Wednesday 18 September 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'We ignore these hate-filled rants at our peril'

The decade of austerity and public service cuts produced discontent - on which hate now seeks to feed

By Tom Halliday
By Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

The effort to whip up racist, nationalist anger is in this country a failed one. But it's persistent. So far, we've got off relatively lightly, compared with elsewhere.

The failure of the far right to attract votes, however, is upsetting some of them. And there's now talk of doing "something else".

And they don't mean taking up crochet.

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If you spend any time looking underneath the hood of far right social media (and I've been poking at it on and off for a while), you'll find a swamp of pure hate.

It poses as patriotism. The lack of normal human empathy is stunning.

They hate black people and Jews, they hate gays, they hate uppity women, they hate the left. They hate anyone who disagrees with them. They hold the Irish people in contempt, for failing to support the sacred cause of pure white Ireland.

And they really, really hate Leo Varadkar.

To the point where even those of us who can't stand the man's politics feel for him.

The world within which this is happening has been made unstable by, among others, Varadkar himself. And it appears we're headed toward increasing instability.

Many American business people and economists now accept that a recession is probable. Germany is heading that way, too, and there are uncomfortable predictions about China.

At any time, a global recession would be dangerous. Today, the effects of the 2008 collapse are still with us. What we may face may not be a new recession, but the continuation of the one that began with the crash of 2008.

After 2008, various central banks pumped trillions into their economies, to prop them up. Public money was used to keep private entities afloat.

The result is massive levels of debt. At the same time, the class of people who caused the 2008 crash prospered.

There were mere gestures at reforms to curb the freedom-to-wreck of those who crashed the system.

And there are now more billionaires than ever in the world.

The centre-right parties presided over the crash, and managed the recovery. In this country they are FG, FF and a compliant Labour Party. They preserved the system with all its structural inequalities.

And the wealthy have thrived on the recovery.

Meanwhile, the hard-working people on low and middle incomes were hammered with austerity. For the young, new kinds of low-paying work were created, where you don't have a job, you have a 'gig'.

The centre right created the housing crisis, left the health crisis to fester, left the shanty school system intact at primary level, and under-funded public transport to the extent that it's now incapable of doing its job, with people standing for hours in overcrowded trains.

In each of these public service areas, the centre right made space for private entities to grow - providing private services for those who had enough money to do without the crumbling public services.

In this, our elites are at one with the elites elsewhere. It's as if someone came up with a recipe for generating political instability.

We now have an arrogant, incompetent elite - and a populace in which discontent simmers.

The expectation internationally was that the voting fodder would as usual choose between centre-right tweedledums and tweedledees. It didn't work out like that. Instead, there's been an eruption of what has come to be called 'populism'.

In the USA, a man-child was elected, to spite the liberal elites and the Wall Street crowd, who were - rightly - seen to be represented by the Clintons.

In the UK, the simmering discontent grabbed the political steering wheel and ran the car off the road.

From Russia to Brazil, including in several EU countries, the far right have prospered, some of them taking office.

In each case, the low and medium-income people had genuine cause for grievance. In each case, rather than organise to advance their own interests, they succumbed to nationalism and the rejection of those they see as not like them.

In the USA and UK, the Trump and Brexit campaigns were financed by millionaires who benefit from the outcomes.

In this country, there has been no comparable lurch to the far right. Instead, we have had the emergence of 'patriots' who demand a return to the Ireland of the past - the pure white, obedient, fearful Ireland where women and gays knew their place.

There's just one area where the far right have made progress - in inflaming fear about vaccines. The science behind vaccines is overwhelmingly convincing, whole diseases have been eradicated, countless millions of lives saved - but some people hear scare stories, and the far right spread the fear.

The rise of Trump, and the white supremacy he champions, has emboldened open racism, where once people were ashamed to be seen to be crude. The Irish far right incessantly use the crudest kinds of racism to attack black people, Muslims and Jews.

Every negative incident involving Muslims, no matter how true or not, is trumpeted. Ludicrous claims are made about how the State favours migrants over natives.

This is the equivalent of the racism that afflicted the Irish men of the 1950s who sought work abroad, to feed their families, and were treated as wasters and drunks.

There are identifiable stars and leaders within the Irish far right. They usually use pseudonyms and are idolised by supporters. Most of them are careful not to seem too extreme. They are against "corruption", and everyone who doesn't agree with them is corrupt, or a dupe of those who are corrupt.

I'll quote just one of them, a mid-level star who occasionally doesn't use the euphemisms his fellow racists prefer.

"I don't f**king care about any other country in the f**king goddamn world. I care about Ireland and I'm sick of this s**t. F**k anyone. If there's a war in another country and there's a genocide in another country, hard s**t... I don't care - women, children, I don't give a s**t."

People used to "give out" about the Nazis, he reminds us. Burning books, and all that. But, "personally I think they were right. I'd like to see that happen again."

He fears there are Irish schoolbooks that might encourage tolerance of liberalism. They should be burned too.

"And I'd like to see us get rid of all this LGBT f**king nonsense. And burn those books and stop making it popular. And making it fashionable. The depravity."

He dealt briefly with the emergence of the forces that led to the Holocaust. "It wasn't until" (slight pause to choose the right phrase to describe the rise of the Nazis) "some people got together and put a stop to it. People who in the history books now are considered unpopular, even evil."

That's the Nazis for you, decent people who somehow got a bad reputation.

One might imagine that since he hates so many others, this chap loves the Irish. No - we're too tolerant of others, we don't hate enough, no matter how he tries to convince us.

"You're talking to idiots," he told a podcast by one of the other stars of the far right. "It's like talking to a cat."

There's a case for ignoring these people, but that would be dangerous. This chap's frustration at his failures bubbled up on that podcast two months ago.

He listed the far right entities that stand for election. "If we do not gain ground after the next general election, I really think we should start talking about, em, something else. If you know what I mean."

"Yeah", said the other star, "absolutely, yeah."

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