The new American ambassador to Germany evidenced the sort of political arrogance and naivete that can only be described as “Trumpian” this week when he decided to sound off about helping to foster a right-wing uprising across Europe.
Ambassador Richard Grenell, who seems to have confused the roles of “ambassador” and “interfering mother in law” said in an interview with Breitbart (who else) that he wanted to “empower other conservatives throughout Europe” and went on to say that there was “…a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.”
The Germans, of course, didn’t take too kindly to Mr. Grenell’s broad declaration that left wing policies had failed. In fact, the Germans would know better than most, as they had a fairly well publicised experiment in far right policy between 1933 and 1945 and the results (in case you missed the papers or were educated in an American public school) were less than successful.
His crass interference with the politics of other nations aside, Mr. Grenell is partly correct: There is a groundswell of conservative politics all over the world at the moment. What Grenell either doesn’t understand or, more likely, won’t admit is that this groundswell is based on a false narrative that he himself is now perpetuating.
There are two ideas on the right these days that are prevalent: Trickle down economics, and a sort of nebulous, rose-tinted hindsight that says if we just stop cosying up to all these gays and minorities and wind the clock back to 1955 we’ll all be better off.
In point of fact, modern conservatives conflate these two ideas to a large extent. The reason the coal mine closed down is something to do with Black Lives Matter. There are no jobs at the steel mill because of abortion. Gay marriage is legal and that’s why Blockbuster video left town.
The truth is that out of the last fifty years, Republicans have been in the White House for thirty of them. With sixty percent control, it should be fair to say that the economic direction of America was predominantly shaped by conservative doctrine. Except that this is only half the story. Recent Democratic presidents have pursued economic policy which would be seen as moderately to strongly conservative by most of the rest of the world, even if their social policies have been more liberal. America, for fifty years, has been doing things the way that Big Business wants them done.
The result, of course, was deregulation of financial industries and laissez faire capitalism, both of which led to American jobs being shipped overseas, an influx of migrant workers who were willing to do dirty jobs for little pay, and the economic crash of 2008. What’s notable about the aftermath of the 2008 crash is that, instead of being chastened and going back to the drawing board, Republicans and their philosophical allies came out swinging and almost immediately started to argue that the problems were caused by banks being too regulated – by the economy not being given enough freedom to run itself.
In essence, the political right stood in the wreckage of a crashed airliner and said “The problem here is that the pilot wasn’t drunk enough…“
The public, unsure of the root causes of their increasing poverty and creeping unhappiness, were easy marks for a simple narrative. It takes a little work to understand a crisis in subprime mortgage lending or the effect of neoliberal economics in a globalised market, so it’s easier to just tell the rubes that foreigners are taking their jobs. Not the jobs that were gleefully shipped overseas by American companies in the name of slashing wages, but that Mexican you saw that one time picking fruit for a dollar a day. HE’S the problem.
Real world wages haven’t increased at anywhere near the rate of inflation, but there are a lot of big words there, so consider this: You’re broke, and you never used to be. You know what else never used to be a thing? Football players kneeling for the anthem. Gotta be a link there somewhere.
This is why I suspect that ambassador Grenell is lying by omission rather than completely stupid; even in the Trump government, you’d hope a man must be at least passably smart to get an ambassador’s job. Grenell is encouraging the groundswell of right wing politics across Europe because socially right wing thinking – being angry at gays and jews and blacks and women – is a great distraction from the harm caused by your economically right wing overlords.
Trump’s followers bellow and scream about building walls and how Mexicans are animals, and all the while the men behind the curtain – the old guard of the Republican right – are asset stripping the country harder than ever. When the economic impact (about the only thing that ever does “trickle down”) reaches the Trumpers in their homes, they’ll be told that the reason for their endlessly worsening circumstances is that the country still isn’t right wing enough. The banks and businesses still don’t have enough freedom. The pilot hasn’t had his twelfth martini.
The truth, which Ambassador Grenell should know full well, is that the right has been in charge for most of recent memory. Their ideas are what got us here, not the “failed policies of the left.” The policies of the left – things like equal rights for minorities – have improved the world a great deal and, crucially, are nothing to do with why your town’s lumber mill closed. And once again: Even the “left wing” candidates in America have pursued right wing economic policies. A left wing economic model in America would see things like free healthcare for all and improved public schools, but most of the American public are too busy being distracted by debates on pizzagate, vaccines and chemtrails to notice.
The right only care about getting rich or staying that way. As a result, they crashed the economy in 2008 and they’ll do it again. That recession left a lot of people a great deal worse off. The fact that there is a groundswell of people thinking that the way out of the pit is to dig deeper is the most worrying trend in modern politics.
Luke Haines is a British writer who wrote this a few hours before Melania Trump was due to make her first public appearance in a month. He is betting she’s played by a lookalike when she emerges. Tweet him to tell him he was right (or not) @lukedoughaines