”. What the Weekend Herald columnist did not explain, however, is how the new President could possibly have kept faith with the eighty million Americans whose votes put him in the White House if he had refused to strike the Liberty Bell so forcefully.

The consequences of heeding Roughan’s advice are there in American history for all to see. In the decades following the Civil War, politicians and newspaper editors from North and South insisted with ever-increasing fervour that it was time for the people of the United States to put the rancour of those bloody years behind them. Increasingly, it was asserted that far from being about the abolition of slavery and “a new birth of freedom” for the American republic, the war had only been about its noble antagonists’ differing definitions of freedom. Before long, the veterans of Blue and Gray were warmly embracing each other like long lost brothers.

Thus was racism reprieved in the United States. As white men’s willingness to meet each other half way condemned African-Americans to a life that offered them no way at all to the full and equal enjoyment of their constitutional rights.

Amanda Gorman’s poem spells out the moral obligation this historical failure places upon her fellow citizens:

because being American is more than a pride we inherit,

it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.

New Zealanders should learn from America’s experience. Truth owes nothing to falsehood. Knowledge owes nothing to ignorance. Tolerance owes nothing to prejudice. Equality owes nothing to racism. Justice owes nothing to injustice. And anyone who suggests otherwise is most definitely offering you fake news.


*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. He writes a weekly column for interest.co.nz. His work may also be found at http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com.

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44 Comments

Social 'sciences' - and the media who wallow in such - are totally oblivious to the physics of what is unfolding. They see it in second or third knock-ons, like 'poverty'. Which they misidentify, as do just about everybody.

The reality is that we chew bits out of the planet, chew them up and spit them out. It's a one-way linear process; entropy applies. Atop that we irrupted our species numbers, to levels overshot this last 200 years. There is no easy way out of this predicament; we left it too late, equivocated too long.

And concentrating on Trump, Harris, political hue or race, is to continue avoiding the predicament. The US is a failing Empire; not enough planet left to redress that. There are an exponentially-growing number of disenfranchised; not enough planet left to redress that. China cannot displace the US physically; not enough planet left to do that.

Angst will rise; war(s) will come. Economic collapse (or runaway inflation/deflation/stagflation leading to same) is an odds-on near-term certainty. Trotter's last sentences are quite correct; they apply to all NZ media, ALL of whom are MIA, big-truth-picture-wise.

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Correct. And thus the covid dilemma. The choices were birth control, war or famine/ disease to correct our overshoot. Well we didn’t choose bc so guess what?

Covid or war? Perhaps both.

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pdk,

You intrigue me. You are clearly bright, well read, knowledgeable and passionately committed to your viewpoint/cause. But, from my standpoint, you lack any insight into the rigidity of your thinking. You admit to no other possibility than an imminent human catastrophy.

You say that you are guided only by facts and by science, but what are these facts, what is the science? I accept that there are facts both scientific and mathematical such as the Second Law, Newtonian Laws of Motion, Relativity and others, but which of these allow you to crystal-ball gaze with such certainty? If you believe that say, we are about to run out of oil within a few years, what evidence do you have for that. We are all at risk of becoming dogmatic and in my case, I go back to a book I bought in 2004, The End of Oil. I am well aware of EROI and one day that prophecy will be fulfilled-but not yet.
I have written on climate change and have long believed that it is a serious issue. We are not tackling it nearly fast enough and it will accelerate. Much misery will ensue and as usual the brunt will initially be largely borne by the world's poor. What neither you nor I know is just how it will eventually pan out.
You said that while not a 'prepper' you thrived during lockdown. Well, so did i and many others. That tell me nothing and I would love to know, at least in general terms, just how you have organised your financial affairs as i feel sure that you would eschew anything you would deem to be parasitical.

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Yawn.

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Yes, I'd picked you as one who had trouble waking up.

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Joe Biden could start with pardoning Trump for the Insurrection speech and see that the Trail does not proceed in the Senate. That is the first step in the so called Liberals coming half way on the Bridge.

The so called Conservatives (most of them being White) will slowly go away to their hideouts in the great American South and Midwest to nurse their wounds if there is no Trump to focus on. Trump can be neutralised by just ignoring him.

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The conversation between President Bush junior and Clyburn is remarkable but it evidences too the dilemma going on crisis Trump has created for the Republicans. Firstly as they were so desperate for pow er in 2016 he got his candidacy boosted by an all out fear he would run as an independent and split off the vote. Secondly the same spectre looms for 2024. So for Bush of GOP royalty to opine so negatively, then there must be now heavy resolve in the GOP hierarchy for Trump to be removed from their ranks and future. Therefore the impeachment may well succeed and that is exactly why, as reported in Stuff, Trump is already proclaiming the founding of a “MAGA” type patriot party to strike now with that same weaponry, before his position weakens.

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Disagree - pardoning Trump would just be another case of the elites looking after each other, and would look like more of the corruption that got him all those votes. Trump needs to be held accountable, and indeed I suggest so do many to the Republican senators and congressmen who endorsed him and his message. If the American Government wants to be taken seriously by the people it is supposed to serve, they should then be seen to uphold the values they hold everyone else to.

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Trumpet is coming soon to drown out the Tweets of Twitter. Get your passwords ready.

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Not so fast Mr Trotter. Try the link below. Trump was not your problem, it was his voters who are been screwed by the 'kind' elitist governments you prefer.
https://geopoliticalfutures.com/understanding-trump/?tpa=Mzg3Mzk0YmYwMD…

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Agreed; the film Vice (about Cheney), is a good backgrounder. It mentions HRC as part of the cabal. Biden is no exception, obviously. So expect another attempt at 'globalisation'(lauded by those scribes who still haven't done their homework) and a crack-down on protest and liberties (via the excuse of)....

And probably a war within this term.....

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'all the signs point to there being something much more momentous in the wind-shift than a simple return to the status quo ante.'

I was thinking exactly that when I watched American Magic capsize.

A sign of things to come?

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That will be why blacks are so much better off in Democrat run cities.

Those right wing conservatives should all be shot, then we can welcome in a new age of equality, all countries will look like Africa.

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gods_of_the_Copybook_Headings

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It was said, and not at all recently, that the only difference between Republican and Democratic administrations is that in the latter, the poor too are allowed to be corrupt.

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Andrew - The top 10 worst cities in the US are mainly Democrat run, the exodus of the wealthy and productive from NY and Calipornia, many to Republican Texas and Florida is validation of the failure of Governance and effective leadership of the Democratic party & philosophy.

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I agree - Dell, Oracle and Teslar to name a few.

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Except the Southern cities where US citizens are migrating to Houston, Dallas, Atlanta etc are democratic strongholds.

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If you think Houston and Dallas are Democratic strongholds, you need to visit.

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The "country’s respected newspapers and television networks" - who suppressed the Hunter Biden Corruption prior to the the election and cast it as "Russian disinformation". C'mon man. First step is to get some respect back in to the media.

"It’s now clear that the Hunter Biden story was real, with Hunter himself acknowledging a federal probe into his taxes — one that reportedly began in 2018. Really, it was always clear. Yet when the New York Post broke the details, virtually the entire journalistic establishment and left-wing punditsphere defamed the newspaper, claiming it was passing on Russian “disinformation” or partisan fabrications.

...Tech companies, spurred on by these censorious journalists, shut down the account of one of America’s most-read newspapers to inhibit users from reading the story. It was completely unprecedented.

...In October, the New York Times ran a piece headlined, “New York Post Published Hunter Biden Report Amid Newsroom Doubts.” Today, the same Times reports, “Biden team has rejected some of the claims made in the Post articles, but has not disputed the authenticity of the files upon which they were based.”"

https://nypost.com/2020/12/10/how-media-covered-up-the-hunter-biden-sto…

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I totally agree. I enjoy reading Glenn Greenwald's (Pulitzer prize winning journalist) articles. He was not allowed to report on Hunter's Russian and Chinese business dealings The criminal investgation into Hunter has yet to determine whether his father knew about it or connected to it in any way.

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I usually agree with much of what Trotter writes. But have to disagree this time.
The Left really do have to understand why so much of their traditional base has gravitated to the likes of Trump.
The answer is pretty obvious, though. It is due to the Left's largely unmodified embracing of neoliberalism, which has only widened the gap between the haves and the have notes.

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"Many journalists have had a tertiary education in liberal arts and it shows”, writes Roughan. “Some of their news angles reflect the values and explanations of a social science seminar where nobody’s misfortune can be attributable to poor personal decisions, society is always to blame..."

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It is an interesting quote that seeks to obfuscate a serious social issue. It is true that any 'sane' individual should bear responsibility and accountability for the consequences of their choices, but where there are large coherent groups consistently making 'poor' decisions, then there is a societal responsibility to understand why this is occurring, because the consequences are not just individual, but societal too.

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Good initial point and good counter. I think the answer lies in society helping those who make poor choices take personal responsibility. How do we do that the most effectively though?

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It is challenging. Understanding our history is a part of the picture, but we also have to move to remove current rationalisations for those 'poor' choices.

In the US Africans were brought to America as slaves. The modern American culture though maintains a dissonant stance where, rooted in a religious paradigm of equality, they openly hold slavery as abhorrent, yet it is equally clear, and opposing that religious paradigm, that there is an underlying cultural identity that sees coloured skin as somehow less than human.

I don't think that same attitude exist in NZ, but there is a deep seated cultural bias in some parts that still seems to view Maori as the 'noble savage' that they were claimed to be in the 1800s.

My belief is that the process to fix the problem starts with an understanding that economic policies have far reaching effects. The disproportionate impacts on Maori in NZ are primarily the consequences of over 160 years of failed socio-economic policies. This problem was exacerbated with the introduction of Rogernomics which deepened the consequences to many non-Maori as well. The majority of these policies are put in place without a thorough exploration of possible consequences, and even when they are seen to be having a negative impact Governments remain in denial and refuse to fix the issue. Housing is a very clear case in point currently. None of the parties, except possibly the Greens are acknowledging what must happen, and none are prepared to propose any thing of substance to do anything about it.

I suggest the answer is to strengthen democracy. Make the Government more accountable to the people. After the election the media again asked if we should have a four year term. Our politicians want a four year term, saying they can't get anything done in a three year one. But we have always had a three year one, and they have always known this, so what will it take for them to be better at their job? What they want is to increase their power, make themselves less accountable to their constituents and for us to just shut the hell up and do as we are told. What we need is more transparency, and more ability to hold the government to account - in other words more democracy.

that is a start towards ensuring that people do get economic opportunity at a decent level where ever they are, and the rationale for 'poor choices' are removed. And then we can look to addressing some of the other issues.

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The problem with the media's bias is frankly evidenced by the way you've talked about the idea of 'meeting them halfway'. Halfway isn't embracing racism and sexism as you imply, that's the whole way... Half way is individualism and classic liberalism.

Half way isn't screaming racist whenever anyone suggests instituting quotas that favour one group over another in the workforce or politics might not be a good idea.

Half way isn't screaming privilege and attempting to silence any viewpoints that suggest that the state/society isn't to blame for everything, and the outcomes people face are usually primarily or at least in part the consequence of their own decision making.

Half way is treating people like individuals first and belonging to X group second rather than the other way around.

Half way is acknowledging that government intervention can cause more harm than good.

Half way is reporting the facts as honestly as possible with minimal omission and very little opinion, which is something media outlets are meant to do but haven't done for some time.

You wanna know why 'the right' is more susceptible to fake news? IMO a lot of it is to do with the above line, or at least the perception that that's happening. Mainstream news media presenting information heavily biased in favour of a particular line of thinking without anything other than lip service (if that) to contrary viewpoints and interpretations. This naturally doesn't satisfy as a news source if you don't share the same political bent as the media org. So naturally you search for information elsewhere. When all or most of the 'reputable' orgs share the same political bent you have no choice but to search for information in second tier, less reputable orgs and thus fall prey to misinformation, fake news, poorly researched stories etc.... it's a big problem, and it'll keep happening unless big media in the states is truly willing and able to go 'halfway'

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Disagree - politely.

In terms of truth, going half-way means just lying but diluting the lie 50%. That's what the media here call 'balance'; he-said/she-said, but if one of them is wrong, that's given 'wrong' an equal exposure. It's reporting, it ain't journalism.

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Fair and I agree with you.

I guess I was more referring to the degree of bias problem. Not so much balancing the truth with a lie but balancing legitimately opposing opinions. Or reducing the degree to which events are filtered through journalists' opinions (much less likely to happen)

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The identity politics and cancel culture that's being pushed makes it a lot harder to facilitate finding common ground amongst different groups.

At this point "left" vs "right" is pointless. It's a class struggle where both sides are being equally economically shit on. Top vs bottom. If both "sides" realised their common struggle and started a dialogue, as has happened before, then political differences become easier to talk about.

All sanctimonious articles like this achieve is to continue to drive a wedge between people/groups.

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The problem is that most people have forgotten what journalism used to be a very long time ago. That is to present neutrally, well researched facts not opinions. "Researched" meaning specialist knowledge offered by people from a wide political, scientific, medical and/or social spectrum and not adding anything myriads of 'stuff' to it as a journalist. And then, asking the right questions of the right people without letting go when you not getting a decent answer! And by that I don't mean the current badgering and bantering around just about everywhere in any kind of media. And that now even includes the trusty old Radio New Zealand... sadly. But that's perhaps why Chris Trotter is missing the point entirely, as already been pointed out by several others above. We simply have no media left that is respected. It is a real problem and not likely being sorted anytime soon. Again, Radio New Zealand is the perfect example of that. Just add water... until nothing much of substance is left. She'll be alright. But there are alternatives for information out there and they will become the mainstream in its own good time. Just look at this website for one good example as it develops. And this is my own thanks to the publishers here right now to offer at least an amazing comments section that is worth following, even when dominated by 'property'...

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'New Zealanders should learn from America’s experience"
We did! We rejected JC, our very own version of DT and her ideology at the last election.

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Meanwhile back at the ranch jacinda is standing idle while the wealth transfer continues unbatted.
Worry about your home turf mr trotter.

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The transfer rates would have been 4 times as fast under JC.

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I doubt JC could out do Helen Clarke in that aspect. Anyway, it’s not National or labour who are worse, they are both bad for not changing the driver of house price increases. It’s the monetary system which is the culprit.

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It's the bankers and billionaires that rule America, they are the ones that stuff the money into the back pockets of the politicians. Obama bailed out the banks while the poor were all loosing their houses.
Bernie Sanders might have made some difference but that was not to be. He had Stephanie Kelton as his economic advisor at one time, a big advantage in understanding economics.

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Trump spent 28 million while Biden got millions and we don't know who from.

Via Bloomberg

https://www.zerohedge.com/political/biden-2020-run-backed-145-million-d…

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Today's "conservative white males" are quite a different breed to yesteryear. In fact they tend to be just a decade or so behind everyone else. Most wouldn't be opposed to gay marriage these days for example. They might as well give up their conservative positions of today as they will do so in about ten year's time anyway.

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Look who Biden is appointing. Just look. Biden is a strawman for reversion back to what the US does best: subversion against countries who are not completely aligned with dollar hegemony.

That's all Trump was. A vote against that corrupt political class in DC. Not hard to figure out. Just average Americans sick of their money going to foreign wars. And now... it's back to scheduled programming and contrived reasons for foreign interventions. The rest is blather.

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Underrated comment.

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An interesting piece. the first half sort of details what democracy is today - political interest groups clumping together to be heard. A curious part of the American events is that so many of those who invaded the capitol claim to be "Patriots", but no one seems to be asking them to whom or what are they being patriotic. The constitution starts of with the phrase "We the people..." and goes on to discuss the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. I cannot see that some people can perceive that they are allowed to deprive other citizens of their life, liberty and happiness, to achieve their own. Their patriotism seems utterly anti-American, and anti-democratic which results in being violently against two of the three things (democracy, freedom, economics) that they claim makes America great.

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Any document, just like the bible or koran, can be interpreted to justify any action. For instance the former, there would have been no inquisition or crusades and their atrocities, the latter 911, if the text had been scrupulously respected. Thus both the constitution and declaration of independence are fair game for any body of zealots to claim justification. Just need to read about the Minutemen of the 18th century and DePugh’s self titled lot, of the 20th century.

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Interest groups do twist documents to suit their own interests, but that should be where the Courts step in if we are to have a rule of law. But then the political elites twist that to suit their own interests too... Bottom line it is very difficult for 'the People' to win.

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Very rare for the law to get a grip and get it right though. For instance the USA with the Manson lot, too little too late and then Waco, too much. And if it gets to court, we’ll the Chicago 7 trial evidences the futility of that. Here in NZ the dawn raids fiasco was bad enough and the over the top Starsky & Hutch raid on Kim Dotcom, we’ll say no more. Some suggest NZ needs a constitution, perhaps it does but would venture to suggest given our bureaucratic spaghetti junction and historical and current racial division, arriving at a viable universal document, would be far removed from reality.

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