Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

Elitism Is Not The Answer To Populism: On ‘Anti-Vaxxers’ And Mistrust In Government

While “anti-vaxxers” continue to clash with police in various European cities, a whole media discourse has been formulated around the political leanings of these angry crowds, describing them in matter-of-fact terms as conspiracy theorists, populists and right-wing fanatics.

While it is true that populist, right-wing movements throughout Europe and elsewhere have actively exploited the anger, confusion and lack of trust in governments for years, it is still necessary to understand the roots of the mistrust, as opposed to readily contributing to the stifling division.

A Gallup poll, published in 2013, revealed the extent of mistrust that Americans, for example, have in their own government, and the decline of that trust when compared to the previous year. According to the poll, only 10% of Americans trusted their elected Congress, only 19% trusted the country’s health system, 22% had trust in big business and 23% in news media.

This crisis in democracy took place years before Donald Trump even considered running for presidency, years before the violent storming of the US Congress, and long before the COVID pandemic inspired resentment and conspiracies.

The trend of lack of trust in government continues unabated to this day, though Trump is no longer the president. In fact, it is a phenomenon that has afflicted most Western societies, though to varying degrees.

It may seem irrational that millions of people refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine, a potentially life-saving medicine required in order for collective immunity to be achieved. But the problem exceeds that of seemingly ‘crazy’, ‘fanatic’, ‘conspiracy theorist’ and, for good measure, also ‘racist’ multitudes, simply refusing to save their own lives or the lives of loved ones, out of sheer ignorance and mere stupidity.

There are other issues that deserve to be considered, too. Lack of trust in government is an accumulative process, resulting from long experience and a prevailing conclusion that governments represent the interests of the rich and powerful, not the poor and vulnerable. That cannot be wished away as a result of a supposedly scathing editorial written by establishment newspapers such as The New York Times or The Washington Post.

The inequality gap in the United States, for example, has been constantly widening in recent years. A 2017 study by the Boston Consulting Group concluded that, by 2021, nearly 70% of the US’s wealth would be concentrated in the hands of millionaires and billionaires. Can we truly blame a poor, working-class American for mistrusting a government that has engendered this kind of inequality?

Liberal political parties, whether the Democrats in the US, or the Parti Socialiste in France, or the Partito Democratico in Italy have, in fact, orchestrated much of this inequality and the subsequent mistrust and resentment harbored by millions of their citizens. Their politicians and news media insist on a reductionist reading of the rise of populism in their societies, simply because they want to maintain the self-serving status quo.

The so-called ‘moderates’ are the ones who are mostly articulating the political discourse of the time, simply because an authentic, grassroots-propelled political left is almost completely absent from the scene. The resultant vacuum has rendered entire communities, people with real grievances, vulnerable to far-right opportunists, the likes of Marine Le Pen in France, Trump in the US and Matteo Salvini in Italy.

The above are self-serving politicians with disturbing political ideas, often chauvinistic ideologies and, of course, personal ambitions. With no one else challenging mainstream politicians and corporate media, they are often welcomed as liberators, ‘draining the swamps’ of Washington and wherever else political elitism exists.

Some of us may avoid this uncomfortable discussion altogether, probably out of fear of being branded as belonging to the wrong crowd or, possibly, as a result of our insistence on understanding the world from our own limited political and ideological vantage points. But, by doing so, we are failing at truly analyzing the roots of the current political mayhem.

True, there have been attempts in mainstream media to offer a third way of thinking on the subject, but most of these ideas remain limited in their scope and context, and often bashful in their language. For example, a recent New York Times article linked the anti-vaccination movement to the ‘COVID cultural war’ in Europe, but hardly delved deep enough into the economic and class component of that division.

While the “vaxxers” and the “anti-vaxxers” may carry on to mobilize around whatever system of beliefs they hold dear, it is not the responsibility of the intellectual to follow the diktats of superficial identity politics. What is required is a true understanding of the roots behind these cultural and political phenomena, with the hope of engaging and fixing as opposed to simply condemning the ‘other side’.

The late Italian anti-fascist intellectual, Antonio Gramsci, had written about the “intellectual’s error” of judging without truly understanding, feeling and “being impassioned”. According to him, no knowledge is possible “without feeling the elementary passions of the people, understanding them and therefore explaining and justifying them in the particular historical situation”.

There are hundreds of millions of people with real grievances, justifiable fears and understandable confusion. If we do not engage with all people on an equal footing for the betterment of humankind, they are left to seek answers from the ‘prophets of doom’ - far-right chauvinists and conspiracy theorists. This cannot possibly be the only option.

- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Globetrotter: The Geopolitics Behind Spiraling Gas And Electricity Prices In Europe
The current crisis of spiraling gas prices in Europe, coupled with a cold snap in the region, highlights the fact that the transition to green energy in any part of the world is not going to be easy. The high gas prices in Europe also bring to the forefront the complexity involved in transitioning to clean energy sources... More>>

Julian Assange: A Thousand Days In Belmarsh
Julian Assange has now been in the maximum-security facilities of Belmarsh prison for over 1,000 days. On the occasion of his 1,000th day of imprisonment, campaigners, supporters and kindred spirits gathered to show their support, indignation and solidarity at this political detention most foul... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: The Mauling Of Novak Djokovic
Rarely can the treatment of a grand sporting figure by officialdom have caused such consternation. Novak Djokovic, the tennis World Number One, has always had a tendency to get under skin and constitution, creating a large following of admirers and detractors. But his current treatment by Australian authorities, and his subsequent detention as an unlawful arrival despite being granted a visa to participate in the Australian Open, had the hallmarks of oppression and incompetent vulgarity... More>>


Off To The Supreme Court: Assange’s Appeal Continues

With December’s High Court decision to overturn the lower court ruling against the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, lawyers of the WikiLeaks founder immediately got busy... More>>


Forbidden Parties: Boris Johnson’s Law On Illegal Covid Gatherings

It was meant to be time to reflect. The eager arms of a new pandemic were enfolding a society with asphyxiating, lethal effect. Public health authorities advocated various measures: social distancing, limited contact between family and friends, limited mobility. No grand booze-ups. No large parties. No bonking, except within dispensations of intimacy and various “bubble” arrangements. Certainly, no orgies... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Question Time Is Anything But
The focus placed on the first couple of Question Time exchanges between the new leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister will have seemed excessive to many but the most seasoned Parliamentary observers. Most people, especially those outside the Wellington beltway, imagine Question Time is exactly what it sounds... More>>