Constructive Ambiguity: Stormont, Trump and the Forcers of Freedom

By Conchuir Mac Siacais

The resurgence of the far-right is well and truly under way. The election of Donald Trump, and the decision to Brexit, encapsulate this. The values that underpin this political ideology have been emerging slowly, quietly, and carefully, over the past forty or so years. This has been exacerbated during much of the last decade. There are countless examples of this, but Ken Loach and Paul Laverty epitomize the worst of the values associated with this ideology in their 2016 film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’. Considering that these values are very much alive and gaining traction, we can refute Francis Fukuyama’s notion of ‘The End of History’, or the end of ideologies. History never ends, so the need for ideology remains constant.

There are two reasons in particular worth considering when evaluating the rise of the ideology of the far-right. The first is the recession of 2008, which happened almost a decade ago now. Caused by the destructive and largely irresponsible economic policies, of a star-crossed, self-indulgent cast of self-reinforcing corrupt and greedy, politicians and financiers. The second reason; the West’s foreign policy of destabilisation in the Middle East. This policy, through creating perpetual war, misery and poverty in the region, has helped galvanize, and now acts alongside radical Islam, in fuelling the current immigration crisis.

Trump and his friends, alongside the Bushes, Hillary, Bill, and the general neoliberal political class they collectively represent, oversaw both of these catastrophes. They believe in nothing, really, except the accumulation of private profit, power, and assets. I see no significant differences, for example, between Clinton, Bush, and Obama, no game changers, yet their minor differences are painted miles apart in the media. This gives the illusion of political diversity. It is within these limited parameters that a coercive establishment manufactures our consent.

 

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 Presidents all in a row

The Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacque Rousseau (1712-1778), commonly accepted as the founder of Romanticism, influenced much of the Enlightenment thinking across Europe in the eighteenth century. He has subsequently inspired countless generations of Western thought. Every dictator, from Hitler and Mussolini, to Stalin, has taken advantage of his monstrous paradox. In the enigma, that are his writings, he presents notions of the two selves. The natural self, that is good, humble, wise, and above all, rational, and, its antithesis, the unnatural self, which by the guidance of a more rational being, can attain the naturalness of the former. It is from this we get the utterance: ‘I Will Force You to Be Free’. This famous doctrine has led many people to believe, that most people, in fact, do not really know what they want. Therefore, by wanting on your behalf, I or we, the rational individual or group, can give to you, the irrational person or group, in some occult sense without knowing it yourselves, what you truly want.

So, with this Rousseauian concept in mind, for people to want something is not for them to want it at all, unless they want it in a certain way. Therefore, those who are rational, or natural, can tell those who are not, what is best for them. In this process, the following necessity arises; that irrational people are forced to become free, by surrendering their political and economic liberties, in seeking a higher truth or rational way of being, set by a centralised authority. This doctrine leads certain ‘rational’ groups and individuals to justify coercion in the name of their self-rationalised political ideal, or project. In its worst manifestation, this has led to compete servitude, as in the case of feudalism, colonialism and the slave trade, all of which, dehumanize. 

‘Constructive Ambiguity’, or ‘Creative Ambiguity’, a term largely attributed to Henry Kissinger, which refers to the intentional use of ambiguous language by political entities in order to advance specific political objectives, becomes a very useful tactic. In other words, by lying to the public, and in many cases, to regular party members, centralised power structures justify deception. In the process, debate becomes stifled, and in extreme cases, eradicated. Communities become disempowered, and everyone outside of centralised cliques, become victims of indifference. In a strange way, the forcers of freedom also become victims.

In reference to political censorship and the use of constructive ambiguity by political groups in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, a lifelong Irish Republican political activist, John Kelly, made the following remarks:

“I think that opening up the debate is healthy. The civil rights movement was a struggle against a police state that policed the words and thoughts of the people – and we cannot exchange one such system of political gagging for another. You cannot be a ‘subject’ of a political party; you have to be a ‘citizen’ of it”.

In the same interview, Mr. Kelly stated his unhappiness with the direction in which the Republican movement appeared to be moving, which he claimed involved the leadership of the movement failing to be frank with its grassroots members. He adds that prior to the Good Friday Agreement, “There was none of this business of creative ambiguity, or incremental compromise”. He continued, “I think it (creative ambiguity) devalued the very political process that we entered in to – the Good Friday Agreement. It devalued it and created distrust around it”.

In addition, in a book entitled, ‘The Common Good’, which was published at the same time the Good Friday Agreement was being signed, Professor Noam Chomsky highlights that:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum”.

Therefore, it remains true, that almost all Western governments embody the same destructive, negative, and anti-community values, which serve to maintain the status quo. The most blatant financial corruption in the history of the peace process, along with the political decisions taken against the LGBT and Irish Language communities, by members of the Stormont Executive, typifies the ineptness of the power-sharing arrangement at Stormont. It also remains true that the type of restricted and negative freedom afforded to us by the wise leaders of the right, the Blairite left, and other seemingly revolutionary vanguards, amounts to a strange, disempowering, and coercive type of freedom. One we must barter for security. One in which the opportunity for debate is significantly reduced, and in rare cases wherein open debate is permitted, it is conducted within limited parameters set by ‘experts’. This method of thinking leads to a limited form of freedom that, more often than not, renders the public, irrespective of the general will, helplessly and reluctantly complicit in the misery of the masses. The destruction and destabilization of the Middle East, for example.

 

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 Colin Powell addressing the UN Security Council 2003

 

Therefore, what we are currently experiencing is not the resurgence of the general political right; that has been long-established. What we are seeing now is more like the public unveiling, of the expertly veiled, mask of corruption. It is like seeing, for the first time in many years, the Trojan horse of fascism. A philosophy that has been lying, largely unnoticed, but ever-present under the surface of our Starbucks and selfie fuelled society; an overt emergence of sorts, of the inconspicuously situated anti-community-value-system that has been the main driving force behind the coercion of the left, the pacifying of the masses, and the rise of global inequality. All of which, are a direct result of the failures of the entire Western political class, since Thatcher and Reagan, including every Stormont executive since the Good Friday Agreement. This class, although occasionally assuming the guise of progressive government, willingly acts under the instructions of the ‘too-big-to-fails’, the IMF, and/or, the ‘1%’, whatever you prefer..

In light of this, it becomes apparent, that many destructive policies already existed within these plutocracies, before Trump was elected, which in fact, paved the way for him. Trump’s path therefore, was laid by Reagan, Thatcher, Bush Snr and Jnr, the Clintons, Blair, Obama, and of course, the banks, among others. The incestuous, profit-driven relationships that were developed during these administrations, between financiers and politicians, have created endless wars, and Victorian levels of inequality. These relationships, therefore, are as much to blame as anything or anyone for Trump, for Isis, and, for the rampant individualism that is destroying our chances of building more just and equal world.

 

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 Donald Trump US Presidential Campiagn 2016

 

Poverty, the ever-increasing gap between rich and poor, the dismantling of welfare support systems, and the privatisation of almost all of industry. These ills are a result of the political and economic policies, that so-called leaders have ushered in over the past four decades. The agenda of Wolfowitz and the crusaders for a New American Empire, have spawned Emperor Trump. Only by rejecting the narrow parameters constructed around public debate, which raises ever more fearful bogey men to terrify us all into passively accepting the Pax Americana, can we hope to persuade others that Emperor Trump really has no clothes.

Politicians, during the pre-Trump period, have therefore handed wholesale power to big business; this is neoliberalism. The dogmatic policies of this rampant form of capitalism, in effect, promote a type of market fundamentalism, an economic equivalent of the KKK. These policies, in turn, act to exacerbate wealth inequality and waste. They also mould into us, and our children, a more stringent form of individualism, which far exceeds a healthy care for oneself. Therefore, when thinking of this inflated individualism, we should recognise two important factors.

Firstly, we should recognise that this type of obsessive individualism is limited. And secondly, even though it is true that when we find ourselves in economic, political or social difficulties, and when we feel that we are alone and helpless, we naturally tend to feel isolated and weak; but we must, in spite of this, remember that there exists other ways of collectively experiencing the world, outside of the individual. This collective experience, however, must be transferred into action if we are to gain a sense of something larger than ‘I’. Either way, it is due to the policies that emerge, and the isolation that people feel, as a result of neoliberalism, that the resurgence of the far-right has been an inevitability.

Nevertheless, does this resurgence mean that people, who are genuinely concerned with the welfare and Human Rights of all, now have something clearer to organise against?

The radical educator, Paolo Freire, places an emphasis on dialogue. Which in essence, is collective. He has struck a significant chord with those concerned with popular and informal education. He offers us a way out of hopelessness, through education. Informal education, sometimes known as community education, involves respect, and is conversational, rather than something imposed from above. It involves free and open debate. Ultimately, It means that those of us concerned with organising against the rise of fascism, and those of us fed up with inequality and corruption, should not develop or support ways of working, that involve one group of experts acting upon other groups. Rather, our praxis (or our value-driven actions that are informed through dialogue), should involve people with genuine grievances, working with each other, debating issues, evaluating their social contexts, speaking truth to power, and “joining the dots”, as the radical American educator, Henry Giroux articulates.

 

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 Paolo Freire and Henry Giroux in conversation

Well, whatever unfolds over the next decade, it is obvious, that in the here and now, Trump and his extremist friends, are racist, fascist, bigoted, and extremely flawed. Trump is a particularly dangerous individual, and I do not think he is fit for purpose. The same is true of Hillary, and of the ‘special interests’, she represents. Both groups are very much the same, except that the latter, despite its underlying coercive agenda, does not promote its bigoted views so openly – not as often or as loudly as the former, at least. Instead, in a more sinister and underhanded manner, it instils structural inequality in policy, and dresses it up in Orwellian language. Which in my view makes them more dangerous.

Therefore, when all is said and done, it is preferential to have Trump elected over Hillary. Because, after all, Hillary and her cohorts, despite being “more qualified” than Trump, unfortunately boast a long-proven, actual, and unrivalled track record of murder, corruption, and destruction. President Trump’s present and potential future actions – attacking the most marginalised and vulnerable people in society, mass deportation, allowing financiers to create their own legislation, secret kill lists, drone operations, war by means of executive order – have all been normalised under Obama and his predecessors. 

Is it true then, that if you are to properly defeat it, you must be able to see your enemy, clearly? It is my view, at least, that humanity’s common enemies – neoliberalism, inequality, racism, discrimination, and censorship  – are, and will continue to be, more visible under Trump – as opposed to less visible under the pseudoliberalism of Clinton and co. 

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