By Arab News
By Neil Berry
Forty years ago the United States “gonzo” journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, evoked an America rife with “fear and loathing” as the idealism of the 1960s gave way to the hard-eyed, right-wing politics of Richard Nixon, the Republican president who spawned the criminal conspiracy known as “Watergate.”
Since Donald Trump became a Republican candidate for the 2016 presidential contest, American fear and loathing have received a massive new stimulus. With his proposal that the US close its borders to Muslims, this billionaire demagogue is breaking fresh ground in whipping up mass hysteria and ill feeling. Nixon, who was a keen student of foreign affairs, seems like a philosopher king by comparison.
Trump’s focus on the threat posed to American people by Muslims comes at a time when gun crime perpetrated by indigenous Americans has reached epidemic proportions. Over 300 mass shootings were reported this year, prompting President Barack Obama to urge his fellow Americans to face the fact that they confront a scourge known to no other advanced nation. Yet few condemn Trump for blatantly seeking to divert attention from this homemade bloodletting. To challenge him is to risk being stigmatized as anti-American, a liberal bleeding heart who condones terrorism. Trump is trading on US jingoism, blind patriotic faith that the health of the American body politic is endangered only by demonic outside forces.
Trump’s success resides in his willingness to articulate rank popular prejudice. Indifferent to the proprieties of public discussion, he has no hesitation in saying things calculated to shock — irrespective of whether they correspond to reality. Hence his inflammatory claim that there are areas of European cities, not least in London, where police fear to tread because they are redoubts of violent radicals. Trump’s implication is that Europe presents a portent of a nightmare future in which non-Muslims are at the mercy of fanatics bent on destroying civilized society.
In the wake of November’s Paris attacks, Islamophobic incidents have risen sharply in the United Kingdom, as in France. Yet in the UK Trump’s anti-Muslim pitch has met with no little contempt. A petition to ban him from visiting Britain rapidly gathered half a million signatures. It is worth pointing out that this came soon after the xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party polled poorly in a by-election won by the Labour Party, notwithstanding efforts by the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, to insinuate that Labour’s hierarchy is soft on terrorism. Trump’s views may have more resonance in France, the European county with the largest Muslim population. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National, is Trump’s Gallic counterpart — and a formidable one. Though tactical voting stalled her party’s progress in this December’s regional elections, this shrewd populist may yet run for president in 2017.
Le Pen and Trump appeal to millions who have lost faith in mainstream politics, people who feel disorientated by the headlong march of events, the onset of a post-industrial era characterized by chronic insecurity in the workplace and a demographic dramatically transformed by immigration. A time when perpetual change is the only constant spells a bright future for the politics of fear and loathing. Already Donald Trump has had an impact on public debate few imagined possible. That he might occupy the White House no longer seems like the stuff of wild fantasy. Another terrorist strike in a western capital could hugely boost his bid to become the most powerful man in the world.
It is the objective of Daesh, as it was the objective of Osama Bin Laden, to create an unbridgeable chasm between the Muslim world and the West. Now, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, politicians with high profiles are peddling their own vision of a starkly polarized planet. Between these opposed exclusivists a kind of informal unholy alliance is emerging. In 1929, D.H. Lawrence wrote that the world was waiting for a “new great movement of generosity or for a great wave of death.” Haunted by the carnage of the First World War, Lawrence feared that the human appetite for horror had not yet been slaked. He would, one suspects, find the current crisis of world affairs no less pregnant with apocalyptic possibilities.