Several Western nations, including the United States and Britain, face disruptive political change due to strong nationalism. The main alternative to nationalism is globalism. However, nationalism has been linked to right-wing populism, isolationism, white nationalism and even racism. This brief article discusses how the move toward nationalism has lost a respect for the truth and neglects human suffering around the globe.
For political liberals who believe that human beings have an obligation to help others, trying to reduce major suffering is a “no-brainer” because it is consistent with contributing to the well- being of others and the morality of social responsibility. It also follows from a broad view of human rights.
On the other hand, political conservatives who subscribe to nationalism presume that helping others breeds dependency and therefore individual independence is a virtue. They also have faith that free markets will produce a distribution of goods making it possible for everyone’s basic needs to be satisfied. These beliefs are bolstered by moral imperatives to reduce big government and allow freedom for groups of citizens to pursue special privilege. These and other agendas legitimize failure to recognize enormous suffering and its roots in discrimination.
Not only does nationalism rank global poverty and suffering as low priority. Nationalism also tends to blind its adherents to the suffering of minorities (racial, sexual and disadvantaged groups) within one’s own nation. In the past year, the neglect and denial of suffering has become much more visible with the surging flow of immigrants toward Europe.
At the same time, and driven partly by the rise in nationalism, has been the neglect and disrespect for truth. Some blame the rise of untruths and fake news on bitter partisanship. However, political communication and fact checking expert, Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, noted that Donald Trump in campaigning created a “fact-free world.” She concluded that President Trump’s shameless stream of lies, unfounded claims, reversals of claims, and borderline falsehoods made it impossible for journalists, fact-checkers, and political experts to precisely document all the untruths. She calls it the “demise of the fact.”
Writing in the New York Times, Timothy Egan pointed out that the most damaging falsehoods of now-President Trump are his lies about democracy and other social institutions such as science. Labeling climate change a hoax was such an example. Labeling all Latinos as criminals was another. But because he took these stands, he drew support from many marginal groups and billionaires. The next section reveals the frightening power that is eroding the democratic processes of Western Society.
Corruption of Democracy
Jane Mayer in her book, Dark Money – The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, (NY: Doubleday, 2016) traces the powerful effects of millions and billions of dollars used to fund radically conservative projects. Not only the ubiquitous Koch brothers but many other billionaires have been extremely generous to activities that are radically shifting politics in America.
The effectiveness of these gifts to political causes has probably been greatest from establishing right-wing think tanks, campaigns of Tea Party candidates, setting up media organizations, producing propaganda documentaries, and hiring marketing companies. Each of dozens of right-wing causes have been funded sufficiently to shape public opinion both at the local and national levels. And the shaping of opinion includes false assumptions, conclusions that contradict facts and best available knowledge, scare tactics, and conspiracy theories cast as definitive or highly likely.
Perhaps the most successful billionaire-funded political project is Breitbart News that runs breitbart.com, treitbart.tv and several other extremely high volume websites. Only a few years old, this company and its website played a major role in Trump’s election victory. This influence was institutionalized when Donald Trump named Breitbart chairman, Stephen Bannon, as his chief strategist and senior counselor in the White House.
Breitbart news has become a center and support network for many marginal political groups that support white nationalism, racism, anti-multi-culturalism and anti-immigration.
Breitbart and these various Alt-Right movements, rather than function like a typical media delivery organization, specialize in news-corruption, fake news, misinformation, scandal-creation news, and ideological propaganda. Furthermore, they readily admit their tactics and use of weapons of the Internet, including meme creation, the dark web and trolling (hate messaging). Their use of Internet culture for political gain is revealed by their label for the presidential campaign: “Great Meme War of 2016.” Cartoon characters like Pepe the frog conveys toxic themes. The Pepe meme was used to entice Internet-savvy people inadvertently to accept sexist and racist stereotypes and their assumptions.
Breitbart.com during the past two quarters has become the most active Internet news site, according to research conducted by NewsWhip. On a list that also included CNN, The Hill, The Guardian, and Huffington Post, Breitbart News topped the list on all metrics including total combined 9,098,013 Twitter and Facebook interactions in one month. (Failing to make the top 10 list were outlets such as The New York Times and Fox News.)
Breitbart has been leading the way in breaking news, opinion, and analysis of news around the world, with teams operating across America, the United Kingdom, and Israel. Breitbart publishes about 4,000 stories a month. Previous research undertaken by NewsWhip has shown that conservative news tends to perform better on social media than anything else.
In September, 2016, Breitbart achieved a monthly social media record of 200 million page views. Their success in getting Trump elected has emboldened Breitbart to open major offices in France and Germany as well as Britain. In addition, the Breitbart.com websites routinely include stories of growing support for white supremacist groups in many other European countries.
The essence of the current waves of untrue propaganda or ‘untruth,’ for short, is that not only is it intended to deceive but it is intended to cripple. An example of crippling untruth is the pizza-gate scandal where the story circulated widely by conservative activists that Hillary Clinton held child slaves in a pizza parlor.
Another variation of untruth are stories based upon entrapping one’s political opponents. Among this genre of untruth are the famous ACORN and Planned Parenthood deceptions that not only conducted misleading interviews, but used hidden recordings, and misleading editing to misrepresent actual communications. These techniques used often in the Great Meme War of 2016 used to be called “dirty tricks,” but most importantly they represent a major violation of professional communications ethics.
Western media continues to attribute the rise of populism and white nationalism to the economically dissatisfied middle class. Some blame the changing bases of power on the hyper-polarization and the cutting edge of evolving partisanship. Evidence is growing that a lot of the blame for the strength of white nationalism and right-wing populism must be placed on external communication campaigns. These campaigns rather than truly populist are grounded in the lopsided wealth and organizational skills of a few powerful ultra-conservatives and white nationalists. In earlier generations, this influence would have been dismissed as propaganda. The New Right messages via new forms of social media outlets with all kinds of fake news generators makes what has been called propaganda in past eras seem tame and largely factual by comparison.
Until enough people wake up and recognize that those in power have no intention of doing anything to improve the well-being of all people, the status quo will persist and millions continue to suffer and die needlessly. Until more is done to alleviate the suffering of billions in poverty, starvation and illness, the world order will continue to be unstable and our lives remaining under the threat of terrorism and uncertainty.