Dixie Elliot ✒ This short poem is about conversations I had with Big Tom when we shared a cell. It is about dreaming of a life beyond prison walls and war.


You watched the shifting clouds
and dreamed.
The wind carried the curlew's call.
Rain brought memories in its wake.
So too the swirling snow, as cold as a prison wall.
♜ ♞ 
A passing greeting along the road.
Cattle grazing unconcerned.
Lough Beg in the moonlight, a meandering stream.
The welcoming fire in your mothers hearth, and a rest well earned.
♜ ♞ 
When love first caught your eye and it gripped your heart.
The slow dance long remembered, and a song from the past.
A kiss at the gate and whispered plans
of a future never apart.
♜ ♞ 
You watched the shifting clouds and dreamed.

Thomas Dixie Elliot is a Derry artist and a former H Block Blanketman.
Follow Dixie Elliot on Twitter @IsMise_Dixie

Tomás Mór McElwee

Lynx By Ten To The Power Of Two Hundred And Ninety One

Dr John Coulter ✒ If you want to be an Irish or British citizen in terms of a passport holder, then part of that citizenship should be mandatory participation in the return of National Service. TPQ Contentious Political Commentator outlines his controversial proposal to restore national pride in this ‘living with Covid’ society.

We need a return of National Service in the UK and the Republic of Ireland with people required, at some time in their lives, to do two years in some branch of the security forces - Army, Navy, Air Force, community police, or emergency services such as Ambulances and Fire Brigade.

During this compulsory two-year service, people would also be taught a trade, such as plumbing, brick work, or mechanics given that vocational trade training suffered during the pandemic.

People could extend their National Service by enlisting in the regular security forces. National Service would also be a chance for citizens to fully understand patriotic pride in the UK or the Republic of Ireland and show off what it means to be a patriotic British citizen of the UK, or a patriotic Irish citizen of the Republic, thereby heralding in a new era of cross-border co-operation.

National Service was initially introduced in the UK in 1949, four years after the end of the Second World War in which many people from both Northern and Southern Ireland served valiantly in the defeat of Hitler - in spite of Eire supposedly being politically neutral during that war and the IRA trying to take advantage of the UK’s military dilemma by pussy footing with Berlin, and turning a blind eye to the horrors of the Holocaust.

National Service in the UK ended in 1960 with the last recruits being discharged in 1963. As part of this peacetime conscription, able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 30 had to serve around 18 months in the Armed forces, although this was extended to two years during the Korean War era of 1950-53.

What is needed across the geographical British Isles - which includes the Republic of Ireland - is a new spirit of patriotism to rebuild societies in the face of the Covid pandemic.

However, time is not on the side of those, like myself, who would suggest such a national venture as the introduction of compulsory National Service for all citizens.

There is no doubt that if the opinion polls are correct in the Republic, Sinn Fein will emerge as the largest party in the next Dail General Election and will be in a prime position to either be the leading party in a coalition government, or even a majority government of its own making.

Sinn Fein is no friend of the security forces in either political state.

Under the Coulter Conscription National Service blueprint, every citizen who holds either a British or Irish passport (or both), irrespective of gender, disability, or age, will be required to serve a minimum of two years in some branch of the Armed forces or emergency services.

Those citizens who live in Northern Ireland could have a choice of either serving their National Service, in terms of the Armed forces, with either British security forces or the Irish security forces.

For example, why should a young Catholic girl from the Bogside in Londonderry, or Ardoyne in West Belfast, who wanted to get involved with policing have to either forget about her patriotic duty or be forced to do it with the Garda in the Republic because of threats from dissident republicans?

Age should not be a barrier either. Why, for example, a retired male civil servant at 65, be barred from National Service? Surely a role can be found for him in the forces or the emergency services?

The key aspect is the link between National Service and holding - or continuing to hold - either a British or Irish passport. The two-year stint in the forces or emergency services is mandatory to a person retaining citizenship in terms of being a passport holder.

Even the very severely disabled could have a role in the conscripted National Service. Each individual, in these cases, would have unique plans drawn up to make them feel an integral part of their society, making a significant contribution to their communities.

In terms of administration, there would be a cross-border body established, similar in principle, to the British Irish Ministerial Council, which would oversee the workings of National Service in both political jurisdictions.

In short, Irish passport holders could serve in the British security forces and British passport holders could serve in the Republic’s forces.

Links with the further education sectors in both political jurisdictions would ensure that during the two-year stints of National Service, the peacetime conscripts would learn a vocational trade.

When a citizen completes their two-year stint, they hopefully would have the choice of either leaving with a recognised vocational qualification, or remaining in the forces or emergency services to continue their patriotic duty to their nation.

And given the war in Ukraine, and the increasing tensions with communist China, the UK and Republic of Ireland would have a trained body of people ready to serve overseas if necessary, or replace full-time soldiers and emergency workers if they were required abroad.

The Republic, of course, would have to recognise its role on the international stage and could no longer view itself as a neutral nation. It will have to take sides in any future conflicts with Russia or China.

Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online

National Service Reintroduction Will Restore National Pride

 

A Morning Thought @ 1512

Anthony McIntyre She had the chance to modernise unionism but at the turning point failed to turn.

She had the opportunity to transform consent from a wooden altar which nationalists should genuflect at into an active mutually embracive concept. She squandered it. 

Arleen Foster’s career as First Minister can be summed up in two words - abject failure, a political pigmy towered over by the late David Trimble and Peter Robinson. 

Make a balls of something, just refer to it as an Arleen. It is as suitable as cock-up or faux pas.

In large part the disarray that unionism always risked facing was accelerated greatly by Foster’s ineptitude. When she replaced the much more wily Peter Robinson as party leader and First Minister, it might have looked to the wider public that she was taking over the DUP. In truth the DUP took over her: a dummy on the knee of a modern incarnation of the Know Nothing Party. Her only success was to secure her lack of success without being a creationist crackpot in a party that was embarrassingly not embarrassed to elect one as its leader to replace her. 

Her comments this week about the need for legislation to prevent the ‘lauding of terrorists’ confirmed that the one-eyed syndrome that has so afflicted her, curbing her ability to see beyond the walls of the No Surrender laager, still has her in its grip.  

She is entitled to feel annoyed by people cheering the IRA, slightly worse for wear or not, while partying at the the Ulster Fleadh in Co Tyrone last weekend. The organisation did try to kill her father, leaving her traumatised. She lashed out at Sinn Fein for not having publicly rebuked the revellers, spurred on no doubt by the party's TD David Cullinane having rowed back from his own rendering of Up The Ra. Her one, eye burning with incandescent rage, led her to pontificate:

it is my belief that until legislation is introduced to prevent the lauding of terrorists then the deification of murderers will continue and with it the corruption of yet another generation . . .  If our young people think that lauding murderers, whatever the cause, is okay and great fun then society in Northern Ireland is in serious trouble. 

Well, tickle my tits 'til Friday.

Will this proposed legislation be used to prohibit public displays of support for the murderers of the Parachute Regiment such as mass killer of unarmed civilians, Dave Cleary, AKA Soldier F? Foster was so taken by one young lauder of terrorism that she welcomed him as a new councillor to her party.  From what I can tell nobody at the fleadh was lauding the IRA for slaughtering the innocent. Yet here we had Dean McCullough deifying the mass killer Cleary as a "gallant veteran" and his fellow killers as “brave and professional paratroopers (who) should be given a medal’ for the atrocities they perpetrated on Bloody Sunday.

Come again Arleen about the serious trouble brewing for society when people laud murderers. 

"These young people don’t see IRA members as criminal murderers." No they don't, and there should be no great surprise about it: much as Foster does not see the torturers, the colluders, the killers in the service of the state as criminal murderers. But that is what membership for life in the one eyed tribe brings you. 

Until Foster unequivocally states that the legislation she calls for should apply without fear or favour to those cheerleaders for the terrorists who perpetrated state massacre, one of whom she is on record as welcoming as "an excellent representative for the Castle DEA," she should be sent packing for waffling jabberwocky out her jacksie. 

⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

One-Eyed Arleen

Lynx By Ten To The Power Of Two Hundred And Ninety

Ryan CragunA recent Wall Street Journal op-ed denies the stark reality of religion’s decline in the US

In their recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Byron R. Johnson and Jeff Levin, referring to a paper they recently published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (IJRR), argue that religiosity is not declining in the US but rather, “Americans are becoming more religious, and religious institutions are thriving.”

This claim is incredible in the “not credible” sense.

The gist of the argument put forward by Johnson and Levin is that some individuals who report no religious affiliation retain some elements of religiosity, like attending religious services and praying. That is true, and something scholars have known for decades. In fact, in their IJRR paper, they cite a study I co-authored in 2009 as support for this claim.

Rather than recognize that religious affiliation (or lack thereof) is not a perfect predictor of other aspects of religiosity and leave it at that, the authors then deploy a preposterous non sequitur to arrive at one of their key points. Here is the direct quote from the IJRR paper:

If nones are not irreligious, then what are the studies on the “rise of the nones” actually capturing?

Contimnue reading @ Only Sky.

Maybe Religion Isn’t Dying, But It’s Definitely Not Well

Hemant MehtaMatt Powell - The government should execute certain drag queens. 

They “should be dealt with via firing squad,” said the Christian hate-preacher

Creationist Matt Powell wants the government to murder drag queens because he falsely believes they perform sexual acts in front of children in libraries. That was only one of the hateful, lie-filled comments he made in a video he purposely uploaded to a non-YouTube site in order to evade punishment.

Powell usually makes himself look bad by spreading scientific misinformation, like saying evolution is racist because it teaches that “we evolved from African Americans” even though, he argues, there are “African Americans that are still alive today.” Or that the fight to save endangered species is somehow proof that evolution is a hoax. Or that it’s a “historical fact” that dinosaurs were killed in the Civil War. Just a bizarre mix of unearned confidence and extreme ignorance all rolled into one.

But let’s not forget Powell is also a hate-preacher.

In recent years, he’s said that homosexuality “should be illegal,” that LGBTQ people were “trying to recruit” children, and that gay people should be executed by the government as commanded in Leviticus 20:13. 

Continue reading @ Only Sky.

Creationist Whack Job Calls For Cull of Drag Queens

National Secular Society has called for separation of church and state as figures show Britons don't think the prime minister must be Christian.

Seventy-one per cent of British people said it was "not at all important" (49%) or "not very important" (22%) for a British prime minister to be a Christian, according to figures collected by Deltapoll last month.

Only 23% thought being a Christian was "quite important" (14%) or "very important" (9%) for a prime minister.

There is no religious qualification for a prime minister, but the UK's head of state, the monarch, holds the title "Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England". Under current laws, the monarch is required to "join in communion" with the Church of England and promote Anglicanism in Britain.

Catholics are specifically excluded from becoming the monarch.

The UK is also the only democracy to have an explicitly Christian ceremony for its head of state's accession, with the monarch pledging to maintain the "laws of God" during the coronation.

The entanglement of church and state, resulting from the established status of the Church of England, has also caused problems for prime ministers.

Continue reading @ National Secular Society.

Over 70% Brits Don’t Think It’s Important For PM To Be Christian

Right Wing Watch ✒ MAGA World Celebrates Aug. 2 Primary Wins, Bemoans Pro-Choice Victory at Ballot Box

“Trump’s Revenge as Ultra Candidates Dominate
exulted far-right Christian nationalist Steve Turley in his Wednesday newsletter. 

Peter Montgomery

Indeed, Tuesday’s primary elections in several states gave major wins to Big Lie-promoting allies of former President Donald Trump, though there were exceptions to the Trumpist wave.

In a major defeat for anti-abortion activists, Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum to remove abortion rights from the state constitution, which would have given legislators the ability to pass the kind of outright ban anti-abortion forces have put into place in other states. The huge margin of victory and massive voter turnout suggest that the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade could be a powerful motivator for pro-choice voters this fall. Pundit Todd Starnes called the Kansas vote a “crushing defeat” for anti-abortion forces. Anti-choice activist Lila Rose called it a “tragic setback.”

Here are some highlights:

Arizona was a blowout win for Trumpism, extremism, and threats to elections. Election conspiracy theorist and Oath Keeper Mark Finchem won GOP primary for secretary of state.

Continue reading @ Right Wing Watch.

MAGA World Celebrates . . . And Bemoans

 

A Morning Thought @ 1511

Barry Gilheany ✒ Democracy or more accurately the liberal representative model of underpinned by the post-1945 “rules based international order” and for whom reports of its final triumph were greatly exaggerated by writers such as Francis Fukuyama in the first spasm of post-Cold War hubris faces a type of danger that is simultaneously overt but yet hiding in plain sight. 

Unlike the totalitarian systems of Nazi Germany and the USSR, apartheid South Africa and Cold War client state dictatorships of Latin America and Africa, modern anti-democratic forces operate within the formalities of democracy while undermining its culture and safeguards. 

Across the globe, authoritarian regimes have emerged in the 21st century through formal elections; spanning the ideological spectrum from Hugo Chavez/Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Recep Erdogan in Turkey, Narendra Modi in India, and Jair Bolsonaro, but who operate to a similar playbook of how to retain power undemocratically. As Moises Naim explains; the centrifugal forces that weaken power, the constraints of checks and balances; competitive elections, codified rights, and obligations of the citizen; globalisation, technology, demographic change, have generated a new set of centripetal forces that tend to concentrate it. He sees the clash between these two sets of forces as one of the defining struggles of our time; a struggle whose outcome is far from certain.[1]

The 3P Autocrat

The aforementioned putative autocrats have very modern methods they can deploy to stake claim to unlimited power. These are unconventional leaders who have witnessed the decay of traditional power and have discovered that a radically new approach can deliver hitherto untapped opportunities. The formula that they use is conceptualised by Naim in the following triptych: populism, polarization, and post-truth. They are therefore the 3P Autocrats.[2]

3P autocrats are defined by Naim as political leaders who come to power through a reasonably democratic election and then set out to dismantle the checks on executive power through populism, polarisation, and post-truth. As they consolidate their power, they shield their autocratic plans behind walls of secrecy, bureaucratic obfuscation, pseudo-legal subterfuge, manipulation of public opinion, and the repression of critics and adversaries. Once the mask is removed, it’s too late[3]

None of the 3Ps taken in isolation is sufficient to explain contemporary mutations of power but utilised in tandem they can counteract the centrifugal forces that tend to disperse, fragment and dilute power. The specifics vary from place to place and from leader to leader as power is always contextual but the basic elements of the 3P approach wherever it is deployed.[4]

Let us briefly look at the constituent elements of the 3P framework. First populism. 

Often the most widely discussed and perhaps misunderstood of the triumvirate; it is best understood not as an ideology despite the “ism” but rather as a strategy for the seizure and exercise of power. In the populist mind-set all the people’s problems stem from the decisions – often conspiratorial, always corrupts – of a venal elite. Populist leaders portray themselves as embodying the will of the people (the Volk, the plain folk, and the Corbynite variant of the community of the good) and championing their cause against a corrupt elite. A burgeoning scholarship on populism identifies the following themes in populist demagoguery

Populists wallow in catastrophism; they imagine the world around them is corrupt, dysfunctional, and failing. Think of the “American Carnage” vista conjured up by Donald Trump in his 2017 Presidential Inauguration speech and his (mostly unfulfilled) to “drain the swamp of Washingtonian lobbyists”. They demonise and criminalise political rivals. For the Trumps, Putins and their comparators across the world political opponents are not fellow citizens with different viewpoints but lawbreakers who deserve imprisonment. Think the “Lock Her Up” chants against Hillary Clinton at Trump’s campaign rallies before the Presidential election in 2016. Think of the trumped-up charges brought by Putin against his most fearless opponent Alexander Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment.

Particularly potent themes of populist discourse are the use of external threats and crumbling national borders. The populist leader claims that that nation is threatened by a foreign enemy be it in nations such as China in the Trumpian imagination which undercuts US economic competitiveness; immigrants who steal jobs like the “Polish plumber” and other East Europeans of Brexiteer demonology or who bring “crime and drugs” like the Mexicans of Trump’s xenophobic credo or migrants and refugees from predominantly Muslim countries who threaten the cohesion of European Christian civilisation in the eyes of Hungarian President Orban. Concomitant to these threats is the need to strengthen national borders as with Trump’s invocation to “Build that Wall” and Orban’s fencing out of migrants from the Middle east and beyond.

Such xenophobia and right-wing ethno-nationalism more often than not find targets at home. One example is Modi’s policy of creating a register of “genuine citizens” in India ostensibly to help identify illegal immigrants but which in excluding millions of Muslims who had immigrated from neighbouring countries decades earlier really affirms to Hindu nationalists that Hindus are “real Indians” and is meant to instill fear among Indian Muslims.[5]. Another is Benjamin Netanyahu ‘s proposed Nation – State Law in 2018 that refused to commit Israel either to legal equality or even to democracy, refounding the state in ways that exclude the full participation of the country’s Arab minority[6]. And there was the “trickle down aggression” emanating from the Trump’s Make America Great Again cosmos with clear evidence on racist attacks on Asian-Americans during the Covid 19 pandemic following on from Trump rallies; anti-Semitic incidents hit an all-time high in 2019 and the empowering of Trumpist vigilantes by the Republican Party’s showcasing a suburban couple training weapons on Black Lives Matters protestors. [7]

There is of course the approval of paramilitary and other anti-system groups and outright endorsement of violence by populist leaders. The incitement to physical assault on protestors at his rallies by Trump created the pathway towards the insurrection on Capitol Hill on 6th January 2021 and his ill-disguised goading of far-right militias like the Proud Boys on that terrifying day.

The most civically and intellectually aspects of populism are the denigration of experts and attacks on media. Experts and scientists are, by definition, part of the intellectual elite and are therefore complicit in the mistreatment of the noble people that the leader represents. Populism represents a universe of belief and gut feeling rather than facts and science which as we shall see later are utterly inimical to and a necessary counter to the post-truth leg of the 3P triumvirate. One egregious example of the trashing of expertise is that of the leading Brexiteer, Oxbridge graduate and UK Cabinet Minister Michael Gove who in the Brexit referendum campaign IN 2016 insouciantly proclaimed to his audience that “We have had enough of experts.”. Another was Donald Trump’s Presidential endorsement of a disproved anti-malarial treatment for Covid in full view of a flabbergasted Federal government public health official (he had previously supported the wholly discredited link between the MMR vaccine and autism made by the disgraced former medic Andrew Wakefield).

An independent media committed to accountability of governments to their citizens and that has the data and fearless journalists to expose government corruption and incompetence are also mortal enemies of populist demagogues and their followers. And of course, it is this demagogue; this charismatic saviour of the nation and/or the people who leads the struggle of the people against the elite.[8]

So once a populist frame is established; the would-be leader saviour and/or movement proceeds to next strategy of the Triple P framework: polarisation. 

This involves the relentless demonisation of opponents and the weaponisation of wedge or culture war issues around issues of identity which have the capacity to divide families, friends, and colleagues. The bitter conflicts among mangy families and in wider society created by the Brexit referendum strand as particularly stark examples of the scarring effects of culture wars; scars which have reddened further by the “war on woke” stances by the current UK government on immigration and on the legacies of the British Empire.

Brexit decided as it was in a binary referendum in a polity embedded in constitutional arrangement ill-suited to plebiscitary decisions was an especially polarizing issue; eliminating as it did the possibility of a middle ground and forcing every single person and organisation to take sides[9].

In the current era, polarization operates through the imprint of fandom: a pattern of identification rooted in the celebrity culture of the music industry and sports, where followers develop intense affinity with their favourite stars and corresponding antipathy towards rival stars. Think of any football rivalries or wars of the bands such as those between Blur and Oasis in the 1990s and transpose such irreconcilable, almost faith like divisions to the political sphere and we enter the dystopia where contending sides deny the basic legitimacy of the other side’s right even to contend for power, dispensing, as Trump tried and failed to do and as the Orbans and Maduros have done more successfully, with the recognised democratic norm that sees alternation in office as a normal, healthy pillar of democratic co-existence.[10]

Next, we come to the most peculiar and disturbing aspect of the revenge of power – post-truth. 

The concept of post-truth goes far beyond the standard lying, dissimulation and econome d’actualite always associated with politicians. It is the denial of the existence of a verifiable independent reality. It is the realm of philosophical impossibilities such as “alternative facts” being given credence by a White House chief of staff. It is the vista of “staged attacks” used by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to explain away atrocities committed by his country’s armed forces in Ukraine. It is the denial of scientific objectivity that dismisses Covid-19 as a mere seasonal flu not the respiratory virus that it is. Many of the elements of post-truth are to be found in classic conspiracy theories or narratives and some of its features have intellectual ancestry in the post-structuralist, post-modern theories of knowledge from the 1960s onwards in academe that dispensed with grand narratives and sought to relativise knowledge by linking it to dominant power structures in society.

But post-truth is not primarily about getting lies accepted as truth but about creating such linguistic and epistemological confusion that it becomes harder to distinguish between truth and falsehood in the first place. This is a lesson that has been taken to heart by those intelligence services who have deployed “active measures” over the last century; from the secret police forces of the former USSR and GDR; to the CIA and Brigadier Frank Kitson of Low Intensity Operations Fame and Putin’s contemporary disinformation agents.

The 3 P Playbook

Levitsky and Ziblattt develop the following early warning signals for the rise of aspirant authoritarian leaders. Alarm bells should ring if they display any one of these four signs: when a politician (1) disavows, in words and action, the democratic rules of the game, (2) denies the legitimacy of their opponents, (3) tolerates or encourages violence or (4) indicates a willingness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents, including the media.[11]

Populist outsiders claim to be fighting on behalf of an amorphous mass – the “people”- against an undifferentiated entity – the corrupt, out of touch or theaconspiratorial “elite.” To put it very simply, the ubiquitous “us” against the ubiquitous “them” They proclaim to voters that they do not really live in a democracy at all but that the existing system has been hijacked or rigged by the elite. They promise to bury that elite and return power to the people. When populists do win elections, they often assault democratic institutions and procedures. In Latin America, for example, of all fifteen presidents elected in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela between 1990 and 2012, five were populist outsiders: Albert Fujimori, Rafael Correa, Evo Morales, Lucio Gutierrez, and Hugo Chavez. All five proceeded to weaken democratic institutions.[12]

Death by Stealth

If democracy does die in a populist paradise, it will most likely not be through an act of force majeure like the Nazis Enabling Act in 1933 or by a military coup by a latter-day Franco or Pinochet. It will be through stealth; through the steady hollowing out of its guardrail institutions and checks and balances leading to multiple organ failure. It will be through changing the rules of the game by the steady and progressive capture of the referees; those intermediaries between the citizen and the state; those guardians of democratic culture and practice.

21st century autocrats work through the revenge of power: the steady erosion of the strategic safeguards or checks and balances that protect democracy, limit leaders’ opinions, and guarantee fair competition for power. At various times they attack the oversight powers of the legislative branch, other times the watchdog role of the press, judicial independence, or key checks on untrammeled executive power.[13]

The first rule of 3P is to always maintain the visible trappings of legality and constitutional order. They then corrode the law from inside through the strategy of pseudo-law: a corrupt facsimile of the rule of law that is, in fact its mortal enemy. Just as special interests such as the fossil fuel, tobacco and soft drinks industries adopt pseudoscience to cast doubt rather than directly refute mainstream science in order to undermine public health and environmental authorities (something similar is part of the strategies of anti-vaccination and anti-abortion choice campaigners) so pseudo-law appropriates the impression and trappings of the law to empty it of its meaning.[14]

Pseudo-law Making

Pseudo-law is Donald Trump’s executive order in January 2017 banning travel; from seven Muslim-majority countries on alleged national security grounds. It is Argentinian President slapping a ban on the export of Argentine beef on “food security” grounds when it was obvious that it was a means of punishing her critics in the beef industry. It is the Thai constitutional court in May 2103 ordering the popular but autocratic prime minister and her entire cabinet and concede power to a military junta. It is Brazil’s congress, in which three out of four deputies were under investigation for corruption in 2016 but was still able to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. It is the approval by Hungary in 2017 of a new law affecting branch campuses of foreign universities that was written in such a way as to only effect the Central European University (CEU), technically a US-registered university whose main campus operated in Hungary, but an academic institution in the crosshairs of Victor Orban’s regime because of its funding by George Soros which provided a secure livelihood to independent ac academics out of tune with Orban’s developing 3P regime.

The most ambitious[15] and infamous methods of pseudo-law concern extension of Presidential term-limits, gerrymandering of electoral boundaries and interference with or “packing” of the judicial organs of state. In true viral fashion these trends are replicated across the world.

Probably the most brazen way of circumventing Presidential term limits was Vladimir Putin’s arrangement with his long-serving Prime Minister, Dimitri Medvedev in 2008. Nearing the end of his second Presidential term; Putin was not permitted to run for a thirds term under Russia’s 1993 constitution. However, the constitution only limited consecutive terms so Putin decided to swap jobs with Medvedev for the 2008-12 term after which they would reverse roles but not before approving a constitutional amendment to extend the president’s term from four years to six. In March 2020 he had the Duma pass a law by 383 votes to nil allowing him to run for two more terms until 2036. The proposal was then endorsed by the electorate: with A 65 per cent turnout, 78 per cent of Russia’s voters agreed to it.[16]

So, in skillful pseudo-legal practice, this arrangement gutted the spirit and intention of the rule (to prevent excessive accumulation of power by a ruler) while not technically breaking it. One study has found that since the year 2000, presidential time limit evasion has become “exceedingly common” with two-thirds of the one third cohort of presidents who have attempted overstay successful in their attempts. The amendment strategy proved particularly popular in Africa where since 2015 where leaders in Burundi, Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda declaring intentions to abolish or extend their countries’ term limits and President Sisi had notional term limits removed in 2019 [17] in another symbolic milestone in the Arab world’s regression from Spring to Winter.

In Latin America both Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez kept asking the same referendum question (in the case of the latter) to lift term limits until he got the desired answer in 2009 and, in the case of the former, getting his hand-picked constitutional tribunal to rule in 2107 , that the constitution was itself unconstitutional because its term limits violated the president’s innate human right to stand for election![18]

Possibly the clearest case of democratically elected leaders attempting to terminate term limits in the aftermath of electoral victory concerns the recently deposed Rajapaksa brothers in Sri Lanka. In mid-2020 the party of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the People’s Front, won a majority in Parliament which meant that the president’s brother, Hahinda, could continue as prime minister. The two brothers then proceeded to use their parliamentary supermajority to pass the Twentieth Amendment. This granted them the power to abolish a two-year term limit on the president; guaranteed the president immunity from prosecution and annulled parliamentary oversight of presidential appointments.[19] The chaos resulting from their catastrophic mismanagement of the economy put a premature end to this Putinesque operation as they were forced to flee the island.

Gerrymandering

America’s most award-winning entry into the canon of pseudo-law is gerrymandering. – the art of drawing election district lines to maximise one party’s representation over another. Named after Elbridge Gerry (a signatory to the Declaration of Independence) who as governor of Massachusetts between 1810 and 1812 put together a district map for the state senate that gave a huge electoral advantage to his own party’s candidate, it is achieved by “packing and cracking” the opposing party’s supporters which, if skillfully applied, can convert a minority of voters into a comfortable majority of elected seats.[20]

Gerrymandering is not unique to the US; redrawing of parliamentary constituencies in the UK often draws complaints from opposition parties that the process is designed to help the incumbent governing party stay in office. In Northern Ireland between 1921 and 1972; local government electoral districts in predominantly Catholic/Nationalist cities and town like Derry and Omagh were redrawn to guarantee safe Protestant/Unionist majorities. Gerrymandering was one of the animating forces behind the NI Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s.

However, it is in the USA that its darkest legacy is to be found; namely the disenfranchisement of the African American Southern states in the post-Civil war, post - Reconstruction era. Under the 1867 Reconstruction Act and the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited suffrage limitations on account of race. African-Americans suddenly constituted a majority of the electorate in Mississippi, South Carolina, and Louisiana and a near-majority in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Nationwide, the percentage of black males eligible to vote rose from 0.5 percent to 80.5 percent two years later.[21]

This mass enfranchisement of African Americans constituted a major threat of southern white control and to the political dominance of the Democratic Party. So, they changed the rules – and abolished democracy. “Give us a [constitutional convention] and I will fix it so that … the Negro shall never be heard from,” former Georgia senator proclaimed as Reconstruction neared its end. Between 1885 and 1908, all eleven post-Confederate states reformed their constitutions and electoral laws to disenfranchise African Americans. To comply with the letter of the law as laid out in the Fifteenth Amendment, no mention of race could be made in efforts to limit voting rights, so states introduced ostensibly “neutral poll taxes, property requirements, literacy tests, and complex written ballots. The intention and cumulative effect of these restrictions was to keep poor and illiterate blacks from the polls. And because African Americans were overwhelmingly Republican, their disenfranchisement could virtually guarantee the restoration of the Democrats’ electoral dominance. And on both counts these measures succeeded. Black turnout in the South plummeted from 61 percent in 1880 to just 2 percent in 1912. The Republican Party in the South disappeared locking in Jim Crow and one-party states in the South for nearly a century.[22].

A century later with voting rights granted to all regardless of race and the Democrats post-1968 having become the party of preference for most African Americans; the “good ole south” still has some useful tricks up their collective sleeves in the area of “packing and cracking”. For example, Mississippi’s Second Congressional District is two-thirds black, and Texas’s Fifteenth District is 80 percent Latino. When Democratic-voting minorities are packed or concentrated at such densities, the rest of the state is left with many more reliably Republican districts. North Carolina’s partisan gerrymander converted the Republicans’ 53 percent of the popular vote in the 2016 House of Representatives into 77 percent of the state’s seats in the of the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, with the Republicans winning ten of those thirteen seats. So, a state that is 22 per cent ended up with a congressional delegation that was less than 8 percent black. Worse, not even one of North Carolina’s thirteen congressional districts was decided by less than 12 percentage points.[23].

Such flagrant abuses of electoral procedures should make it plain that democracy is not safe anywhere even in its pioneer nation. As stark are the lessons from its history and present comes one from its near future in the form of the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) and its Trump 2.0 masterplan[24]. Addressed recently in Washington by Donald Trump replete with the familiar themes of cities overrun by violent crime, invasion by illegal aliens, the deep state, the media, and liberal elites, the AFPI is led by Brooke Rollins, a former domestic policy adviser in the White House. Rollins has boasted how the 15-month-old organisation has put “boots on the ground in 32 states on issues from “election integrity to school choice, patriotic education to healthcare transparency and taxes, border security to big-tech censorship”

The institute has 150 staff, including nine former Trump administration cabinet officials and more than 50 former senior staff and officials including Kelly Conway, former senior counsellor to the president who views the AFPI and its planned 22 “policy centres” as a way to preserve the Trump legacy and to “make sure that the entire body of work of the America First movement is all in one place.”

The summit basked in apocalyptic portraits of Biden and the Democrats as an existential threat to the American way of life. A “parent toolkit” warned of the perils of “wokeness, “critical race theory” and “the 1619 Project” [relating to slavery}. “Just rejoice at that news” was Rollins’ response to the overturning of Roe v Wade by the Supreme Court.

During one panel session Rick Perry, a former energy secretary, insisted that the next Republican administration would not be “genuflecting at the altar of environmentalism." Plans were discussed as to develop what Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist, described as “the deconstruction of the administrative state,” centralizing power in the presidency power in the presidency as with other strongman leaders around the world.

The Axios website has also reported that Trump’s aides are aiming to transform federal government by replacing thousands of civil servants with devotees to him [or ideological soulmate] and America First. These plans include potentially stripping layers at the justice department, including the FBI, and reaching into national security, the State Department, and the Pentagon.

If nothing else the AFPI are producing in one place the ultimate 3P manual.

[1] Naim, Moises (2022) The Revenge of Power. How Autocrats Are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century New York: St Martin’s Press

[2] Naim pp. XIV - XV

[3] Naimp.xv

[4] Naim pp. xv-xvi

[5] Muller, Jan-Werner (2021) Democracy Rules London: Allen Lane

[6] Naim, p.9

[7] Muller p.8

[8] Naim, pp. XVII - XVIII

[9] Naim, p.XVII

[10] Naim, p.XIX

[11] Levitsky, Steven &Ziblatt, Daniel (2019) How Democracies Die. What History Reveals About Our Future New York: Penguin pp.21-22

[12] Ibid, p.22

[13] Naim, p.4

[14] Naim, p.7

[15] Study published in 2020 in The Columbia Law Review by Mila Versteg, Tim Horley and Anne Meng et al

[16] Naim p.12

[17] Naim, pp.12-13

[18] Naim, p.13

[19] Naim

[20] Naim pp.14-15

[21] Levitsky and Ziblatt, p.89

[22][22] Ibid, pp.89-91

[23] Naim, p.15

[24] The Observer, 31st July 2022 Trump 2.0 masterplan. More extreme, more authoritarian, more ruthless.

Barry Gilheany is a freelance writer, qualified counsellor and aspirant artist resident in Colchester where he took his PhD at the University of Essex. He is also a lifelong Leeds United supporter. 

Threats To Democracy ✑ The Triple P Virus Of Populism, Polarisation And Post-Truths And Their Effective Antidotes

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