Bernie Sanders, Brexit and Donald Trump surprised us all by rising from "unthinkable" to "game-changer" within the past year. Suddenly, a socialist became a plausible presidential nominee, Britain withdrew from Europe and a lineup of establishment Republicans was beaten by a political outsider. An anti-establishment populist revolution appears to be sweeping the U.S. and Britain. What's going on?
An article by Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard's JFK School of Government, published July 24 in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, provides insight. Walt says voters are fed up with establishment leaders who make huge mistakes but aren't held accountable. George Bush, followed by Britain's all-too-obedient Tony Blair, made an enormous blunder in 2003 by invading Iraq. Many years too late, Britain has finally officially investigated and thoroughly condemned Blair's role. Bush's decisions, however, have escaped scrutiny.
The Bush administration prevented serious investigation, by the commission appointed to determine responsibility, of the 9/11 attacks. Did Saudi Arabia, an important U.S. ally, finance the attacks? Could we have thwarted that support?
The same thing happened following revelations of U.S. torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. As a child during World War II, I thought only other nations tortured prisoners. After Abu Ghraib, my country was among those who tortured their fellow humans. Many Americans would like to know who was responsible, yet the U.S. Army's report on this was, according to the New York Times, a "300-page whitewash."
Following the 2008 financial crisis, hardly anybody on Wall Street was held accountable despite the obvious deception and fraud that helped cause the collapse.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. commanders continue issuing rosy prophesies of light at the end of both these tunnels, yet President Obama announced we will keep more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq grinds on, aided by 4,000 U.S. troops. Nobody seems to be accountable for these endless wars.
Walt's concern is well-taken, but there's more than that to the populist revolution. It seems to me political correctness has dominated some crucial issues, and that people are frustrated by the absence of open, direct discussion. Two such issues are religion and immigration.
Religion -- the belief in supernatural controlling powers or gods -- is absolutely central to most important world events, especially chaos in the Mideast, worldwide terrorism and U.S. politics. Religion imposes a superstitious medieval belief system upon a world dominated by its opposite, namely scientific knowledge and powerful technologies.
This contradictory mix is destroying the Mideast, and threatens to consume America and Europe in the melee. We must talk openly and honestly about it. Based on the evidence, democratic government appears impossible in nations subscribing to extreme Islam. We make a huge mistake when we assume otherwise, as in our attempts to overthrow dictators in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere.
Moderate religion does much social good, despite suggesting harmful impossibilities such as people arising from the dead. But extreme Islam, orthodox Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity do enormous damage by contradicting much of what we know about the world, and acting on their fantasies.
Our wide divide over immigration makes rational discussion nearly impossible, so that emotion becomes the controlling factor. Those who are anti-immigration must recognize that people fleeing Mexico for the U.S., and fleeing Syria for Europe are overwhelmingly admirable individuals who are only seeking a decent life. At the same time, those who are pro-immigration must recognize that immigrants present very real problems for their host countries, that beyond a reasonable limit immigration does more harm than good by, for example, depriving the home countries of the very people capable of fixing things.
That reasonable limit is the number of people per year who can be integrated into the language, economy and culture of the host nation. The key word here is "integrated." Certainly illegal immigrants are not integrated, and not healthy for any nation. But a wall is unnecessary and would be ineffective. Liberals and conservatives need to instead join in discussing an identification system that would remove all economic incentives by ending employment of illegal immigrants.
It would be far healthier if our 11 million illegal immigrant residents were legalized, provided we fully integrate them, but citizens have a right to expect that effective means of stopping further illegal immigration will be in place as a required condition for that legalization.
We must approach our social problems with less political correctness, bias and emotion, and with greater openness, honesty, knowledge and rationality, asking what actually works rather than what merely feels good.
Commentary on 08/16/2016
Print Headline: The populist revolution