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MITCH BENN: The politics of hate will fall

Aerial view of Honduran migrants onboard a truck as they take part in a caravan heading to the US, in the outskirts of Tapachula, Mexico. Picture by PEDRO PARDO/AFP - Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Politics of hate will fall and the politics of hope will endure, writes MITCH BENN.

It’s been another one of those weeks in which clinging to the positive – indeed just finding the positive – has seemed like a Herculean labour. And don’t come to me expecting zingers about the (thankfully ineptly-executed) mail bomb campaign targeting prominent US liberals or the two racially-motivated mass shootings just because it says ‘comedian’ in my byline.

This, combined with Brazil elevating Bolsonaro – its own Trump – to the presidency, has made it extremely difficult to focus on our own political quagmire, let alone to point up anything that might be regarded as encouraging. But I think I’ve managed it. Read on…

The horror of the three terror incidents – that’s what they are; let’s call them that – which have occurred in the USA over the last few days has only been exacerbated by the equivocal response coming from the White House and the administration’s apologists in the American conservative media-sphere.

The initial reaction, to the discovery of the bombs themselves, was to dismiss the campaign as a liberal ‘false flag’ operation, implying that the likes of the Obamas and Clintons were either being sent deliberately dud bombs by liberal activists to try to make Republicans look bad ahead of the upcoming mid-term elections, or indeed that they were in on the plot and mailing ropey explosive devices to themselves.

When, in due course, a suspect was arrested in Florida and turned out to be an ardent Trump supporter who lived in a van festooned with Trump stickers (which Fox News appeared to blur out during their coverage of the arrest), the chorus of condemnation that one would normally expect from right-wing commentators on such an occasion was decidedly muted. Trump himself seemed to acknowledge that there has been a heightening of tension and anger in American politics lately but placed the blame for this squarely on the media’s negative coverage of him, despite the fact that every one of the bomber’s intended victims was someone he had singled out for criticism, either on Twitter or at one of his enormo-rallies.

The general consensus on the American right appears to be ‘Who cares? The bombs didn’t go off and they’re all liberals anyway’. One finds it hard to believe that the response would have been so lackadaisical if, rather than the Clintons, CNN and George Soros, bombs had been sent to the homes of the Trumps, Sean Hannity and the Koch brothers.

Meanwhile, Trump not only went straight back to hurling invective at Hillary Clinton and George Soros at his rallies, but has pointedly refused to make contact with any of the intended victims.

This is what happens when a political philosophy bases itself on rejection of that (and those) which it despises rather than promotion of that which it loves.

People don’t vote for leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro because they hope that they will help them; they vote for such leaders in the hope that they will hurt the people they hate.

I’m through with making excuses for Trump’s supporters; certainly those who still support him after 21 months of seeing his administration in action. They might have come for the economic anxiety, but they stayed for the race war. Witness the current absurd panic being whipped up around the ‘caravan’ of refugees proceeding through Central America. They’re unarmed civilians who are still about a month’s walk away from the southern border (assuming they even make it that far) but the government and Fox News are reacting like they’re a tank division massing on the banks of the Rio Grande. You can’t base your entire policy platform around the dehumanisation of everyone who’s Not One Of Us and then act surprised when your supporters start taking matters into their own hands. But of course they’re not surprised, not really. Nor, it would seem, troubled.

The politics of hate are threatening to take over, and the real trick is to resist without succumbing to hate yourself.

Which is why I’m taking comfort and encouragement from our own movement.

The scale of last month’s People’s Vote march in London is still being processed and its ultimate effects won’t be known for some time, but one positive thing which has already come from the day, and from the similar smaller events which proceeded it, is that we now – finally – have a thriving and vociferous pro-European movement in this country.

For decades, while anti-European politicians and pundits have been full-throated and forthright, pro-European sentiment, when it’s been expressed at all, has been cagey and qualified. The prevailing wisdom has long held that to be seen as enthusiastically pro-Europe was a vote loser, so even those who believed passionately in the European project would keep their passion reined in while the other side felt free to fulminate and declaim. This enthusiasm gap definitely contributed to the referendum result in 2016.

But walking – or rather shuffling – through the full-to-capacity streets of London last month, I saw, as well as the banners decrying the insanity of Brexit and the hypocrisy of its cheerleaders, thousands of blue and gold European flags and placards proclaiming determination to rebuild the bonds between Britain and the continent.

Whatever happens in the next few months, the pro-European genie is out of the bottle in this country and won’t be put back in the foreseeable future. If we succeed in securing a vote on the final deal, it won’t be enough to denounce the folly of Brexit and the perfidy of the Brexiteers; we’ll have to make the positive case for remaining in the EU.

Racism and intolerance always fail in the long term for the same reason they win big in the short term; they’re too easy. They’re the philosophy of the weak, the stupid, the lazy.

A movement built on hate and fear will fall. A movement built on love and hope will stand. Keep resisting.

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