“Every generation must fight the same battles again and again. There’s no final victory and there’s no final defeat.” Tony Benn’s life has been a book of powerful quotes for many young socialists in Britain but perhaps this is the one that should feel resonant for many.
Maybe that’s because we do not learn from the mistakes of old. Migrants are drowning at sea. Racism is flaring heavily. Children are being locked in cages, separated from their parents. Politicians are calling for the profiling to minorities and planning their mass deportations. We have been here before. Fascism is once again not just at our doorsteps but crept inside.
Where it concerns the United States of America it has been on the climb for years, accentuated by Donald Trump as President. White nationalism has been the retaliation to growing social liberalism across the country. National conversation on racial equality, LGBT rights, rape culture and use of guns has led to a large number feeling disenchanted by the push towards equality. Donald Trump fed on that. His calls for “make America great again” fed into the untapped resentment and played on the trope that an ensemble of low-skilled Mexican workers, Muslims, Black Lives Matter and Barack Obama had robbed the country of its greatness. A return to white nationalism would mark greatness. For those who would criticise liberal identity politics as the fuelling of white extremism it’s worth considering that white supremacy is the ugliest form of identity politics. There is a difference when nationalism is used to construct an identity and when it is used to project superiority against others. Trump normalised it and created a space for resurgent bigots to resurface, culminating in Charlottesville where he failed to criticise the Nazi element of the white supremacist protest that led to someone’s murder.
The inhumanity of Trump’s policies and vision for America has come spilling out even more now. Images of migrant children separated from their parents and locked in cages have been a harrowing snapshot of his presidency. Some would regard this as the first phase of his anti-immigrant stance. The endgame would be the completion of the much-fantasised wall but to reach there would require a level of demonization of migrants so terrible that even images of little crying children cannot stir compassion in a country that once cherished the story of the immigrant.
It has drawn outrage from everywhere including in Britain where calls for Theresa May to suspend the bigot President’s visit have only heightened. It’s a sign of her own weak leadership that she has refused to criticise someone who has normalised frankly the worst of human behaviour. Others have also echoed their fury and though it might be easy to sweep it all as typical liberal outrage, it’s a frankly rational response to the chilling pictures we have seen this week.
At the same time Europe cannot parade itself as a bulwark against fascism. Far-right movements have sprung with a groundswell of support across Hungary, Italy, France, Germany and others. A hatred of migrants and Muslims has been growing, elements that have fed for the new faces of the European far-right. A lot of it has stemmed from an inability to deal with the refugee crisis effectively. Italy refused to allow migrant boats to dock on their shores, content it seems for people to drown at sea. The interior minister Matteo Salvani, in chilling echoes to their fascist past, called for a policy that would lead to the expulsion of all non-Italian Roma. In France, anti-Muslim hostility very nearly brought the far-right to power. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s compassion towards refugees simply sparked a darker turn towards bigotry.
The unchecked growth in far-right has spread like wildfire. Only Spain it seems have resisted with little signs of fascist movements taking hold there. Indeed they allowed migrant boats to dock in their country after Italy rebuffed them. Barcelona’s citizens marched to allow refugees in. This is a far cry from the rest of Europe.
On some level it’s an inevitable struggle for globalisation where economic liberalism and porous borders – whatever you may think of them – have created inequality and cultural anxiety. Denying that the latter exists would be foolish. But rather than deal with it sensibly and effectively, the solution for too many politicians it seems has been to play on the politics of the “Other” and blame the foreigner.
From America to Italy to Hungary, we are seeing the worst of humanity where drowning boats and caged children do not bring even a morsel of guilt and sadness. Instead we look the other way.