Sun 22 September 2019

CJ Werleman on the right wing culture wars around ‘white greivance’ which are putting progressive political parties on the back foot.

When Australian voters went to the polls in the country’s federal election on Saturday, pundits and pollsters predicted the likelihood of a Labor Party victory to be a greater than 90 percent, with bookmakers so certain the conservative coalition would be removed from power that Sportsbet, an online betting company, paid out AUD$1.3 million in early payouts to punters who had unsuccessfully bet on a Labor Party win.

When Australians reached for the Sunday edition of their favorite newspapers, they were greeted with headlines that read, “Election Result an Incredible Shock,” “Prime Minister’s Shock Election Victory,” and “How Did Pollsters Get Australian Election Results So Wrong?”

“If liberals are so damn smart, then why do they lose so goddamn always?”

At never any stage during the 6-week election campaign cycle, or even in the 12 months preceding it, was the Labor Party at any risk of losing, that is, however, until the actual votes were tallied late into Saturday night and into early hours of the following morning.

In almost every conceivable way, the outcome of Australia’s election mirrored, or at least echoed the shock result of the 2016 US election with Donald Trump and the Republican Party defying predictions that had Hillary Clinton and Democratic Party at a 90 percent chance of winning on the morning American voters went to the polling booths.

Echoes of Trump

Equally, the UK’s Labour Party had predicted it would win “hundreds” of seats in this year’s local elections, but suffered what can only be described as a humiliating defeat across the board.

The obvious question here is why is it progressive parties and movements throughout the Western democratic world are defying odds by losing elections they are overwhelmingly favored to win, and despite the fact polls show a clear majority of voters prefer the policies and values espoused by left wing political parties.

“We do not live in a democracy, we live in a Murdocracy.”

For instance, when you poll Australian, American, and British voters, a clear majority support action on climate change, expansion and improvements to universal healthcare and social safety nets, while also supporting immigration and economic policies that redistribute wealth from the top-down and thus reversing Thatcher/Reagan borne “trickle down” economics, which has resulted in the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich in history.

These polls clearly demonstrate that an overwhelming majority of voters are closely aligned with the policies prescribed by the major left wing parties in each of the aforementioned three countries, yet voters are pulling the lever for conservative parties that vehemently oppose each and everyone of these positions, and thus are ultimately voting against their own self-socioeconomic interests.

What then explains this almost masochistic like behavior among Australian, American, and British voters?

In short, progressive political parties have failed to grasp the peculiarities of today’s rapidly changing media landscape and political climate.

“If liberals are so damn smart, then why do they lose so goddamn always?” is the pivotal line from the very first episode of HBO’s hit television series The Newsroom.

Well, they’re losing because they fail to understand a majority of voters, particularly whites, no longer respond to aspirational appeals, complex economic proposals, and/or a combination of both.

JFK’s “shoot for the moon,” LBJ’s “great society,” or Clinton’s “building a bridge to the 21st century” are aspirations of a bygone era.

Culture Wars

In an earlier time, or at least until the arrival of cable news and the right-wing-media-industrial-complex, political debate was shaped by how governments should manage their economic finances and the country’s resources.

Today, however, it’s about culture, or rather what kind of country we want to be culturally, and it’s a debate progressive parties are failing to offer a narrative that counters xenophobic and white nationalist appeals espoused by the Right.

Culture is the menacing force behind today’s crazy politics” is the central thesis of Michele Gelfand, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland, in her 2018 book, Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire the World.

Rather than responding to aspirational and economic appeals, a majority of white voters are casting votes for political parties that have made fear, racism, misinformation and disinformation as the cornerstones of their messaging, and in turn leveraging white grievance or what has been described as the “majority as the minority syndrome.”

Almost every headline and segment printed or telecasted on a Murdoch owned news media outlet portrays the white majority and white civilization to be under threat from immigrants and minority communities, and with Murdoch owned media dominating the media landscape in Australia and Britain, while also holding an oversized footprint in the United States, right-wing political parties are echoing these anti-immigrant and anti-minority sentiments and headlines in their campaign messaging.

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“Let’s not deceive ourselves,” tweeted Father Rod Bower, an Anglican minister who has become internationally renowned for expressing messages of solidarity with persecuted minorities via his church’s signboard. “We do not live in a democracy, we live in a Murdocracy.”

Compounding this crisis for left wing political parties is the fact fake news, and I mean actual demonstrably fake news articles, are being consumed, shared and internalized almost exclusively among right wing voters.

The Fake News Effect

For instance, during the height of the 2016 US presidential election, a fake news story that included the headline, “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide,” was shared on Facebook more 500,000 times.

Ultra-conservatives, particularly those age 65 and older, were 700% more likely to share fake news stories than liberal and moderate voters

The producer of this deliberately misleading story said in an interview that he tried writing articles for left-wing voters too, because profiting financially from the spread of fake online news stories is the goal of his enterprise, but liberals “just never take the bait.”

In a major study into “fake information masquerading as news on social media,” ultra-conservatives, particularly those age 65 and older, were 700% more likely to share fake news stories than liberal and moderate voters during the 2016 US election.

So, returning to the defeat of Australia’s left wing party on Saturday, and putting aside the conservative coalition’s overt racism, which included the tacit endorsement of the meme “Labor Votes Means More [refugee] Boats,” it was found that the most shared fake news story online was one that claimed Labor planned to introduce a death tax, a claim wholly untrue.

Ultimately, progressive parties have been unable to respond to what is a right-wing driven fake news epidemic and climate of xenophobia and racism in any kind of effective way.

This is the challenge now facing both the left and survival of democracy itself.