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by Sascha Lobo, Serge Halimi & G Krone-Schmalz
Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017 at 5:36 AM
Gabriele Krone-Schmalz warns of a relapse into simple-minded thinking and cold war stereotypes. Could not Russia be acting out of a strategic defensive and trying to maintain its sphere of influence> Who acts and who reacts?
LESSONS IN NAZI TRIVIALIZATION
By Sascha Lobo
After the assassinations in Charlottesville, Donald Trump used the common discussion tricks of neo-Nazis. There have long been arguments on the Internet like those used by the American president in his press conference.
[This column by Sascha Lobo published on 8/16/2017 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.spiegel.de.]
“There are some very good people on both sides.”
This quotation from Donald Trump’s press conference on the “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville must be put in the right context… “Neo-Nazis” is the correct description of these people – with the Hitler salute, the anti-Semitic calls and songs, the open hate-filled violence and the terrorist attack on the counter-demonstrators…
“You can call them whatever you like”
Why did he take so long with a clear statement? Trump answered: “I did not take a long time. […] It took time to gather the facts. You still don’t know the facts. […] Honestly, the people still don’t know all the facts.”
Declaring all the facts are not known is a recurring pattern in net discussions. This implies judging conclusively is impossible. However, this is a trick because “all the facts” are seldom known. What is essential can be recognized without knowing all the details.
In this way, a rational argument and approach can be turned into their opposites. Facts are obviously necessary for judgment. But whoever like Trump doesn’t explain facts like swastika banners, Hitler salutes and fantasies of destruction of Jews and says only one cannot know all the facts veils and sows doubt in the public.
Trump answered the question “Was that terrorism?” “You could call it terrorism and you could call it murder. You can call it what you want. […] Legal interpretations always occur. The driver of the car was a murderer.” Two messages are hidden in this passage that neo-Nazis of the “Alt-Right” find disingenuous. “Call it what you want” is more than an uncouth boorish remark. With these words, he ultimately makes the terrorist assassination into a personal question of definition.
In a subordinate clause, Trump opened the door for other interpretations already circulating in the net of the neo-Nazis. This was an act of resistance. Trump spoke of legal ambiguity. He described the driver as a “murderer.” As a rule, a murderer acts alone but terrorist crimes by definition involve the partial responsibility of the environment. In this way, Trump acquits the neo-Nazis of the “Alt Right” and isolates the culprit.
An analogous strategy can often be seen in the net by right-wing commentators. A partial responsibility of all Muslims on principle is imputed in brutal Islamic attacks while right-wing extremist terrorism is always perpetrated by individuals misguided somehow or not of a sound mind. So, one side is always jointly responsible and the other side never.
A standard trick of online communication
Trump first degraded Senator John McCain in the question about the “Alt Right group.” Trump knows what “Alt Right” is. He brought the most powerful figure of the neo-Nazi “Alt Right” environment Steven Bannon into the White House. But he pretends everything is so diffuse and blocked by definitional problems. In this way, he makes the group less vulnerable and harder to call to account. This is another example of the net communication of the neo-Nazis of the “Alt Right.”
The term often remains blurred and out of focus. Everywhere it is sold as a well-organized structure of activists. The diffuse vagueness and the problem of definition are emphasized when neo-Nazis are exposed. Trump did exactly that in the press conference.
Trump said “What about the `Alt Left’? Do they have any responsibility? […] I believe they have.” Here he uses one of the most important standard tricks of on line communication used especially by the “Alt Right”: whataboutism.
In the video: Donald Trump defends right-wing extremism
This is an American neologism or word creation. A counter-question is raised with every question about atrocities, guilt, and responsibility: what about the other side? The many deaths of the First World War are the answer to the starving children in Africa. In this way, one presumably attacks the opponent with his own moral standards. This is actually a pure diversionary strategy moving unpleasant questions out of focus…
The offensive mention of “Alt Left” is no accident. Trump constructs an enemy as civil society, a similar splinter group with a similar name, not a group protesting neo-Nazis. In this way, right-wing activists opposed leftist activists in Charlottesville. “Alt-Right” did not oppose the normal American population.
The neo-Nazis of the “Alt Right” act very similarly as though only comic leftist radicals fought against them, not normal citizens. The dangerousness of this shift is clear in a crude and bitter American joke:
- Neo-Nazi: “Kill all Jews!”
- Counter-demonstrator: “No!”
- An onlooker: “Those are extreme positions. We should find a compromise.”
The strategy of neo-Nazis of the “Alt Right” is representing the rejection of their extremist misanthropic positions as extremist. Trump uses this narrative with his “Alt Right/ Alt Left” juxtaposition.
Trump says: “There was a group on one side that was bad and there was a group on the other side that was very violent and no one would say that but I say it now.” In the course of the press conference, Trump stressed the violence of the “Alt Left” while defending right-wing extremist demonstrators. There were also “bad people” there but most “protested innocently” and were fine people. This discussion pattern is most malicious because there was a brutal attack by right-wing extremists on a peacefully protesting woman.
Hiding this difference is an intentional trivialization of a terrorist murder. Apart from the formulation “no one will say but I now say,” this is a classic right-wing staging of a supposed breach of a taboo, the expression of a truth hidden from everyone. Then he explained the distribution of responsibility: “There was a group on one side that could be called `the Left’ […] that came and violently attacked the other group.” With that, Trump shifted responsibility to the counter-demonstrators.
Murder is the issue, not demonstration permits
“On the other side, there was a group that attacked without a demonstration permit and was very violent. […] There were many persons in this group (the “Unite the Right” demonstration) who were there to protest innocently and very legally. […] They had a permit and the other group did not have a permit […], a terrible moment for our country.”
The impression that Trump sought to revive is found in online discussions in great regularity: the emphasis on the rule of law where it seems legitimated. But a brutal attack occurred. A demonstration permit was not central for even a second.
On the other hand, Trump emphasized repeatedly that the neo-Nazi demo was lawful and the opponent’s demonstration was not. Trump declared the majority of neo-Nazis with torches, Hitler salutes, anti-Semitic songs and a terrorist murder as innocent and “very legal” protestors who (Trump quotation) were only “against chipping away a statue that was very, very important to them.” This almost seeks sympathy for the poor Nazis and the important statue for them.
The president of the United States removed all doubt about his attitude and gave a lesson in Nazi trivialization. Of course, this was not without a triumphant ending: “I own one of the largest wine-growing estates of the US. It is in Charlottesville.”
How Russia is Demonized and Why This is Dangerous
By Gabriele Krone-Schmalz
[This summary of the 2017 book is translated from the German on the Internet, www.ch-beck.de.]
An ice age rules between Russia and the West. Hardly a day passes by without a new horror report from the “evil empire.” Why is this? Are human rights and western values really central? Why are states that challenge the West geo-strategically demonized? In her new book, Gabriele Krone-Schmalz warns of a relapse into simple-minded thinking and stereotypes of the Cold War. Vladimir Putin’s goals are expansive, it is claimed. He threatens Poland and the Baltic. But what is really the basis for these conclusions?
Could not Russia be acting out of a strategic defensive and trying to maintain present spheres of influence? Who acts and who reacts? What should be our policy toward Russia: containment through deterrence or change through cooperation and rapprochement? These questions must be openly discussed. Instead, deviationists are slandered and excluded as Russia-sympathizers. The most important question is peaceful life together with our neighbors.
ON RUSSOPHOBIA IN WASHINGTON
By Serge Halimi
[This article published in October 2017 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.demokratisch-link.de. Serge Halimi is the editor of Le Monde diplomatique.]
Within a few months, the US refused to obey the Paris Climate Agreement, imposed new economic sanctions against Russia, cancelled normalization of diplomatic relations to Cuba, challenged the nuclear agreement with Iran, verbally attacked Pakistan and announced it would answer North Korea’s provocations with “fire and fury that the world has not yet seen.” Since the change in the White House, Washington’s relations have only improved to the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Donald Trump does not bear sole responsibility for this escalation. The neoconservative representatives of his party, the Democrats and the media all applauded when he ordered maneuvers in Asia in the spring and fired 59 missiles on a Syrian air force base. He even imposed new sanctions against Russia when he probed the possibilities of an approach or rapprochement.
The fears (of Iran, Cuba and Venezuela) of the republicans shared by some democrats and the contempt of the Democratic Party for Russia and Syria shared by most republicans are more and more determinative for current US foreign policy. Is there a party in Washington that champions peace?
The debates in 2016 showed US voters have had enough of the imperialist reflex actions of their country. In his election campaign, Trump did not say much about foreign policy. But his foreign policy proposals opposed the line of the Washington establishment (the military, experts, think tanks and expert journals) – and also the course he is taking today.
As candidate, Trump promised to set US economic interests above geo-political considerations. He brought the followers of an economic nationalism (“America First”) in industrial states down in the world to his side.
With this rhetoric, Trump appealed to voters who knew the advantages of a certain realism – after 15 years of war and chaos inflicted in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. “We would be better off if we had not been interested in the Middle East the last 15 years,” Trump said in April 2016. The “arrogance” of the US produced “one disaster after another” and “cost thousands of American lives and a thousand billion dollars.”
These are surprising words from the mouth of a republican presidential candidate. With this diagnosis, Trump approached the progressive wing of the democrats. Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and his successor George Bush, emphasized Trump “positions himself to the left of Hillary Clinton in foreign policy. She is a war-mongerer who would use military weapons at every opportunity and has poor judgment. A republican presidential candidate stands to the left of his democratic rival for the first time in contemporary history. This makes the contest interesting.”
In fact, the development since then is interesting even if differently than predicted by Noonan. Trump who flouts the opinions of the world public like a cattle-trader searches for the best deal for himself and his voters while “the left” urges a peace emerging from more just international relations and not from intimidation of other countries.
In his eyes, the problem of military alliances is that they cost Americans too much and not that they aggravate conflicts more than they deter possible aggressors. Since they have to pay the bill at the end, they must watch as the US develops into a “third world country.” “NATO is obsolete,” Trump stormed on April 2, 2016. “We defend Japan, we defend Germany and they pay only a fraction of what we spend. Saudi Arabia would collapse if we withdrew. One must be ready to leave the table. Otherwise, one can never make a good deal.”
The US president hoped for a “good deal” with Moscow. A new partnership could improve the poor relations between the two superpowers – especially through an alliance against IS and an acknowledgment of the importance of the Ukraine for Russia’s external security. That Barack Obama in 2016 had also relativized Vladimir Putin’s dangerousness – after the Crimea annexation and Moscow’s direct intervention in Syria – completely fell into oblivion with today’s paranoia of Americans toward the Kremlin. He described Russia’s interventions in the Ukraine and in the Middle East as “signs of weakness toward satellite states evading its grasp.”
Obama said: “The Russians cannot change or seriously weaken us. Russia is a smaller and weaker country. The Russian economy does not produce anything anyone wants to buy – except for oil, gas and weapons.” However, Obama found alarming that Donald Trump and his followers nurse sympathies for the Russian president.” 37% of republican voters esteem Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB head. Ronald Reagan must be turning in his grave.”…
“Presidents come and go but politics does not change,” Putin said at the end of May 2017 referring to the US. One day, historians will analyze these weeks when the US secret services, spokespersons of the Clinton wing in the Democratic Party, the majority of republican representatives and the media hostile to Trump all pulled together. Their common goal is preve3nting any agreement between Washington and Moscow.
Still, their motives were different. The intelligence services and parts of the Pentagon feared they would lose a presentable scapegoat through an approach between Trump and Putin – after the military victory over IS. The Clinton followers were glad not to have to reflect any longer about their candidate and her surprising election defeat. They blamed Moscow for the cyber-attacks on the Democratic Party. The neoconservatives “who supported the Iraq War, hate Putin and hold Israel’s security as `non-negotiable’ were nauseated by Trump’s new isolationist course.
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