Tag Archives: Europe

This Is Scary

Speaking of collusion…

CommonDreams recently reported on evidence of “explosive” and “extraordinary” coordination between a controversial Madrid campaign group and far-right parties across Europe.

A controversial Madrid-based campaign group, supported by American and Russian ultra-conservatives, is working across Europe to drive voters towards far-right parties in next month’s European Parliament elections and in Spain’s national elections this Sunday, openDemocracy can reveal today.

Our findings have caused alarm among lawmakers who fear that Trump-linked conservatives are working with European allies to import a controversial US-style ‘Super PAC’ model of political campaigning to Europe – opening the door to large amounts of ‘dark money’ flowing unchecked into elections and referenda.

The Madrid-based campaign group CitizenGo is best known for its online petitions against same-sex marriage, sex educationand abortion– and for driving buses across cities with slogans against LGBT rights and “feminazis”.

But now openDemocracy can reveal new evidence of “extraordinary coordination” between this group and far-right parties across Europe – from Spain to Italy, Germany and Hungary.

Former United States Senator Russ Feingold, who worked with John McCain to reform political finance in the U.S., described the report’s findings as “frightening” and called on European leaders to protect the democratic process.

“Europe has an opportunity to get ahead of this and not make the same mistakes that were made here in the United States.”

During the past few years, there has been explosive growth of far-right–essentially fascist–parties here in the U.S. and in Europe.  Spain is just one example:

The Spanish far-right party Vox has pledged to build walls around Spanish enclaves in North Africa, jail Catalan independence leaders, loosen gun control laws and “make Spain great again”. The party also opposes “political correctness”, marriage equality for gay people and laws against gender-based violence.

Sound familiar?

The cited article goes into considerable detail about the global links among far right groups and the sources of their financing, but what is truly chilling is the extent of this movement and the fears that motivate its supporters.

We’ve been here before. Change can be terrifying to those who believe that their positions are being threatened. And societies today–especially western, democratic societies–are facing enormous changes.

Technology is rapidly transforming economies, and automation is threatening millions of jobs. Previously marginalized populations–women, LGBTQ citizens, African-Americans, immigrants–are demanding an equal place at the civic table. Longstanding traditions are under assault from a variety of directions–from the arts, from globalization, from liberal religions, and from growing secularization.

People–okay, mostly straight white Christian males– fear the loss of their traditional dominance ; they experience these changes as existentially threatening. That isn’t new. What is new is the ability–courtesy of the Internet– to connect with others around the world who share their fears.

Meanwhile, the rhetoric coming from Trump and his white nationalist ilk gives them permission to be far more candid about their bigotries. (You might even say that the bigots are leaving their closets and “coming out.”)

White nationalism appeals to people who are fundamentally insecure–who believe, deep down, that they can’t compete in the world that is dawning, that shorn of their traditional privilege they will be insignificant.

The problem is, that fear is powerfully motivating.

People of good will who are willing–even eager– to live in our evolving world cannot afford complacency. There’s a quote by someone whose name I’ve long forgotten, to the effect that a rattlesnake, if cornered will become so angry it will bite itself. That, of course, is exactly what happens to these people who are consumed with hate and resentment against the Other — they are biting themselves.

But the rest of us are collateral damage.

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

This is the last full day of our cruise, and it is raining–something that distresses Tom, who tells me that climate change has affected weather patterns in Croatia. He insists it never rained two days in a row during the summer season until very recently. (We have had rain on this cruise, but so far, at night or a brief shower.)

Tomorrow, we go to Split, where we will have three days before heading home via Rome.

Bob and I are both glad we came to Croatia. There may be a more beautiful place somewhere on the planet, but somehow I doubt it. Certainly, there can’t be one with nicer people.

This has been our longest trip ever. So–as our adventure nears conclusion, what have I learned on my summer vacation?

Well,  first, there is the obvious: people in Europe are much thinner, and if looks can be trusted, much healthier. They are also far more likely to be bi or tri-lingual, probably as a result of living closer together, and the demands of tourism and commerce.

Then there are more impressionistic lessons, with the caveat that the plural of anecdote is not data, and the people with whom we interacted cannot be assumed to be representative.

Unlike in the US, we have encountered no one who expressed contempt for education; no one who sneeringly dismissed expertise or intellect as ‘elitist.’ I have also been struck by the nature of informal political discussion and debate–I have heard lots of “these people make a good point, but those who disagree also have a point”–arguments employing much  less name-calling and much more consideration of the merits of competing arguments and points of view.

Then there were the issues we were questioned about repeatedly: American gun laws, the large numbers of people who reject evolution and global climate change, and America’s incomprehensible lack of a universal medical system. These aspects of American culture do not evoke admiration, to put it mildly–although people are generally too polite to criticize  directly. Instead, they ask questions, trying to understand why we haven’t joined the rest of the western world.

These questions have reminded me once again that ‘American exceptionalism’ originally referred to our outlier status, to sociological distinctiveness– not to some assumed superiority. Heretical as it may seem, there is the possibility there are some things we could learn from others.