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Tag Archives: America

Accusations in a mirror: US warnings for Australian civil discourse

Extremist rhetoric from the ever-more radical right makes it impossible for their followers to see the facts about the centrist governments in America (and Australia). It prepares the ground for violence.

The New York Times has just released a study into the language used by a group of Republicans it labels “the objectors.” This is the radical posse that most stridently fights the fact that Biden won the election. Together with partisan media, this group of congressmen and women have done incalculable damage to the civic space in America, and may have broken it altogether. We have the same forces at work in Australia, battling to destroy our own democracy. The movement here is nascent, but so was the American version once.

The NYT report maintains a “both sides” faux “balance” throughout the article which makes it ludicrous reading to anyone paying attention. One side continues to play the political game as it evolved, despite decades of Republican efforts to destroy the Democrats’ ability to win at state and federal level. The other side is post-liberalism and post-democracy in its strategies and goals. Democrats who speak of Republican threats to democracy are describing the facts. For the article to leave that distinction to be inferred is cowardly or absurd.

Republicans who speak in extremist terms are, by contrast, deploying the genocidal authoritarian’s rhetorical ploy of “accusations in a mirror.” This term was coined in Rwanda, to describe the way a malign group gains popular support by deceiving its potential followers. The genocidal leader-in-making accuses the target group of planning the atrocities that the mass murderer actually intends to carry out. The target group is planning to massacre our villages, he says. In fact, he is arousing the frightened and enraged people to massacre the target group’s villages.

Republicans have long been riding the tiger of this extremist fringe. They have harnessed its fury and fear, but managed until recent years to keep it out of power. The enraged have now taken over the party, with traditional Republicans driven out of the vocation by constant death-threats if not shame.

The Democrats have been a centre-right political party by Australian standards and are only recently able to be described as centrist. It has a few outliers that are described as radical left for asking for the kinds of lifestyle that Australians have taken for granted. Supporting universal healthcare is hardly an extremist position; it is not that long ago that Australians enjoyed free tertiary education. Until recently, the Democrats have barely protested the decades of “ratfucking” the state Republicans have connived at, and the packing of the crucial Supreme Court (and the rest of the judiciary) that has been taking place. The Democrats have had the majority of the popular vote for the 7 out of the 8 most recent federal elections without the resultant gains. This is because of distortions such as needing to be 11 points ahead in the vote to win control of the House in 2018 for example, because of gerrymandering.

So to have the objectors describe the Democrats as radical is clearly inapt. It is in fact the same kind of gaslighting as Lachlan Murdoch seems to practise when he describes Fox News as “centre right.” (Although it may be that Murdoch genuinely is inculcated enough into the ideology of the radical right as to believe his description.) Murdoch’s assessment is belied by the fact the NYT study states that the objectors link to Fox News items at twice the rate of more traditional Republicans.

Elise Stefanik is the congresswoman who replaced Liz Cheney as the chair of the House Republican Conference, after switching from being a centrist Republican to a Trumpist. Stefanik described the Democrats in a tweet as making “their most aggressive move yet” which she calls a “PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION.” She describes them as “America’s Last Marxists” who are “radically and systematically DESTROYING our country.” These terms and sentiments are echoed endlessly by her contingent and the media outlets that work alongside.

The “permanent election insurrection” evoked is the subject of the Great Replacement conspiracy. In this narrative, the Elites (code for Jewish people, although that is sometimes overt and sometimes elided) are bringing in hordes of non-white and non-Christian immigrants to replace the “native” population, meaning white Christians rather than First Nations of course.

This is rhetoric amplified regularly by Tucker Carlson with the Murdochs apparently acquiescent according to another NYT study. On the Murdoch’s television station, the Jewish element is omitted, but it is clear that the white nationalists and Neo Nazis who celebrate Carlson’s work know the code. This same rhetoric is far more overt on the less “mainstream” Right media outlets. (One, Newsmax, recently found its limit when former CBS journalist Lara Logan described the Replacement as “Satan’s way of taking control of the world” and also asserted that the Elites orchestrating this “dine on the blood of children.”) The constant messaging has created an America where roughly 7 in 10 Republicans believe demographic change is being intentionally orchestrated for political gains.

With the preference of the majority of US voters for live and let live social policies, the Democrats’ resultant support for libertarian social positions has given the radical right the main rhetorical weapon with which to thrash them. Republican politicians and their fellow-travelling media are depicting groups that are not “traditional” as a threat to Americans’ way of life. Not only are the non-white and non-Christian immigrants a danger, but the fact that they, feminists and LGBTQI people have demanded equality is apparently an existential crisis.

The rise of the overlapping Christian Nationalist (and/or Christian Fascist) movement has shaped the dialogue of the movement. They use literal “devil terms” to demonise the centre and left. The fight is presented as a metaphysical battle between good and evil and there can be no compromise.

Stochastic terrorism inspired by this terror-messaging has killed too many at synagogues, mosques, black churches and in minority neighbourhoods. Women have also been targeted by so-called incel terrorist attacks. The decades of work by the religious right to take over the Republican Party has come to fruition in the shutting down of access to abortion in great swathes of the nation (driven in part by the Great Replacement-provoked efforts to lift the homegrown birthrate). The same Great Replacement fears about fertility are part of the attacks on LGBTQI people that currently issue from the tweets, sermons, laws and violence of the right.

The fact that America has long birthed an armed militia movement on the Right makes it far more dangerous. The many armed veterans of the military and law enforcement arguably pose greater risk than the armed LARPers that expand their threat. The number of far right and activist veterans in Australia remains small but concerning.

The same rhetoric that prevails about Biden’s government is applied to the Albanese government here. Political and media figures lead the “devil terms” and they are echoed around social media. The government is “socialist” or even “communist” and “destroying our way of life.” The centre is described as rabid “left” and the left is depicted as an existential danger to “traditional” Australia. This ludicrous depiction of the centre by Coalition figures, by News Corp, by One Nation and the UAP, radically distorts their base’s thinking.

The same vulnerable groups targeted in the US are targeted here. A Queer event in a Melbourne park was recently intimidated by Neo Nazis as they regularly do in the US. While our radical right is, at this point, less of a threat to life, it is deeply inspired by the rhetoric and strategies of the American version. We must be alert to the future risks.

Australia lacks any substantial contrary media voice to counter the messaging from our largely right-leaning media. America is large enough to sustain a more varied voice to challenge this dystopian consensus.

For that reason, it is particularly dangerous to see the NYT aid the radical right by gaslighting readers, describing “both sides” as using extremist language. One side is actually describing the Republican’s extremism, whereas the other side is deploying the most dangerous of rhetorical tools. People have begun to die in what might come to be defined as the opening salvos of a new, messier civil war.

 

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Australians must not ignore the Religious Right’s global warnings

Australians have begun to see the new face of extreme religion in our “conservative” politics. The international influences are varied and interconnected. These radical forces are not a private feature in politicians’ lives, but threaten the freedoms we value. It is only through better understanding the global impacts that we can protect our democracy.

There was jubilation around Australia at the defeat of the Morrison government in May. Some rejoiced at ousting the man himself. For others the relief was inspired by the majority uniting against a government signifying climate inaction or corruption or misogyny. Scott Morrison’s insertion of American-style religion into the Australian civic space contributed to his loss. If Australians had understood how alien this ideology is, it would have been much more central. The defeat of Morrison, however, is not the end of that religious intrusion into Australian “conservative” politics; it is part of the global phenomenon of reactionary Religious Right authoritarianism. In the month Morrison left the Lodge, the American majority was reeling at the implications of the leaked Supreme Court decision on Roe v Wade. In Europe, Queer Ukrainians were finding themselves pincered between the deep sexual stigma that pervades the culture of the invading Russians as well as the countries like Poland and Hungary where many are finding refuge. The Australian Religious Right draws on the power of the global movement’s successes like the Dobbs decision. It becomes more dangerous in its merging with secular bigotries and reactionary forces. Reflecting global political trends, it works not for “the next election, but the next generation.” It, and the culture wars that harness its votes, will not be backbenched with Morrison.

It is not only the faith-driven that make Religious Right politics a threat. These forces are bolstered by marriages of convenience between apparently incompatible forces. Secular libertarian members of the Republican Party embrace social conservatism and even perform devotion to faith to draw in the energised Religious Right voting bloc. British Tories are a dominant model for the Australian secular Right politicians with their boisterous “war on woke” which carries out overlapping attacks without the religious foundation. LGBTQI people and reproductive rights are the crucial targets for the interlinked movements. Trans people’s existence provides the wedge towards driving all LGBTQI people back into the closet. Britain has fallen from first to 14th place in LGBTQI rights rankings in only seven years, concurrent with the Tories’s Brexit debacle. Attacks on feminism from the traditional sex-role obsession of the Religious Right and defensive traditionalism of the secular Right are underpinning attacks on access to abortion. Driving women back out of the civic space and into the home is a shared passion. These campaigns are expanded in daily retail politics through disingenuous Right Wing media outlets in their culture war battles against the Left.

For less faith-driven “conservative” politicians, religion can also be deployed as a core characteristic of an embattled – mythical – national culture. Throughout the West this manifests as denoting Christianity as an integral component of Western Civilisation, also coded as White.(1) Any attention granted to First Nations or non-White people within the Right’s self-defined White nations is defined as divisive rather than reparatory. Reversing the various gains of the civil rights era is the goal. The blending of misogyny and various bigotries into the “conservative” supporter base draws misogynist Men’s Rights activists and White Supremacists into the cohort. There is a strong thread of this in Australian “conservative” politics with Tony Abbott (alongside his Budapest posse) as the most obvious warrior in defence of “Western Civilisation.” In Australia, we recently saw Bob Katter and Pauline Hanson touting their sudden interest in our Christian roots, with Katter even emulating Trump holding a bible aloft. This was posed as a rebuttal to Labor discussing a First Nations Voice to Parliament as well as the question of the relevance of Christian prayer in a secular Parliament. Inclusion is depicted as a destruction of all the glories of tradition. Diversity is an existential threat.

Pentecostal implacability

Given that the Australian “conservatism” has modelled itself particularly on its American partners for decades now, the US provides us with a critical warning. In America, the electoral contest is no longer a tussle between competing political platforms and styles; Religious Right dominance of the “conservative” party has made democracy literally impossible. Ezra Klein has analysed the current polarisation of their politics and noted that the overlap of many aspects of social identity has made political ideology far more tribal than it was historically. More problematic than that, however, is the certainty in Religious Right politics that the Left is an existential threat with no right to form government. While conservative Catholics and other faiths buttress the causes of the Religious Right in America, its dicta are dominated by Evangelical/Pentecostal tenets.(2) In this version of Christianity, Dominionism is central. This is the idea that Evangelical versions of Christianity must dominate the Seven Mountains of the civic space including government. The purity of the nation must be legislated and enforced. Within this cosmology, a secular state is a Satanic obstacle. Perhaps worse is the fact that natural disasters are seen as harbingers of End Times, so the more dramatic the impacts of the climate emergency, the more rapidly purified the nation must be.

The degree to which the growing Pentecostal movement is a poor fit with democracy requires understanding. Most institutions preach “spiritual warfare” where “literal demons” are present in people and events. Trump’s neo-charismatic “personal pastor,” Paula White, preached that Trump was fighting “a worldwide demonic conspiracy.” In this fringe world, LGBTQI people smell of demons and African and Asian sorcerers are a threat. Catholics and Mormons are said to practise dark magic. They argue that places and institutions such as bureaucracies, universities and journalism itself can be taken over by demonic forces. Spiritual warriors saw the Republican red of the map illustrating Trump’s victory as showing the “blood of Jesus” cleansing America’s sins. His election signified the looming overthrow of “Jezebel,” the literal demonic spirit behind reproductive and LGBTQI rights. The fantastical ideas that are compulsory parts of faith in these churches ready its adherents to accept other fantasies. In the pandemic era, the rapid growth of QAnon pervaded the evangelical churches, evident in Pentecostal Scott Morrison’s apology for “ritual” child abuse in Australia. QAnon’s focus on evil progressive elites stealing children was a comfortable fit for a faith that sees progressive political parties as evil. Much of the Trump support has taken on a religious devotional tone where he is the new saviour from the demonic Left.

Most Pentecostal/Evangelical traditions furthermore believe in a Rapture or Millennial Kingdom which destroys any impetus to tackle the climate crisis. Looming “End Times” create enormous anxiety about current moral status, but not about the future of the planet. This majority believes that storms and plagues are further signs of the imminence of the desired Premillennial moment. Geopolitical tensions arising from climate pressures will only be interpreted as more apocalyptic signs. Global action involves working with global political entities. Global entities, however, are depicted as aligned with the Antichrist. This is compounded by strategists within the fossil fuel sector driving Evangelicals to embrace these mineral resources as God’s gift which it would be ungrateful to leave in the ground. Rational debate is scotched in the face of divine mandate.

In this worldview, progressives are “godless.” Secularism is still linked to Communism. The freedom they demand is not “freedom from” but “freedom to.” The freedom to “force others to be free” only possible by “obedience to one narrow understanding of God’s plan.” Secular freedom, by contrast, leads to “chaos” and authoritarianism because tolerance is an imposition. The Evangelical movement’s pressure on American politics is such that no movement to protect equal rights is safe. The purity mission drives illogical policy making as well as being harmful to individuals within the churches. The attack on LGBTQI rights is such that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labelled a number of these lobby groups and churches as hate groups. The Dobbs decision overturning Roe v Wade and the resultant extremity of several states’ abortion laws illustrates the degree to which reproductive-aged women and AFAB people will be constrained and surveilled. Removing access to contraceptives has been raised too. The implication is that women’s access to the civic space will be revoked by uncontrolled fertility, and LGBTQI existence will be erased either visibly or actually.

This is not a movement that thinks in election cycles. It has taken almost a century for American businessmen and preachers appalled by atheist communism to make over the Republican Party as a Christian Libertarian force. Civic programs and civil rights were seen as the work of the enemy, crushing liberty. The government had no place in replacing elective charity with state programs. Instead of the sexual tolerance of libertarianism, however, this ideology is controlling. Socially, reactionary White Christians wanted their wives obedient, Segregation in place and their youth docile and chaste. Racism was inherent in White Evangelical churches, and a toxic emphasis on women’s purity and submission accompanied this. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority took the decision to unify the movement over the issue of abortion and it became a powerful force against political liberalism through the 1980s. Together with Billy Graham they brought Christian Libertarianism and the Evangelical bloc ever closer to the levers of power.

Pentecostal/Evangelicals are now central to Republican power. Donald Trump received 80% of the white Evangelical vote in 2016 and 75% in 2020. They form 35% of the Republican coalition. Trump’s personal sins are dismissed in the pursuit of the rewards he could grant for their loyalty. In 2022 his demographic offers even more fervent support for his Big Lie with the convergence between Evangelicals and Qanon followers. The labels Christian Nationalist and even Christian Fascist are being embraced by the MAGA Right now. Trump surrounded himself with Evangelical and conservative Catholic figures. He achieved the primary goal of this coalition when he handed them control of the Supreme Court, one of America’s primary law-making institutions. The Federalist Society which gave Trump the names to place on the court is led by Opus Dei-linked Leonard Leo who has packed the court with “radical schismatic Catholics.”

#TradCaths and Rad Trads

Support for Evangelical positions comes from besieged “Rad Trad” Catholics in the Religious Right coalition who believe the Catholic church has been subverted from within. For some, Pope Francis’s institution is an “an antichristic church.” Others believe that he represents “the replacement of Catholicism with a globalist, multicultural “eco-theology,” grounded in socialism.” It is out of this fear and anger that Archbishop Viganò wrote to Donald Trump in 2020 supporting a Qanon-infused crusade against the liberal elite. This crusade is intricately intertwined with a European defence of “Judeo-Christian values” and of Western Civilization. These are coded messages in the White Supremacist perception that that old Europe is being overwhelmed by an Islamogauche (progressives aligned with Muslims) takeover.

Bill Barr, Trump’s last Attorney General, delivered an address at Notre Dame university in 2019 that illustrated the anxieties in ultra conservative Catholic circles. The “militant secularists” were executing a “campaign to destroy the traditional moral order.” All kinds of “social pathology” were undermining America as a result of this progressive war on the “traditional Judeo-Christian moral system.” Groups like Church Militant present a crusader model of Catholicism which fights alongside Evangelical Christians for an end to abortion and a return to “traditional” sex roles. Church Militant is also fighting alongside Groypers – the White Supremacist trolls and thugs that threaten anyone depicted as Other, who are becoming more overtly religious in their rhetoric.

The Christian Libertarian ideology is present in this Catholicism too. Steven Bannon, Trump ally, represents the most extreme libertarian position as well as ultra conservative Catholicism. His economic position was captured in his fostering what he described as Trump’s “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Bannon embraced this as part of his anarcho-capitalist project to destroy the system. He was posited as the antithesis to the Pope in the battle for Catholic allegiance and was at the forefront of the resistance to a diverse and inclusive church, as well as America. Bannon actively worked to spread Neo Nazi messaging in his time as Breitbart executive.

European Nativist/Religious fascism

This trend coincides with a worldwide resurgence of authoritarian regimes. In classic fascist mode, a central feature is intolerance and bigotry associated with the defence of a mythical past of national glory. Religion is a key component of the culture defended, of a homogenous nation these movements believe can be recreated if only its defenders are ruthless enough. It not only excludes those who are of different “race” and religio-cultural traditions, but also the liberal and inclusive blocs within the state. The coercive push to dictate how private lives are lived, and what life choices become criminalised, is central to these populist authoritarian forces. The defence of “family values” or “traditional culture” is used to justify persecution of the targeted “out groups” in typical fascist identity politics style. These regimes depict theoretically traditional roles for women and the exclusion of LGBTQI people as critical for public safety, community, and even national security. This is true in Russia, Republican America, Poland, Hungary, and Brazil. This trend is not limited to Christian nations. Modi’s “Hindu India” vision, for instance, embraces the same “tradition” justifications for oppression.

Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant traditions all become part of a Christian fight for a West they believe to be at risk of destruction. Last year in his state of the nation address, Russian Orthodox Putin declared the “Spiritual and moral values which some countries have started to forget have made us stronger, and we will always defend them.” Both ultra conservative Catholics and American Evangelicals have seen Putin – and his Hungarian Reformed Church echo, Orban – as a hero fighting back against the marauding non-whites, liberals, perverts and feminists of the modern world. Bannon factions in Catholicism revive the belief in Moscow as the Third Rome, believing that Putin’s Russia can be a bulwark against secular modernism. Pat Buchanan speculated that Putin might give the keynote speech at the World Congress of Families a few years back, summarising the perception: Putin’s stalwart fight for the “family values” campaign contrasted shamefully with an America that had capitulated to “a sexual revolution of easy divorce, rampant promiscuity, pornography, homosexuality, feminism, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, assisted suicide – the displacement of Christian values by Hollywood values.” Russian and American Evangelical “family values” groups have been working together since the 1990s. Having fought back their own godless totalitarian regime, nationalist Orthodox Christians tell their fellow “family value” activists that the Russians have the ability to help the Westerners defeat the new liberal totalitarianism. (This extreme end of the Republican Party also supports his invasion of Ukraine which is characterized as a defence of Christian Russia from Western weakness and homosexual dissolution.)

These prejudices permeate society in the former USSR. The Tokyo Olympic coverage in Russia featured derogatory talk about the taint of “perverts” and “psychopaths” at the games. Commentators complained in horror at LGBTQI athletes, who should be segregated into their own games away from wholesome athletes. Parliamentarians joined in expressing their disgust. In Russia’s neighbour Georgia, the 2013 “pogrom” against the LGBTQI rights parade is celebrated in these circles. Levan Vasadze, Georgia’s “family-values superhero” described it as the day Georgians “pushed back against the agents of the Western ‘totalitarian dictatorship of liberalism.’” The totalitarianism these former Iron Curtain dwellers – and their Western allies – imagine is characterised as the “total exclusion of religion and religious thought.” Within this international “family values” army there is absolutely no space to allow LGBTQI existence. In their essay on this united movement in 2015, journalist and author Masha Gessen interviewed the man about to lead the World Congress of Families. This took place two years after Gessen moved from Russia to America to protect their rainbow family. They asked him if they gave up some of the rights and freedoms that, effectively, marked them as equal, could they live alongside his Christian family in amity. He said starkly: “No.”

The accelerated changes of the modernising world have been particularly challenging for the countries long kept isolated by the Iron Curtain. Modern nations in the West embracing diversity in changes such as the legalising of same-sex marriage is only part of the challenge. The exodus from the Middle East and Africa of those displaced by climate and geopolitical crises (often created or exacerbated by Western interventions – regime change, military incursions, World Bank strictures) has added to the tensions in Eastern and Western Europe. Manipulated by Right-Wing movements and parties, “offering visions of a simpler, better society: a return to a romanticised vision of the nation,” the discomfort with rapid change is funnelled into virulent bigotry. This draws on 19th century quasi-religious conceptions of the nation with moral qualities implicit: the “cultural nation” was seen as rooted in religion, the most important of the “cultural goods.”(3) The “third wave” of radical Right activity in Europe brought religion back onto its agenda. Religion has become part of distinct version of ultra-nationalism and, to some degree, a cause of it. This is the identity politics that is invisible to the mainstream, linking conservatives and the radical Right.

While the radical Right’s identity politics is distinctly national, it is international too. Orban’s ideological influence is visible in Australian “conservative” circles. On the weekend of Morrison’s defeat in Australia, the hard right American “conservative” conference CPAC was hosted in Budapest. The attendees represent the most radical and Trumpian end of their political movement, gathered in the country that overtly represents their goal for home. Orban models virulent defence of Christian and Western civilisation in his overt focus on ethnic homogeneity. Elected originally as the cool leader of the youth party, he now instead boasts of making Hungary an “illiberal democracy.” Western liberalism represents weakness, miscegeny and immorality. CPAC’s organiser described Hungary as “one of the bastions of the conservative resistance to the ultraprogressive ‘woke’ revolution.” Orban opened the conference calling for the assembled to unite. “We need to find friends, and we need to find allies. We need to coordinate the movement of our troops, because we have a big challenge ahead of us.” They share the sense that the Great Replacement is a real threat: Jewish forces are importing Third World immigrants to replace the White Christian patriots. At home in America, the New York Times reports that the Murdochs are complacent about their chief pundit regularly promoting the theory. They also report that Australian News Corp editors are taking their instructions from Carlson’s show. Carlson made the CPAC visit possible when he broadcast for a week from Budapest in 2021, celebrating authoritarian order. Orban appeared at the Dallas CPAC event in August, repeating these toxic sentiments but will leave that to his acolytes in the Sydney CPAC to take place in October.

Australia

This decade of Coalition government in Australia has been deeply shaped by the international radical Right. The influence comes from the top through opulently-funded thinktanks to the mass’s conspiracy wild-lands, connected by internet platforms. The demographics are entwined by the Right’s media ecosphere fomenting panics across the socio-economic and educational strata. They infuse a mixture of deep belief and shared strategy. The manifestation of the battle and its constant effort to radicalise are focused in “culture wars” about distortions of trivial examples of liberal speech. Its bigotry has been on display from decades of abuse of refugees exercising their right to seek safe haven through to the cynical deployment of transphobia in the 2022 election. These bigotries reflect cultural anxieties amongst conservative groups but are justified and cleansed by an association with religious doctrine and superiority.

In Australia, the combined ethnonationalist and religious fearmongering has been domesticated into the Coalition’s own policies and messaging. The growth of the Religious Right faction in the parties has come to the fore over Morrison’s tenure. Its most divisive manifestation in this last term was the attempt to pass a religious discrimination bill. The core aim of the bill was to allow religious groups, dissatisfied by the passing of marriage equality legislation, the ability to discriminate according to the tenets of their faith. In the final week of the campaign, Morrison not only reignited talk of the bill, but allegedly had transphobe Katherine Deves’s campaign out of his office. Niki Savva described moderate Liberals as believing Morrison was aiming to purge the party of the figures described as “bedwetters.” Labor stepped carefully through the landmine of the religious discrimination debate. It had traditionally been a home of a working-class Catholic vote in Australia and retains politicians from that socially conservative demographic. Apparently, Anthony Albanese worked constantly communicating with progressive and faith-driven parliamentarians to unite to negotiate a path created to wedge them. Their goal was a version that would protect faith communities of all kinds without the harmful aspects of the bill.(4) Now fringe “conservative” politicians to the right of the main parties are working with conspiracy groups such as the “freedom” network, where Pentecostal religion is evident too.

In Australia, conservative religious movements have been recorded as branch-stacking LNP branches. Candidates are selected that do not reflect the values of the party or of the region to be represented. The result is that to vote “conservative” can mean to vote Religious Right. The campaign to co-opt the Victorian Liberal Party in particular has been documented in the press. In 2017 and 2018 journalists recorded factional opposition to Mormons, conservative Catholics and Pentecostal groups targeting branches. The current campaign sees a number of very conservative preselections in the face of an attempt by the party to present itself as a progressive choice. The most notable is Moira Deeming who represents anti-trans and anti-abortion politics and was considered too extreme by Scott Morrison’s federal bloc. Last week, a new report emerged of stacking and attempts to take positions in the party’s internal state assembly.

An Existential Threat

The combined forces of religious extremism with religion as a central cultural attribute of a mythical national identity makes it a deeply dangerous force, with any groups in the community marked as a threat to the imagined homogeneity of the traditional nation targeted for increasingly ugly retribution. This perilous bigotry is used to garner support for hollowing out democracy in the interests of controlling diversity. The divisions and resulting democratic recession are disastrous in the face of the climate emergency. As the mainstream political Right becomes more colonised by these interconnected radical forces, it cripples the national and international ability to act on crises that threaten even human civilisation. As governments fail us, people in their desperation and anxiety turn to counterproductive “solutions.” The disasters and pressures inherent in the climate emergency serve to pour energy into the movements that most cripple our ability to minimise or respond to the challenges. Pentecostal religion in particular is tied to authoritarian movements around the world.

Progressives in Australia as elsewhere tend to focus on shorter term goals and risk much by ignoring the long-term strategising of the Right. The origins of the American radical Right’s production of the current moment’s crises can be sited in the Cold War, or even the Civil Rights era, depending on the narrative. Justice Samuel Alito’s majority decision in the Dodd case that overthrew Roe is only one of the cataclysms. Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence illustrates that he sees parallel precedents that made homosexuality legal and access to contraceptives possible should be overthrown too. Leading Republicans are now discussing making abortion illegal nationwide when they next hold power and moves to reverse LGBTQI equality have also been mooted. These impositions of extreme religious morality on a majority that does not support them are a culmination of years of work by political entrepreneurs of the Evangelical minority, bolstered by conservative Catholics. Legislating minority morality is only possible by undermining democracy. These same forces are at work in Australia, their enthusiasm to strip rights from Others within the nation galvanised by their peers’ success in America. The Coalition’s disdain for women in the civic space was a key factor in their May defeat. Their attacks on the nature of our democracy were legion. They continue to focus on American-style culture war battles to gin up the base even in the clear evidence of the disaster it has caused there. In concert with radicalised ethno-nationalist figures who see Christianity as a core marker of White Australian nationalism, the parties of the Australian Right are utterly infused with a toxic international Right’s concerns and strategies.

It is not just the rights of individuals but the (flawed) democracies that have gradually made room for civil rights for more groups than just property-owning White men that is at stake in the rise of the authoritarian Religious Right. These democracies are more likely than authoritarian regimes to protect the equality of Others, preventing the persecution and even the atrocities that religion-infused extremism can foster. Without data-driven secular governments, our capacity to tackle the climate emergency is crippled. It is critical that we perceive the risk that is reflected in the speeches of Scott Morrison to his Pentecostal audiences. It is not merely a foreign faith movement uncomfortably shoe-horned into our secular state; it is a threat of incalculable scope. We must work together to keep authoritarian religious radicalism out of our government.

(1) This is not limited to the West. Nor is Christianity the only faith drawn into the nativist nationalist trend. In India, the Hindutva movement aims to subdue all Indians within a Hindu nation with one faith and language. Shinto is central to a Japanese nationalist movement. Buddhism is key to Myanmar and Sri Lanka’s nationalist movements. Israel is self defining as a Jewish nation and imposing second class status on non-Jews within its borders.

(2) The overlaps and distinctions between Pentecostal and Evangelical protestant Christianity can be hard to delineate. The Pentecostal movement is the heart of the democratic crisis, with many churches infused with the Pentecostal ideas. It is the Pentecostal movement that is at the heart of the idea of Spiritual Warfare, Seven Mountains and Dominionism. Some Evangelical churches eschew these trends, but the overlap is strong particularly in the White Evangelical sphere. In the Trump and pandemic era, the American fashion has become strongly interwoven with QAnon and a deep devotion to Donald Trump. Elle Hardy’s account of the rapid growth of Pentecostalism around the world is important reading. Some institutions that are clearly Pentecostal deny the label because of the weight it has accrued. The most important unifying feature is the individual’s direct experience of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism is non-denominational and outside the traditional hierarchical Christian churches. Hardy estimates that globally 30% of Christians are now belong to the aberrant Pentecostal form of the faith and that by 2050, 1 in 10 people will belong to the movement.

(3) German historian Friedrich Meinecke writing in 1908 quoted in Michael Minkenberg’s chapter “Religion and the Radical Right” in the Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right. Minkenberg explores the complexity of religion as part of nationalism in increasingly secular societies.

(4) This was gleaned from a lengthy off-the-record conversation with a – then – Shadow ministerial staffer.

 

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The transphobia “moral” panic

People contributing to anti trans rhetoric are playing a much more dangerous game than they realise.

The current wave of anti-trans sentiment will lead to more violence and victimisation. Initially the attacks will hit people who are visibly trans women. Eventually, it will spread to anyone who is LGBTQI+. The same forces promoting this violence are those aiming to limit women’s rights, and ultimately purge their countries of unwelcome categories of people.

Be very sure you know what you are doing if you join in.

In America over one weekend in Pride Month alone, extremism monitors tracked “seven in-person extremist activities targeting LGBTQ people.” In the most dramatic event, 31 uniformed men in balaclavas were dragged from a U-Haul vehicle before they could create a “riot” at a Pride event in Idaho.

American political aspirants and preachers demanded death penalties for homosexuality in a year when 250 anti LGBTQI+ bills were introduced around that nation. In Ohio laws were passed that would allow the genital inspection of secondary and tertiary female student athletes. In Idaho, the law would make it a life-sentence felony for parents or doctors to help trans youth gain puberty delaying treatment, including making it a trafficking offence to take them out of the state in pursuit of medical care.

This hysteria feels much more extreme than in Australia, but as we saw on our streets over the pandemic, the violence of the turbulent world of American politics is brought here through internet swamps. Trump flags and nooses appeared in our street protests. Australians unknowingly appealed to American constitutional amendments for protection from health measures. Most Australians were shocked to see violent brawls with the police on our streets apparently emerging out of nowhere.

And in the global sewers of the internet, the reasons for the panic are clear. Of all the manifold bigotries that pervade the space, the one with the most convergence is that gay or trans people are pedophiles. That facts dismiss this as nonsense is no help; facts long since ceased having traction in this sphere.

This iteration of social contagion is not surprising. It is easier to absorb a “moral” panic when it confirms feelings of discomfort or incomprehension. Again, when it builds on earlier waves of “moral” panic, the new variant can confirm previous prejudice.

The “save our children” hysteria of the QAnon movement crescendoed in the worst of the pandemic. Lonely and frightened people sat at home on their computers absorbing a fantasy built on earlier waves of child stealing (and sacrificing) panics. Some of the people caught up in the QAnon cult would have been immersed in the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s where childcare operators were persecuted over baseless accusations of mass child abuse. QAnon proved they hadn’t been fools to believe.

The trans panic of this moment calls upon earlier fear and horror at the existence of Queer people in general. It was only in 1994 that mainland Australia legalised homosexuality, with Tasmania following three years later. The religious campaign against marriage equality during the postal vote in 2017 harnessed all the risks and threats that conservative Australians might dread.

The success of the equality vote brought change. Queer people in Australia described feeling accepted and finally welcome as part of the community. People felt newly safe to hold hands with their partner in the street.

These changes are recent and fragile. The Religious Right is fighting hard to limit equality, then ultimately to reverse it. This is most clearly apparent in the United States, but Australia saw Scott Morrison’s faction echoing its strategies. His religious discrimination bill aimed to grant religious groups the right to practise discrimination. In the election, Morrison’s decision to harness Katherine Deves’s feminist transphobia aimed to draw in a fresh base for his religious bigotry.

*And this feminist support for transphobia needs to be seen for what it is. How the far right is turning feminists into fascists” traces the trajectory from some early radical feminist movements to the new anti-trans “feminism.” It is as likely to celebrate women for their child-bearing capacity as it is to echo ethnonationalist ideas. While feminisms are a broad range of beliefs, this kind seems grim.

The American Religious Right which Scott Morrison aimed to inject into Australian politics is infused with the theocratic belief in the absolute necessity for Evangelical/Pentecostal Christians to purify society. Christian Nationalism demands that all sexual activity in the state is procreative and within marriage. All men must be strong patriarchs. All women must be submissive wives. The Religious Right has not, however, placed itself at the centre of American “conservative” politics by being clumsy. It has deployed any strategy to achieve its aims, and encouraging women outside the churches to define their value in their reproductive capacity has been useful. It both works to aid the Religious Right’s war on women’s reproductive freedom as well as gaining allies against the LGBTQI+ people who would blur the boundaries.

They have convinced a sizeable proportion of America that progressives demand abortion up to the point of birth. The ludicrous parallel distortion is the depiction of trans women as a threat to other women. Both nightmare boogeymen prevent rational discussion of the issue, but rational discussion was never the goal.

The issue in America is driven from the top by well-funded Christian Libertarian thinktanks, and from the ground in the post-QAnon MAGA base. Republican politicians believe they have the key to minority rule in juggling these interest groups. In Australia, the nascent Religious Right is regrouping after Scott Morrison’s defeat. The secular version of their talking points is being amplified on Sky News, funnelled free-to-air into the regions.

When decent Australians allow themselves to be carried along by the wave of this moral panic, they are not defending women. What they are doing is becoming caught up on the rational-sounding fringes of a hysteria that will lead to violence.

The overlapping groups attacking LGBTQI+ people in America include Christian fascists and post QAnon conspiracy theorists alongside a range of other extremist factions. Anti-LGBTQI action has overtaken all the other cross-pollination opportunities” like CRT, pandemic health measures and abortion access.

The violence in Australia is unlikely to look like militia in U-Hauls, but how many bashings or murders would be acceptable? The attack on trans people – or abortion – are not ends in themselves but trojan horse missions with the aim to replace our democratic projects with theocracy, and our freedoms to shape our lives with stringent rules of chaste behaviour.

We need to work together, just like the overlapping groups that despise us.

 

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Australia versus USA on social housing – how do we compare?

By Dr Heather Holst

On a recent trip to the USA I was struck by the progress being made nationally to solve the homelessness crisis. A few major cities were proudly declaring they had ended veteran homelessness, while others claimed to have ended homelessness completely in their communities.

As deputy CEO of a major homelessness agency in Melbourne I was keen to understand how a country with a strong aversion to social welfare and government intervention seemed to be accepting a level of responsibility and even leadership in efforts to end homelessness.

I knew the US had a history of developing large scale affordable housing projects in several major cities. This was largely borne of the necessity to house a growing immigrant population and low income workforce throughout the early to mid-20th Century.

Much of the newer affordable housing development in the US is supported by low income housing tax credits provided to both not for profit and for profit organizations. For some large cities like New York the impetus for setting impressive targets like 200,000 new or reclaimed affordable housing properties by 2024 continues to relate to productivity and workforce.

New York Mayor Bill de Blaso has embarked on a serious campaign to boost affordable housing stock in that city by 200,000 because essential service workers like nurses, paramedics, and teachers have been priced out of the private rental market in that city. He also wants to provide housing for low income households (those earning under $24,000 a year) who have previously not qualified for ‘affordable housing’ because their income was too low.

Under de Blaso’s plan developers will adhere to mandated affordable housing quotas in where previously quotas were voluntary. The city will offer developers incentives such as the ability to increase the size of developments to compensate for the lower income generated from the affordable stock. It will also offer tax credits and other incentives for new construction. It will also extend financial assistance to landlords who offer or extend regulated rent to tenants that provides security of tenure.

In contrast Australia’s affordable housing stock has been rapidly shrinking in recent decades and all levels of Government have contributed to the crisis that we now find ourselves in. A combination of bad social policy, a lack of leadership at the federal level and a lack of planning and investment at the state and local levels has contributed to the housing crisis affecting hundreds of thousands of Australians today.

In 2011 Australia recorded a shortage of over half a million rental properties and working in the housing sector I can guarantee that number has increased since then. In Melbourne alone it is estimated that only 1% of rental properties are affordable for low income families.

A Senate inquiry into affordable housing in Australia reported in May this year that the market was not capable of solving the affordable housing crisis. The report was critical of the lack of a coordinated national response on this issue.

One of the findings that resonates with the success of the US model was the need to attract private investors into developing low cost housing. This will only be attractive to developers if incentives are offered along the line of the tax credits available to private investors in the US.

Despite cuts in federal affordable housing subsidy programs in the US, New York’s local government has prioritized a boost in supply through a coordinated effort involving 13 city agencies and buy in from more than 200 developers, and other interested parties. They have also committed $8.2 billion in public funds over 10 years to the plan.

The Low Income Housing Tax Credit in the US is part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Since its inception it has leveraged over $100 billion of private investment capital which has financed the development of 2.8 million homes for low income families.

It is now widely acknowledged now in Australia that housing affordability and homelessness are not marginal issues that we can continue to ignore in the hope that they will go away. There is no stereotype of ‘a homeless person’. While people from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds or those experiencing family violence, mental health or drug and alcohol issues continue to be hardest hit by the housing crisis in this country, it is increasingly impacting on middle class households.

So how can we learn from the US experience which is by no means perfect but has made significant inroads into a problem that really shouldn’t exist in wealthy, developed nations?
The most significant factor in the success of the US model is political leadership. This leadership comes from Washington and flows down to the states and local authorities who are taking up the challenge issued from the top to end homelessness in local communities.

The approach has been considered and well planned. Where it works best it incorporates well thought out public policy and strategic planning and financing from federal, state and local governments. It refocuses the issue of homelessness and housing affordability as an issue the whole community has a level of responsibility for.

I’m hopeful that Melbourne, with a Mayor who is genuinely concerned about homelessness and housing affordability and a strong philanthropic community that includes construction companies like Grocon, can come up with a New York style plan. It might not be as impressive in scale but it would send a message to Canberra and our neighbouring states that we are serious about an inclusive and humane future for our city. One that affords everyone the very basic right to safe, secure and affordable housing.

About the author: Launch Housing’s deputy CEO Heather Holst has worked in the housing sector since 1989. Heather joined HomeGround Services in 2009 as General Manager Client Services where she led the client services teams across all sites and programs.

Heather is passionate about ending homelessness and is committed to leading Launch Housing in working towards this mission.

Her housing experience spans homelessness service delivery, tenancy advocacy, homelessness policy, program development, research, rural homelessness service coordination in both the non-profit sector and government since 1989.

Heather co-authored the Opening Doors initiative and has contributed to key Victorian housing and homelessness innovations including the coordination of all services, transitional housing, standards, data, rights-based approaches and sector training.

Prior to working in the housing sector, Heather worked in the publishing industry for Penguin Books as a sales representative and then as reader and copy editor and for the Australian Women’s Book Review as business manager.

Heather has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Melbourne. She has published scholarly articles, book chapters and a book, Making a Home: A History of Castlemaine. She taught history for several years at Australian Catholic University, including in the Clemente program for people who have been homeless.

 

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Hypothetical: What would you do if . . . ? (Part One)

Geoffrey Robertson’s recent appearance on Q and A reminded me of the value of considering a situation through the eyes of another via a hypothetical situation…

Here’s one to have a go at by:

  1. Reading the Hypothetical (and extremely fictional) story.
  2. Considering the three options.
  3. Checking out the ‘Things to consider’ section. And then….
  4. Voting for the option you would choose if you were walking in this person’s shoes.
    (And of course, if you are so inclined – post a comment below the article with the
    reasons you selected a particular option.)

Let’s get the conversation started….

1. Hypothetical (and extremely fictional) story:

It’s early 2016. Sticking with his promise to continue with Abbott’s policies on climate change, Malcolm Turnbull and his new Immigration Minister share a ‘private’ Joke about our Pacific Island neighbours soon being underwater. In keeping with tradition, they do this in front of a microphone while waiting for a press conference to start and their joke is broadcast to the world.

Once they realise they’ve been heard, they immediately apologise PDuddy-style, saying “We’re sorry some of you didn’t find our joke funny.”

When the President of Kiribati hears about this, he is furious. “Let’s see how Australians like losing their country” he shouts and storms out to Kiribati’s little known [because it’s fictional] nuclear missile launch base. With the press of a few large red buttons marked ‘Danger’ and ‘Are you really sure?”, he launches a nuclear strike on all Australia’s major cities.

Within an hour, just over 80% of Australia’s population is wiped out, and nuclear fallout threatens the remaining 20% by turning Australia into a nuclear wasteland.

The only Australian Territory not impacted by the attack is Christmas Island. Luckily the ABC regional radio network withstood the blast, and regional broadcasters advise that all surviving Australians should make their way to a specific list of small ports around the Australian coastline where Australian naval vessels will collect survivors and transport you to Christmas Island. The UNHCR is on there way to Christmas Island and will be setting up tents for survivors to live in.

You, your partner and kids were holidaying at a coastal resort up north when the missiles hit. The resort is a long way from any major cities, so you survived the blast and haven’t yet felt any effects. But you know that your home in Perth is gone – blown to pieces. And with nuclear fallout spreading across the country, you need to start working out what you and your family are going to do next.

Then you learn that the US is sending in planes to pick up American survivors who are also staying at the same resort as you. Some of them suggest that you and your family should go back to the USA with them. But having left your passports at home, you’d have to go without the proper travel documents and claim asylum once you reached America. You have no idea whether they would accept you since they, like Australia, are not all that keen on people seeking refuge in their country. And as all Australian banks have been wiped out, and Australian currency now has no value, you would head there with no money and no way to support yourself and your family.

2. Your options

Option one : Stay where you are – in the coastal resort, and try and make a living there. But if nuclear fallout doesn’t get you, it’s possible that further attacks from the irritated Kiribati President will.

Option two: Make your way to one of the designated departure ports and go to Christmas island. But you’ve already been warned that there may be as many as four million people there – all trying to fit into 135 square kilometers. Plus, there’s no guarantee Kiribati won’t try to finish the job and attack Christmas Island at a later date.

Option three: Try and sneak onto one of the US planes sent to rescue American citizens, and hope you can get to America and seek asylum there, knowing that they may very well turn you around and send you back. Or lock you up in a Detention Centre.

3. Things to consider – stories from the real world

In the real world, being forced to flee your home due to war or conflict is not hypothetical for many people – it is very real. In fact, in 2014 some 42,500 people per day were forced to flee their homes in order to seek safety elsewhere.

Unsurprisingly, just as most Australians love Australia, and would be reluctant to leave here – many people who are forced by conflict to flee their homes stay in their national country and try to find somewhere safer, hoping that one day they can return to their home town/city.

At the end of 2014, according to the UNHCR there were 38.2 million people who had fled their homes but stayed in their home country. They are classified by the UN as Internally Displaced People or ‘IDP’s.

TOPSHOTS A Kurdish Syrian woman walks with her child past the ruins of the town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on March 25, 2015. Islamic State (IS) fighters were driven out of Kobane on January 26 by Kurdish and allied forces. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL

A Syrian woman walks with her child past the ruins of her home town of Kobane in March 2015. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL

The most common reason for IDPs having to flee their home currently is attack by non-state armed (or terrorist) groups such as ISIS or the Lord’s Resistance Army (a Christian extremist group in Uganda seeking to rule Uganda according to Old Testament law).

Where they can, IDPs stay with family in other locations within their home country. Others stay in camps – some run by their governments and some by the UN. But often they are forced to flee from location to location as local conflicts escalate.

A relatively small number of people who flee their homes subsequently seek asylum elsewhere. In 2014, according to the UNHCR, 1.7 million people left their home country to seek asylum elsewhere – although this number is likely to be much larger in 2015 due to increased warfare in Syria alone.

By way of example, at the end of 2014 there were 7.6 million IDPs in Syria. Unfortunately fewer than 3% of them were in official camps. The rest were staying with family, host families or renting accommodation for as long as they could afford to do so. But as the conflict escalates, more and more of them have no choice but to cross the borders of Syria and seek asylum or refuge in another country – which is why we’re seeing the scenes of Syrian refugees in Europe right now, desperately trying to find a country to take them in.

(You can read more about the plight of Internally Displaced Persons around the globe here.)
4. What option would you choose and why?

So what would you do if you were in the hypothetical person’s shoes above? Would you stay on the Australian mainland, and take your chances avoiding radiation poisoning and further attacks? Would you head up to Christmas Island – the last remaining non-nuked part of Australia, and hope that all 4 million surviving Aussies can fit there. Or would you and your family try to sneak onto the plane to America and seek refuge there?

Lodge your vote below:

[polldaddy poll=9085462]

And don’t forget to add any comments or thoughts you have about why you chose a particular option below.

A quick note on my choice of hypothetical story…In case you’ve had better things to do than think about hypothetical situations before, the purpose is to try to imagine what you would do in a completely different set of circumstances to those that you are normally faced with. In this instance, I have deliberately picked a highly unlikely and somewhat ridiculous situation, because I want the focus to be on the options, rather than the story itself. So try to see past the fact that it is pretty much impossible that Kiribati would nuke Australia, and consider what it would be like if something did happen to your home and your city more broadly which meant you had no choice but to leave and seek refuge elsewhere.

 

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.