Tag Archives: Politics

Jagmeet Singh’s Charm Offensive

His nice words don’t quite square with nasty realities

✎  Wayne K. Spear | October 5, 2017 ◈ Politics

T

HE HEADLINES trumpeting Jagmeet Singh’s NDP leadership win each conformed to one of two themes. Either his victory as a “non-white” candidate was unprecedented, or it could be credited to the very-much-precedented appeal of charisma, GQ-worthy style, and handsomeness. The American papers in particular didn’t fail to notice that another Trudeau had arrived on the scene, ending the Prime Minister’s cornering of the charm market. Nor does the ringing of familiar bells end there. Kesh and kara aside, the new NDP leader is political boilerplate: a lawyer from Scarborough who speaks (cautiously) in both official languages and who celebrates Canada’s diversity and wholesomeness in, no doubt, focused-group-tested terms.

Jagmeet SinghCanada’s newest GQ leader

But, of course, he isn’t just another politician. He’s Sikh, and he is now leader of a federal political party, and as such he’s nullified a barrier to political office we should be glad to see nullified. The Charisma War can now begin, and how discouraging this prospect must be for the Conservative leader, Mr. Scheer, whose New York Times headline said: “Canada’s Conservatives Choose Andrew Scheer as Their New Leader.” In the meantime we all know how these battles are going to be fought, and that is with the ammunition of buttery words shot at the hardworking families of the middle class. Gone are the days when a political party might actually have something to fight for or about, such as proletariat revolution or tooth-and-claw capitalism. It’s three parties for the middle class, comrade. So who do you think has the nicest suit?

There are still things in this world for which and over which people fight and kill and die. The recent history of the Indian and Pakistan Punjab, birthplace of Jagmeet Singh’s parents, comes to mind. Since the British withdrawal from the region in the 1940s, the Punjab and Kashmir regions have been among the world’s most dangerous and volatile. The sectarian hatreds of two nuclear states and their diverse internal populations have engendered horrific violence, and while it may be true that none of this registers with the average Canadian, some of the old-world baggage has found its way to places like Brampton and Surrey and Vancouver. Canadians ought to care about that, more than they do.

There was a time when obscure causes like an independent Sikh state of Khalistan (obscure from a Canadian perspective) made headlines from Halifax to Vancouver. On June 23, 1985, Sikh terrorists associated with Babbar Khalsa put a bomb on Air India Flight 182 as well as on a plane bound for Japan—the latter detonated at the Japanese airport, killing the baggage handlers—one member of Babbar Khalsa having vowed that “we will not rest” until they had killed 50,000 Hindus. There are Sikh nationalists who to this day celebrate as a martyr the man behind this crime, the largest-ever mass murder of Canadian citizens, Talwinder Singh Babbar.

What has this to do with Jagmeet Singh? Nothing, really. But at the prospect of questions about Khalistan and Sikh extremism and the “martyrdom” of Talwinder Singh Babbar, the charming bespoke Jagmeet Singh fade into the curtains to be replaced by a cagey and defensive and lawyerly Jagmeet Singh? Why does he demand that all questions along these lines be submitted in advance and all transcriptions of his answers vetted prior to publication? Probably all the reasons one asks for these things: to prepare an answer, to avoid surprises, to make the best possible impression.

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 10.52.32 AMA headline from Sikh Siyasat News

To his credit, Jagmeet Singh appeared on the October 2nd episode of Power and Politics despite Terry Milewski’s refusal to grant Singh’s terms. There, Milewski asked, “Do you think that some Canadian Sikhs go too far when they honour Talwinder Singh Babbar as a martyr of the Sikh nation?” Singh argued, falsely in my view, that Sikhs and Hindus co-exist “in peace and harmony, and we need to celebrate that.” (I ask you: how on earth can you square this idea with the Flight 182 bombing?) Pressed further, he said:

So, it is so unacceptable that violence that was committed—the heinous massacre that was committed—is something that Sikhs, Muslim, Hindus all denounced, the violence as perpetrated against innocent Canadian lives, is something we all denounce. I regularly denounce it on the anniversary. It’s something that we all collectively are opposed to. There is no question about this, that innocent lives were killed and it is completely unacceptable and needs to be denounced as a terrorist act.

He never answered the question, “Do you think that some Canadian Sikhs go too far when they honour Talwinder Singh Babbar as a martyr of the Sikh nation?” But he did answer two questions that Terry Milewski didn’t ask. Again I am reminded of Trudeau.

One Nation Under Theocrats

In Trump’s America everything depends on the manner in which Republican factionalism is resolved. In Alabama we may have come closer to a resolution

✎  Wayne K. Spear | September 28, 2017 | waynekspear.com

HOURS AGO, as of the time I write these words, the President of the United States deleted his endorsements of Luther Strange from the Twitter account @realDonaldTrump. Now, in the untidy corner of social media he alone controls, let the record show that the President is and always has been a Roy Moore guy.

The likelihood has increased that Alabama will send a theocrat and conspiracy theorist to Washington in December. There he’ll join fellow-travellers Trump and Co. in the work of stirring a witch’s brew of fake populism, culture war, and white resentment. (I can’t resist observing that, if Trump had won the day, it would be a Strange Brew.) An irony of the Strange-Moore contest is that Trump backed the lesser-Trumpist candidate and the more-Trumpist contender won. Moore is just what the Republican party needs in 2017—another Bannon-and-Mercer-backed extremist who loathes the government and who comes to Washington not to build but to destroy.

Alabama Capital Steps | Photo by sunsurfr (Creative Commons)

Across his career Roy Moore has agitated to “bring the knowledge of God back to the United States,” whatever that means. Eighty-six percent of Alabama voters self-identify as Christian, half of them as evangelical Protestants, and still Mr. Moore deemed his fellow citizens sufficiently god-stupid that he commisioned a 5,000-pound Ten Commandments granite memorial for the state’s Supreme Court building. Ordered to remove it by unanimous resolve of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, Moore refused. This was the first occasion of two dismissals from public office—in 2003 and 2016—for (among other things) disregarding a federal injunction, abusing administrative authority, and demonstrating an unwillingness to follow the law. And so, to return to the theme of fellow-travelling, one can hope that if Moore goes to Washington, he might well go at the moment the President is facing dismissal on similar charges.

The only law Mr. Moore recognizes is the law of God. Under the law of God same-sex marriage is “the ultimate destruction of our country” and homosexuality is “an inherent evil” and the deaths of September 11, 2001 and Newtown, Connecticut are deserved punishments for America’s waywardness. Under the law of God Muslims are not fit for office and lesbians are not fit for parenthood and the laws of mere mortals may be ignored. It’s worth noticing that the victorious Alabama Republican primary candidate for the US Senate holds views that would be unremarkable in a Wahhabist-jihadist training camp. Also, why do these God people always have sex on the brain?

Beginning in the 1980s the Dixiecrat Alabama of George Wallace slowly morphed into the Republican Alabama of today. Here political diversity does not take the form of parties, but rather of Republican rivalry. It is easy for outsiders (and especially for northeastern urbanites) to sneer and condescend at Alabama, but what is happening in Alabama matters because it is happening everywhere. One need look no further than Washington, D.C. for confirmation. Conservatism has split into two principal factions, one grounded in political norms and institutions and the other in theocracy and resentment and the culture warfare of ethnic-nationalism. Everything depends on the manner in which this factionalism resolves, and in Alabama the nation just took another step closer toward resolution.

Thoughts on Christianity and Authoritarianism

If the reports are to be believed, one-third of Americans today approve of the President’s performance. The constituency most likely to go on approving of Mr. Trump is evangelical Christians, in particular middle-aged white evangelical Christians. Much has been written of this political alliance, along the line that Donald Trump is a man of un-christian character, angry and vain and materialistic, and so on. How can the faithful regard him as theirs?

They have done so by casting Mr. Trump as a modern-day Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar, which is to say a flawed individual who nonetheless—perhaps even because of this—has been chosen by God and through whom the divine is achieving His will. Anyone who has been to an evangelical gathering, especially of the revivalist-testimonial type, knows that the best witness is also the most lurid. Invariably a solemn and clean-looking fellow will electrify his audience with a tale of debauchery, the lascivious details of his previous life of depravity serving to underscore the point that “if God could save a wretch like me ….” Before he was St. Paul, Saul of Tarsus by his own admission was a dangerous fanatic who went eagerly about the work of murdering the followers of Jesus. The tradition of playing up one’s nastiness in the service of a cracking testimony obtains from Saul through Augustine to the present day. Human wickedness is baked into the Christian religion in the way that class struggle is baked into Marxism, so that to point out Mr. Trump’s shortcomings is only to affirm a central tenet of evangelicalism, that God can and does work through even the most thoroughly fallen.

But why Mr Trump, when the field is crowded with flawed candidates? Perhaps a better line of inquiry is to consider what evangelical Christianity is, not as a religion, but as a political system.

When the plainly superstitious details of religion are removed, for example virgin births and ascensions to heaven etc, what remains is a set of propositions about the world and of our place within it. The propositions are as follows. The universe is a work of omniscience, governed by universal and immutable law. To go up against the law is to offend the Almighty and to invite His wrath. There is no court of appeal. God has put down His laws in writing from the beginning of time, and it is a work of supreme arrogance even to question. The only recourse of man is to follow the law and to conform to the natural order, which is to say God’s word. Do as you may, eventually everything is going to collapse in a conflagration of evil, a fate most of us deserve. The effect of St Paul’s teachings was to sublate the Jewish law into a doctrine of divine grace, but without altering the universal and fixed nature of God’s will. In the universe of Christianity, everything is presided by an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful Father whose wrath or love is ineluctable as well as non-negotiable. One’s only options in this life are to accept the offer of divine grace on the terms advanced or to suffer eternally.

It takes little mental effort to translate this notion of an all-powerful, all-seeing, law-and-grace-issuing Father into a political system, and that system is best described as totalitarian. Say what you will of monotheism: it is not a democratic system or a working out of an evolutionary process. The only role of the demos in evangelicalism is to follow the law and to affirm over and again the glory of the Dear Leader. Evangelical Christianity as a political system is less about the negotiation of consensus and compromise, of inching laboriously toward the good if imperfect society, than it is about sorting the world into good and evil so that the final battle might get underway. The human heart is wicked in an irredeemable way, and thus unreliable as a moral guide. From this it follows that human solutions to human problems are also unreliable, so that the chief political task is to ensure that the good prevail upon the wicked by imposing upon them the strictures of law. What Christianity proposes is an authoritarian and not a pluralistic, liberal view of society.

I am not suggesting that all Christians or even most of them are totalitarian in outlook. What I am suggesting is that evangelicalism and authoritarianism are fellow-travellers. Should authoritarianism one day overtake the United States, we should expect evangelicals to reconcile themselves to it easily, provided it is an authoritarianism of the “Travail, Famille, Patrie” variety. The only thing Donald Trump had to do to win over evangelicals was to make pleasant noises about the importance of faith while advancing a law-and-order agenda that broadly repudiated the liberal belief in a society made better through the work of human social engineering. The President’s hyper-masculine persona could only be reassuring to someone who has cast her lot with a Father Who Art in Heaven, especially a law-giving Father obsessed with a tribalist program of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Trump’s grievance and resentment based cultural war of us-against-them ought to be familiar to the most casual student of monotheism, whether the subject is Twentieth-Century Ireland or present-day Islam.

A moment ago I alluded to “the work of human social engineering.” This phrase can be understood in more than one way. It can apply to the current materialist effort to deconstruct human sexuality and gender, the idea that male and female are nothing more than oppressive constructs. But the phrase also comprises the Enlightenment notion that human societies are malleable and not forever determined by divine precept. The term for this point-of-view, that our lot may be improved through the application of human reason, is liberalism. The ideology of liberalism emerged at about the time the United States of America was established, and against it stood the authoritarian principle—the Great Chain of Being, the divine sanctioning of the monarch and aristocracy, and so forth. To be a liberal is to believe in progress driven by human intelligence and reason and effort.

At bottom liberalism and monotheism are incompatible, although it is possible to hold both in one’s mind and to claim an allegiance to both simultaneously. Many of the monotheistic schisms are in fact over this exact question, and they take many forms. Jewish anti-Zionism repudiates the man-made state of Israel on the grounds that only the Messiah may establish the Kingdom. Likewise within Islam there is a disagreement over whether the Caliphate should be established now or only with the return of the hidden Imam. In any case the City of God will be by definition a theocracy, where votes are not cast and there are no protests or courts of appeal.

Even if I am wrong about everything I have written above, it is objectively the case that President Trump is the most perfect specimen of an evangelical President. Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower can not touch him for popularity. In an era when politicians are as a rule held in contempt, Mr. Trump consistently polls around 80% favourable among evangelical Christians—a useful fact, for it shows us what the ideal evangelical candidate looks like. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord, but of course this is not true. Vengeance is President Trump’s, and as a matter of proxy it is now also the province of evangelicals. For what must feel like the first time, they have something approximating real political power. They are set about the work of repudiating liberalism and re-establishing the law, if necessary at the expense of conventional politics itself.