Geopolitics

Trump Victory: We'll Never Talk About Globalization The Same Way Again

A new day?
A new day?
Mathieu Bock-Côté*

-OpEd-

They said he could never win. At best, Donald Trump was seen as a voice for a growing number of desperate Americans. Trump was a symptom of the political and cultural misery of the working classes in the United States — the empire of our time. His strongest critics portrayed him as a monstrous, sexist, racist and vulgar buffoon.

We'll now have to alter our view of the ill-mannered Trump and get used to seeing him occupy the office of the U.S. president. The man who Obama feared to entrust with the country's nuclear codes will become the world's most powerful man for four years. We have to admit that Obama's fears weren't baseless: Trump's reputation as an erratic megalomaniacal adventurer isn't exactly undeserved.

The baffled look on the faces of journalists wasn't hard to see, and they didn't try to hide their shock either. The official explanation has already begun, and we'll keep hearing it in the coming days: The old, rotten America, fueled by White populism, fear of the Other, fear of anything different, allowed Trump to win. Some will overdo it by warning people about the arrival of fascism. Questionable historical comparisons will multiply and the new American president will be Nazified a few times. We'll ask ourselves to what extent Trump is evidence that the Western world is returning to the 1930s era. Americans will be encouraged to feel ashamed. There's no escaping it. It's always the same old tune.

And yet, what happened is something else. From the victory of "Brexit" — Britain's withdrawal from the European Union — to the Trump revolution, not to mention the rise of European populist movements, lately we've been witnessing an uprising against globalization. The topics are the same: people demand borders, people want the government's authority restored, people want to contain mass immigration, people want national identities to be defended.

Each country has its own way of doing it, drawing on its own political traditions and archetypes. Often, these aspirations are carried forward by unusual and eccentric political figures. Or, at the very least, these figures are the ones who manage to make those aspirations emerge in the public debate, as we've seen in the case of British politician Nigel Farage before Brexit. Those who chose to listen to people's concerns are meeting a political demand that hadn't found its voice in what being offered.

Is this the end of "happy globalization"? Perhaps the right answer would be that the working and middle classes never experienced globalization as something positive. Their unease was either not taken seriously or seen as a sign of nostalgia that was inappropriate in an inevitably global world. It was believed that this category of people was displaying a regressive psychology — evidence of their inability to adapt to new realities that globalization demanded.

We forgot the human soul's fundamental need for roots, a need that cannot be neglected or stifled, a need that would eventually grow. Humans need boundaries, points of reference, a sense of belonging. When you try to tear someone away from his world, he rebels. And political revolt isn't always nice, gentle and delicate. What we're seeing is the return of tragedy.

Shut out — Photo: Abardwell

A world seems to be dying, another seems to come to life. In many aspects, the Trump revolution is an anti-establishment referendum in an election against an opponent, Hillary Clinton, who is the embodiment of the "system."

We cannot understand this revolution if we don't understand how much Trump used the contempt elites had for him to his advantage. The media establishment's scorn towards the traditional American, accused of all possible flaws, fueled a profound bitterness, a powerful resentment. This figure was caricatured as a white heterosexual male desperately holding on to old privileges and eagerly oppressing minorities.

Middle and working classes eventually turned against the political-media establishment. They banked on the candidate willing to transgress in the most brutal and radical way possible. They seized Trump's candidacy as an opportunity to protest even though, for many of them, that meant overcoming the disgust he might have inspired in them.

Already, some voices are urging the media machine to reflect on how it made Trump's election possible. It's being suggested that the media's indulgence helped him get elected. In fact, the media never missed an opportunity to say the worst things about him. Of course, he also invited being caricatured. Because, paradoxically, being demonized helped him.

The more the media spat on Trump, the more those who no longer identified with the system saw him in a positive light. Political correctness is true ideological tyranny. From Brexit to the Trump revolution, for the second time in a few months, this tyranny collapsed. The media establishment will be quick to counter the attack and it will lead a systematic ideological guerrilla warfare against the new president.

A conclusion we can draw from this election is that those in politics who claim that something is inevitable or impossible will long mull over the 2016 race to the White House.

Trump remains a murky, often coarse, character. He probably wasn't destined to become president and we can ask ourselves how he'll be able to go from a protesting clown to a president who can bring back unity in a country divided like never before. His personal political doctrine isn't particularly well built. Will the presidency give his policies the consistency they have lacked? Will the job transform him? Because revolt cannot be an end in itself. Our observation of the failure of the American establishment shouldn't bar us from also noting that the man who won the battle against it probably isn't cut out for fulfilling the aspirations of those who elected him.

*Mathieu Bock-Côté is a sociologist and professor at HEC Montréal.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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