In a notorious January tweet, Donald Trump told us,

I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius … and a very stable genius at that!

In this article I offer a better explanation of his success. I put the question rather differently: looking at postwar leaders in comparable Western “old” democracies, only in America does a person so manifestly unfit manage to attain the highest executive office. Why, and why now? In so doing, I seek to answer a question that Americans, who seldom view their country in comparative perspective, don’t ask, while outside observers of the United States simply throw up their hands in incredulity.

In comparing Trump’s success to the unsuccessful efforts of populists in other “old” Western democracies, I am following up what I wrote in the Winter/Spring issue of Inroads about the Trumpites, the more than a third of Americans (constituting roughly 40 per cent of likely voters and 84 per cent of Republicans)1 who support Trump thick or thin. The Trumpites are not Trump’s creation, I noted, but rather a subculture in American politics that he (and Steve Bannon)2 brought to the surface. They constitute the American version of the populists who have emerged as important political forces in a number of European countries.3 Figure 1 shows the proportion of Americans with positive and negative views of Trump. As we can see, the proportion with positive views began to drop after the election, only to stabilize six months later.

In the past few years, the question of whether European liberal democracies will succumb to populism has been answered in the negative. Where they have arisen, populist leaders in the “old” democracies of western Europe, North America and Oceania have, as a rule, been relegated back to the margins of politics. Where they have entered government, as in Austria, they do so as junior partners.4 It is only in countries where democracy is fragile that populists like Viktor Orbán, Jarosław Kaczyński and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have come to power.

And then there is the United States. Long a model consensual old democracy, the United States is now the exception. Riding on a populist wave, a demagogue has ascended to the summit of the “shining city on the hill.” Note that I am not claiming that Trump himself is a populist5 (or a conservative or, indeed, anything else). To give him any kind of ideological label – even “racist” – would be to bestow upon him a consistency and political sophistication he lacks. The only isms that apply to him are opportunism and narcissism, the latter often impeding his effectiveness in the former.

Looking back on the emergence of his candidacy, it becomes clear that without any clearly formed views or knowledge of the relevant issues, he came to realize, as he sought support for the GOP nomination, that there was a constituency for nativist, anti-immigration populism,6 and he made it his cause. And since his election he has thrown enough meat in that direction to keep the support of the Trumpites, his base, and thus indirectly to keep the Republican Party in his corner.

In the process, any remaining illusions about the man have been shattered. Almost daily reports from Washington highlight other examples of his unfitness for office, a portrait fleshed out in Michael Wolff’s best-selling book.7 Any hope that, realizing his ignorance, and with his ego having been salved by winning the most important job in the world and with his party in control of Congress, Trump would seek out, listen to and learn from knowledgeable people proved futile. Trump the President’s false assertions have, if anything, grown in frequency: two thousand in his first year in office, according to the Washington Post’s fact checkers.

As Wolff describes in agonizing detail, Trump assumes that he knows all that he needs to know, listens only to flatterers and impulsively reacts to the last thing he heard on an issue (on Fox News most frequently), oblivious to his previous statements, let alone the facts. But when his lies are exposed in the mainstream media, it simply reinforces the support of his base. As one Trump fan quoted on Meet the Press on February 4 put it, “When they attack Trump, they attack me.” Of those 40 per cent who approve of Trump, 63 per cent believe the media are “an enemy of the people.” Only 16 per cent of people outside that group believe the same thing.8

The Trumping of American political institutions

We hear so much about Trump that we think we know how it all came about. Innumerable journalistic reports provided an explanation combining Trump the celebrity candidate winning the attention of the media, Russian meddling, James Comey’s intervention regarding Clinton emails and weaknesses of the Clinton campaign, all combined with a rejection of politics-as-usual by poorly educated whites fearful of downward mobility. But these are immediate or proximate factors. They do not address the wider question: Given that other countries in the advanced democratic world face similar emerging concerns, why has populism not triumphed there as well?

The answer to this question has two dimensions. The first lies in well-known recent developments that have gone furthest in the United States. These include the rise in income inequality and class stratification, as portrayed in detail by Thomas Piketty and his colleagues. Related to this is a parallel decline in civic engagement, a development I link to diminishing civic literacy.9

These developments, as noted, are not unique to the United States, but they have progressed (sic) further there. The most important related development is the fragmentation of sources of information in the form of the cocooning Cass Sunstein continues to warn us of10 – of Americans living in echo chambers that filter out unwelcome political viewpoints. The stability of the Trumpite Third reflects the fact that while some conservative commentators have soured on Trump, their views typically do not find their way to Fox News, let alone Breitbart and the various right-wing and alt-right talk radio hosts and bloggers.

Economic inequality finds its way into politics through election spending amounts and limitations. There is now far more private money available for election spending in the United States, especially on television advertising, than there is elsewhere, or than there was in the United States before the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The Trumpites, who are less educated and live in less diverse communities, are especially susceptible to the exaggerated negative advertising invoking fears of opposing candidates that colours the various screens Americans watch during campaigns.

But this is only the most visible part of the American institutional iceberg as it has evolved, making it uniquely vulnerable to placing and maintaining an unfit person appealing to populist sentiments in the highest office in the land. The institutional explanation for the triumph of Trumpism takes the form of a series of layers, of which the influence of private money is the first. Some are well known in and of themselves, but it is how they interweave that constitutes the missing key dimension to our understanding.

When institutions are brought up in this context, we hear about the constitutional separation of power and federalism, under which the U.S. Congress, judiciary and state governments act as checks on the power of the chief executive. And, indeed, one shudders at the thought of Trump as chief executive of a unitary country with no separation of powers. But there is another side to this. Much of the separation of powers lies in conventions that have not really been tested under circumstances when one party controls the presidency, the Congress and the majority of the states, and names the majority of the top judges.

We can see this with a second institutional aspect that makes the United States exceptional and contributes to the success of Trumpism/populism. Given the distribution of supporters of the two parties into red states and blue states, the Republicans have a distinct advantage in presidential elections, since the electoral college system favours the smaller states. Even the least populous states are guaranteed three votes, giving them more weight than their population warrants (see figure 2). In close elections this can make the difference, allowing the candidate who has fewer votes (2.9 million fewer in the case of Trump) to nonetheless win.

Then there is the advantage Republicans have in Congress (see table 1). In the Senate, overrepresentation is due to there being two senators from each state, big or small. In the House of Representatives, where the number of voters in each district is the same, overrepresentation is achieved through gerrymandering.

Under American federalism, unlike elsewhere, House of Representatives district boundaries are set at the state level. In the last 25 years a concerted effort by Republicans has enabled GOP state legislators to consolidate their power in more conservative states by carving out state electoral boundaries in their favour, while doing the same with the districts of the representatives sent to Washington. In North Carolina, the electoral map (see figure 3), now before the courts, allowed Republicans to win 10 of the 13 congressional seats though the two parties were close to equal in the popular vote.

The combination of gerrymandering and access to money explains the extraordinary lack of turnover in Congress, where incumbents have more to fear from being defeated in their own party primaries than in elections. Primaries, also unique to the United States, contribute by inviting outsiders with resources to invest them inside the existing parties. Their main effect has been to strengthen polarization by favouring the chances of candidates appealing to ideologically based activists rather than, as is the case elsewhere, party stalwarts.

Less well known about primaries is that – combined with another unique institution, the states’ responsibility for setting the rules of eligibility for elections at all levels – they result in the rigid two-party system, also unique to the United States. This is because many states make it difficult to get on the ballot, so that it becomes prohibitively expensive in money and resources for a third party to mount a national campaign. Given the alternative of seeking nomination via primaries in one of the two parties, the choice becomes obvious.

These are the most visible layers of the institutional iceberg. Beneath them are the role of powerful lobbies with lots of cash and the presidential system itself. In the other old democracies, all of which, with the partial exception of France,11 are closer to British- or Canadian-style parliamentary democracies, there are far fewer obstacles to third party formation. Because of this, there is a real possibility of minority or coalition government, even in the relatively few countries that do not have proportional representation. Where there is proportional representation, under which ruling parties must make a win-win deal (not a Trumpian zero-sum one) with other parties, the chief executive will necessarily be a consensual leader.

Moreover, since nominations are limited to party members, aspiring leaders typically have first to climb party ranks and thus gain some political experience. It is hard to imagine a Trump in any other old democracy making it to the top of a party that could win an election, and unimaginable that he could stay in power. In a parliamentary system, unlike in the United States, the ceremonial head of state is separate from the executive head of government. Hence, as we have frequently seen, a party can replace its leader, even when he or she is the head of government, without causing the kind of national trauma that occurs with efforts to impeach a U.S. president.

Polarization and party discipline

Before the arrival of Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party, the American system normally operated on a relatively consensual basis: moderate Democrats and Republicans constituted a legislative majority able to work reasonably well with the president, effectively excluding the possibility that a Barry Goldwater on the right or a George McGovern on the left would get elected. Now, in the post-Communist era, while left and right in the other old democracies have moved closer to the centre, the opposite has been happening in the United States, especially on the right.

Figure 4 shows how the degree of polarization changed between 1994 and 2016. Using ten questions that have been posed continually since 1994, the Pew Research Center has traced the share of Americans with ideologically consistent (liberal or conservative) values and found that these have become more strongly associated with partisanship.12 As we can see, the proportion of Americans holding consistently conservative or liberal positions has increased significantly and the distance between the median position of Republicans on the reader’s right and Democrats on the left has widened considerably.

In the context of the pure two-party system, ideological polarization has in recent years been combined with another relatively new wrinkle: party discipline in congressional voting. This is surprising given what we were taught in political science 101: unlike in parliamentary systems, there is no question of loss of “confidence” in the United States, and the party in power can remain in office even if it loses the support of the majority in the legislature. However, legislative rules now make it difficult for the parties to cooperate, even if there is a possible majority for doing so, since all decisions can be initiated only by a majority of the majority party. Add this to the ideological polarization described above, and Congress today displays a rigid party discipline unknown in earlier days.

More Trumps down the road?

Despite all the advantages American political institutions currently give to the Republican Party and its presidential nominee, there is good reason to believe that the party will lose control in one or both houses of Congress this year, and that Trump will not continue beyond 2020. Indeed, given current attitudes, there is a reasonable chance that the next president will be more in the mould of Obama than Trump. One reason for this is that the millennials have far less confidence in Trump than all other age groups (see figure 5).

What lies further down the road? The millennials may see things differently as they age. And the Trumpites will not go away, and will not readily release their hold on the Republican Party. Hence there is good reason to expect that one day another unfit populist demagogue will ride America’s exceptional political institutions all the way to the summit of what was once democracy’s shining city on the hill.

Continue reading “Only In America”

Akos Verboczy, Rhapsody in Quebec: On the Path of an Immigrant Child.
Translated by Casey Roberts. Montreal: Baraka Books, 2017. 243 pages.

Nicolas Zorn, J’ai profité du système; des centres jeunesse à l’Université: Parcours d’un enfant du modèle québécois. Montreal: Éditions Somme toute, 2017. 240 pages.

These are two recent books written by French-speaking (I read the Verboczy book in a very good English translation that has just come out), sophisticated Montrealers. Neither is a great work of literature or social science but each, in its own way, contributes to our knowledge of an insufficiently known and discussed dimension of Quebec society, and serves to counter certain stereotypes. I know both authors slightly, having participated in events in which they were involved in recent years, including ones they helped organize.1

Both write from their own experience but generalize from it to contemporary Quebec. In the process they explode two widely held myths about Quebec. These might be stated as follows:

  • Anglophone immigrants are outsiders in the majority community, especially in nationalist circles. It is in the anglophone minority, reflecting a Canada that is open to them and to the diversity of their society, that they are most welcome.
  • The Quebec public sector is a drain on taxpayer money; the services it provides are inefficient and ineffective, and serve the interests of the providers more than those receiving the services.
The post–Bill 101 generation

Verboczy attacks the first myth on the basis of his experience. While he is of a very different generation, in certain ways his experience reflects my own. He was born in 1975 and came to Montreal at the age of 11 (I came at the age of four in 1951). We are both of eastern European (Hungarian and Polish) Jewish background (he is half Jewish, on his mother’s side), and grew up in the Côte-des-Neiges district on the other side (northwest) of Mount Royal from the city centre. Côte-des-Neiges, where I still live, is now even more of a multicultural bastion, with more than 100 languages spoken.

The most important difference between us is that he arrived with his mother after Bill 101 was enacted, so he entered the French-language school system despite his mother’s integrating into a largely English-speaking Neo-Québécois community. In contrast, as I was growing up in the 1950s, the school system and wider community relationships were such that it would never have occurred to my parents that any language other than English was to be my langue maternelle. (Indeed, before coming here they were unaware that French was spoken in their new home.)

Verboczy, like other Hungarians I have met, is a chauvinist when it comes to the culture of his nation of origin. He sees it as simply natural to take pride in one’s national culture and thus eminently reasonable for immigrants to be expected to open themselves to Quebec culture – as he has done, becoming a supporter of Quebec sovereignty. He has little sympathy for multiculturalism, which he sees as laced with political correctness. His experience has taught him, as he puts it, that if Quebecers will be Quebecers, everyone will benefit.

The first part of the book is about growing up as in immigrant and Quebecer in Quebec in the last decade of the 20th century. It makes for entertaining reading, without really exploring the political dimensions of the integration process. The second part is more political. It tells in particular of his stint working for Diane de Courcy, Minister of Immigration in Pauline Marois’s short-lived Parti Québécois government. And several of the incidents remind me of the time, when, as an Anglo supporter of the PQ, I tried to promote dialogue between anglophones and the Lévesque government.

He finds himself in the middle, trying to bring Quebec nationalists to a better understanding of the reality of the Neo-Québécois (sympathy goes only so far without understanding). At the same time, he has the harder job of trying to bring the Neo-Québécois to a better understanding of, if not sympathy with, Quebec nationalism. He argues from personal experience that the obstacle in the latter case is the leadership role that Anglo elites play in much of the Neo-Québécois community.

The second section is also composed of vignettes, based mainly on his experiences as political attaché to the PQ’s Minister of Immigration. In this section he is no longer concerned with his own integration, which he treats as a fait accompli. His experience, especially as chair of the Intercultural Committee of Montreal’s main school board where he was an elected commissioner for nine years, gave him an important vantage point from which to observe the process in which, he believes, his post–Bill 101 generation of Neo-Québécois has learned to integrate into the majority culture. In so doing, they have been transforming that culture, so that as he puts it in the last line of this readable book, we can “finally stop asking ‘where are you from,’ and instead ask ‘where are we heading.’”

Profiting from the system

Zorn’s story is a different one, though there is a Montreal multicultural reality here too, since his father was a unilingual American married to a French Canadian. He was born in 1984 in a middle-class family in Ville LaSalle, in the southwestern part of Montreal Island. His francophone identity was confirmed when he lost his father in a car accident at the age of eight. But the tragedy also led him to rebel against the society in which he found himself. This book tells the story of the stages of his life during the next decade as a juvenile delinquent, of how he was treated by – and ultimately “profited” from – “the system.” As the story continues, it evolves into a wider defence of the sometimes-maligned Quebec welfare state, especially the Directeur de la Protection de la Jeunesse (DPJ), the agency mandated to look after the welfare of young people in trouble.

The DPJ seldom gets the appreciation it deserves, he argues. Indeed, it is only when it fails that it gets public attention. And fail, on occasion, it must. (I know of a case where a complaint by the child of a coworker, which turned out to be false, made the life of the accused miserable for over a year and ultimately forced him to seek employment elsewhere.) Zorn’s book is a useful reminder that the DPJ’s insistence on placing the child’s welfare above all, which in his case amounted to a decade of efforts to bring him back into the community and mainstream educational institutions, can and does have beneficial effects. He helpfully assembles statistics on the various interventions (of more than 80,000 potential cases reported to it, the DPJ intervenes in 20,000-plus cases annually.) His main claim is that, more than elsewhere in North America, the process in Quebec focuses on the real needs of the child, investing sufficient resources to follow him or her (usually him) through the years.

The final section of his book goes on to argue that the overall effect of the Quebec welfare state has been positive, stressing the lower levels of inequality attained in Quebec compared to elsewhere in North America. This section is based on his work with the Institut du Nouveau Monde (INM), where he organized a Strategic Rendez-Vous on social inequalities, bringing together experts and activists seeking to identify the values ​​and priorities of citizens’ action on social inequalities, and propose solutions. Over a two-year period, the INM released a number of accessible publications, organized dozens of activities and consulted 5,000 citizens from all over Quebec. Zorn assembled the results, combining citizen attitudes and scientific knowledge on social inequalities in Quebec.

Zorn is now expanding his research in a PhD program at the Université de Montréal and will no doubt put it to good use for his community in the future.

Continue reading “Beyond Quebec stereotypes”

In the Summer/Fall 2017 issue of Inroads, we took a wide-ranging look at populist movements in Europe. Except for Ronald Beiner’s investigation into the role of White House – now former – chief strategist Stephen Bannon and Gareth Morley’s analysis of Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, we did not include the United States. Trump’s personality and the complex shifting allegiances in the White House, not to mention the U.S. constitutional division of power and rigid two-party system, make it hazardous to compare the place of populism in American politics with European movements.

However, developments since the issue came out in June make it clear that we cannot ignore the emergence of the particularly American brand of populism that Trump has aroused. Indeed, all the attention paid to Trump’s unique combination of bullying and lies leads to the mistaken impression that what are now commonly being called the Trumpites are his creation. One useful reminder from the Alabama Republican primary in September that rejected Trump’s “establishment” candidate in favour of the extremist Roy Moore is that the Trumpites are not Trump’s creation but rather a subculture in American politics that Trump brings to the surface.

The Trumpites constitute around a third of American voters, and more than three quarters of current Republican voters. Their support for Trump is little related to his policies, such as they are. Those who voted for him instrumentally because he promised them industrial jobs – especially in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan that gave him the election – have drifted away. There are very few if indeed any Trump Democrats. Simply put, the Trumpites are not for anything; they are against: against people unlike themselves. They are practically all white, and the great majority have no college degree. Impervious to the relevant facts, they respond to a simple appeal: defeat those elitist un-American liberals who trample on everything patriotic because they want to turn the United States over to people not like themselves.

As New York Times columnist David Brooks describes it, there are two equally sized groups in the larger Republican constituency. Half are conservatives like himself, favouring openness to trade and diversity and small government. The other half are white racialists – their Republican Party is the white party. Trump draws in this latter group in coded and uncoded public statements: about fine people among white supremacists, the patriotic Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, those unpatriotic (black) professional football players, the biased Mexican judge, the ingrates in Puerto Rico …

In Europe, there is a comparable populist constiuency, but it is far smaller. In part this is a reflection of multiparty institutions. The populist vote, outside of this hard core, fluctuates depending on the issues of the day, since unlike the Trumpites, these potential populist voters are generally not excluded from the wider, mainstream political discussion. In European countries, moreover, with their more proportional electoral systems, in most cases mainstream parties cooperate to effectively exclude the populists from power.

The opposite is the case in the United States. The Trumpite third is overrepresented. It is concentrated in the red “flyover” states, which compared to the blue coastal states are generally low in population. We saw the effect of this in the electoral college vote in 2016 which gave Trump the presidency. Blue California’s 55 electoral votes amount to 1 per 713,636 population, while red Wyoming’s three electoral votes amount to 1 per 195,167 population. Both – like all other states – have two senators. Moreover, the red states are typically gerrymandered by Republican state legislatures to maximize Republican representation in the House, bolstered by various restrictions that make it harder for students and minorities to vote.

Republicans are thus in power in Washington, and, for the most part, the Trumpites control the Republican Party. A key asset for the party is Trump’s willingness to lend his name to a barrage of party appeals, such as an email in September that urged donors to help “drain the swamp.” Another message from Trump urged supporters to fight back against a “weak and self-serving political class.” This divisive message has proven very effective in filling the party’s coffers and thus strengthening Trump’s position.

Whatever their private thoughts, few elected Republicans are prepared to challenge Trump and his surrogates for fear of being denied renomination by Trump, who can communicate directly with his followers through the Twittersphere. While the elected Republicans pay attention to what journalists and intellectuals have to say on the issues in, at least, the conservative media, not so the Trumpites. On August 5 the Economist reported that about 15 per cent of Republicans surveyed preferred “Trump truths” over two leading conservative publications, the Weekly Standard and the National Review. And while 23 per cent said they trusted the Fox television news network more than Trump truths, 54 per cent preferred Trump over Fox. Moreover, the survey revealed that “Republicans now loathe mainstream media outlets so much that many say they would stoop to unconstitutional means to silence them.”

Politically, the Trumpites pose a problem for the GOP by bringing a group that the Republicans have been cultivating behind the scenes since Richard Nixon’s 1968 “southern strategy” into public focus. To keep a sufficient number of its libertarian and religious conservative supporters under the GOP umbrella, the party has to keep Trumpites out of the limelight. This has proven impossible with Trump around.

As the Trumpites come to constitute the hard core that support Trump no matter what, they will get more and more outraged by what they see as conspiracies by his – and their – opponents. Democrats become subjects of vicious online abuse and threats of physical violence – and moderate Republicans who dare to criticize Trump even more so. The long-term implications of the polarization Trump fosters could be dire indeed. As evidence of illegality and collusion mounts, a third of Americans, comprising a majority in many red states, will interpret attempts to impeach him or even clip his wings as proof that un-American elites are taking their country away from them, the real Americans, and will react accordingly.

Beyond defeating Trump and his acolytes at the polls, unwinding this polarization is the real challenge. Fifty years ago, political scientists comparing democracies found that in the United States politics was consensual – “I did not vote for him, but I am sure he will do a good job” – while ideologically divided Europeans were willing to accept the legitimacy of the opposing party in power only because the alternative was a return to war. Today the opposite is the case. The system, the Trumpites know, is rigged against them, and they will not go quietly.

Is the liberal democratic political world as we have known it being transformed – for the worse – right before our eyes? If so, we are not talking about the kinds of transitory changes we are accustomed to, but rather what the French call tendances lourdes. In this section we pose that question squarely. We are not the first to do so, clearly, but we bring to it both a Canadian perspective and on-the-spot reports from analysts in the places where the challenge is playing out.

We have approached the question before. In two articles in recent issues, Patrick Webber suggested that the left-right framework in which we have understood democratic politics is no longer appropriate. That framework was defended in the Winter/Spring 2017 issue by Gad Horowitz.1 But is it in fact meaningful in today’s context? Events since then strongly suggest that Webber has it right.

Marine Le Pen

Take the recent French presidential election results. While Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the second round was never in doubt, Marine Le Pen was still able to win 34 per cent of the vote. And a third of French voters stayed home or cast blank or invalid ballots. We can be sure that in mid-June Le Pen’s National Front will win far more than the two National Assembly seats it has now. Moreover, the polarization is not in any way the standard left-right one on social and economic issues, on most of which Le Pen was, if anything, to the left of Macron.

The left-right framework was set out in a number of landmark articles and books from the 1960s onward, including Horowitz’s 1966 essay “Conservatism, Liberalism and Socialism in Canada: An Interpretation.”2 Swedish sociologist Walter Korpi termed it “the democratic class struggle,” while for his Danish colleague Gøsta Esping-Andersen that struggle was one of “politics against markets.”3 This idea, that the basic dynamic of democratic politics is a dispute over the use of the state within liberal democratic institutions, has served as the basic framework for understanding, and participating in, politics in the last two generations.

Emmanuel Macron

Of course, during these past 50 years, even in the democratic heartland of western Europe, North America and Australasia, not all political parties and movements have fit within the framework. Extremist parties of left and right have arisen, at times challenging liberal democratic institutions, But as a rule, these were kept to the fringe: for more than half a century the main actors in our political systems – a mainstream composed of two main parties or blocs of parties – have had a shared understanding. Within the constraints of constitutional democracy, the left seeks to use government to win a greater share of resources for those who are disadvantaged, while the right seeks to reduce constraints that hinder those with such resources from using them as they see fit. Each presumes that its favoured policy mix will produce sufficient durable economic growth to allow for improved conditions for everyone including those at the bottom, not only domestically but also beyond through foreign aid and immigration.

This is the model that was held out, if not always applied, as decolonization and democratization were advancing in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Most dramatically, it was the objective aspired to by the peoples of the former Soviet empire and, it seemed for a time, of the former Soviet Union itself. Until about ten years ago, when the economic crisis hit, the continued advancement of this liberal democratic model was never seriously in doubt.

The economic crisis brought to the surface cracks that had been forming in the key pillar propping up the model: the prospect that there would be sufficient economic growth so that some of its benefits could trickle, if not flow, downward. Recently, the work of Thomas Piketty and his colleagues has drawn our attention to the fact that upward mobility was declining and inequality had been increasing for a decade. This was the inevitable result of industrial jobs being supplanted by technology or moved to countries where labour costs are low. It is an “elite” with appropriate technological skills and knowledge and access to capital, both financial and social, that has prospered. Those who have combined the two in developing internet-based enterprises have made it to the top in record time and numbers.

Vladimir Putin

At the same time, the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union shifted the world’s major geopolitical fault line to the Arab-Muslim world in parts of Asia and Africa. Conflicts there, combined with the growing presence of internet-based communications, have brought terrorism and uncontrolled migration to the Western democracies. The resulting cleavages have led to the rise of populist parties in Europe. During this process, Russia under Vladimir Putin effectively abandoned whatever aspirations it had of becoming a liberal democracy. The rise of populist parties serves the interests of the Putin regime, which has used highly sophisticated cyber techniques to promote them and undermine mainstream parties.

The articles on Europe that follow, along with related analyses of events in the United States and Turkey, examine this complex set of developments. Inroads readers will be familiar with the manifestation of these phenomena in the rise of Donald Trump. While it is foolhardy to attribute any consistent set of ideas to Trump, there is no question that his appeal fits into what we think of as populism, aimed at those who feel left out of a world of geographical and cyberspace mobility that appears to have passed them by.

This is the constituency that populists address when they claim to speak in the name of, and directly to, the people. Those who oppose them, in politics, the media or universities, are “enemies of the people.” And the people, more often than not, turn out to be old-stock nationals. A specific example of this tack is the ongong attack by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the Central European University and its founder, George Soros, a severe critic of the populists.4 The very real sentiment of being left out is thus exaggerated and distorted by populist politicians and their facilitators in the “alternate” media. Donald Trump’s disdainful attitude toward facts parallels developments in Putin’s Russia, for which Trump has shown a very un-American, and especially un-Republican, admiration.

Russian cyberwarfare clearly helped elect Trump, and he still appears unconcerned about Russian meddling not only in his own election but also in elections in eastern and western Europe, where it presents a more insidious threat to liberal democracy. Indeed, Trump has been generally welcoming of populist movements everywhere as reflecting his own “America First” stance. As described by Ronald Beiner in this issue, Steve Bannon, at least until recently the most influential of Trump’s advisers, expounds a more consistent version of this kind of populist nationalism: emphasis on the nation, on the direct relationship between the charismatic leader and the people and on security and public order, along with hostility to immigration and distrust of supranational and intermediate institutions.

It is noteworthy that the first foreign politician Trump met with after winning the election in November was Nigel Farage of the populist United Kingdom Independence Party. And a day after his inauguration, addressing right-wing populists meeting in Koblenz, Germany, Marine Le Pen heralded Trump’s victory. “In 2016, the Anglo-Saxon world woke up,” she said, promising that Europe was soon to follow. To what extent, the articles in this section ask, has Le Pen been proven right?

A related phenomenon is the emergence or consolidation of authoritarian regimes in Russia, China, Turkey, Egypt and parts of eastern Europe. Perhaps the most significant authoritarian challenge to liberal democracy today is taking place in Turkey. In a very important contribution to our understanding of this phenomenon, the distinguished Turkish political analyst Ilter Turan explains developments leading up to the April 16 referendum in that country. Overall, according to the Economist (Magazine) Intelligence Unit’s 2016 Democracy Index,

The average global score fell to 5.52 from 5.55 in 2015 (on a scale of 0 to 10). Some 72 countries experienced a decline in their total score compared with 2015, almost twice as many as the countries which recorded an improvement (38). The other 57 countries stagnated, with their scores remaining unchanged compared with 2015 … In the 2016 Democracy Index five regions, compared with three in 2015, experienced a regression – Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and Western Europe – as signified by a decline in their regional average score. Eastern Europe recorded by far the biggest decline (from 5.55 to 5.43). Almost one-half (49.3%) of the world’s population lives in a democracy of some sort, although only 4.5% reside in a “full democracy”, down from 8.9% in 2015 as a result of the US being demoted from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy.”

The flaw in American democracy is Americans’ declining trust in their government and elected officials. Drawing on data from Waves 3 through 6 of the World Values Surveys (1995–2014), Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk focus on “four important types of measures that are clear indicators of regime legitimacy as opposed to government legitimacy: citizens’ express support for the system as a whole; the degree to which they support key institutions of liberal democracy, such as civil rights; their willingness to advance their political causes within the existing political system; and their openness to authoritarian alternatives such as military rule.”5 They conclude,

Citizens … in North America and Western Europe have not only grown more critical of their political leaders. Rather, they have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives … In 2011, 24 percent of U.S. millennials (then in their late teens or early twenties) considered democracy to be a “bad” or “very bad” way of running the country.

Continental Europe is the main scene of the populist insurgency. In his comparative analysis of European developments, John Erik Fossum shows how populists like Marine Le Pen are able to target the European Union. Even in Sweden, as reported in the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of Inroads, the still strong anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats were at one point in 2016 tied in the polls with the two major parties.6 In this section, we report on elections this year in a number of key European countries where populists, often Russian-supported, have emerged as key players.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Eugene Rumer, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recently told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that Ukraine was hit during its 2004 and 2014 election campaigns. Malware was used to infect the servers at Ukraine’s central election commission. Hungary, the Baltic states and the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which Russia invaded in 2008, have also been targets of political subversion by the Kremlin. Putin’s intelligence agencies are now directing their subterfuge at Germany and France. The immediate targets of Russian cybermeddling are Emmanuel Macron and think tanks associated with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The result has been a relentless series of cyberattacks originating in Moscow, in all probability directed by Russian military intelligence.7

Pro-Russia candidates won presidential elections in 2016 in Bulgaria and Moldova, and the former Soviet empire remains the primary target of Russian meddling. The essay by Filip Kostelka and Eva Krejčová provides an overview of the methods through which, more than 25 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Kremlin is rebuilding its political clout. But as we have seen, it doesn’t end there. As Andrew Higgins wrote in the New York Times on December 4, Putin “has been adept at making his own luck, deploying Orthodox priests, Russian-funded news media outlets like RT, spies and computer hackers to ride and help create the wave of populist anger now battering the foundations of the post-1945 European order.” A European Council on Foreign Relations (EFCR) study termed 45 parties insurgent, of which 30 “expressed agreement with at least some recent Russian positions.” The study noted that “these views on Russia policy do not fall naturally along the lines of left and right.” A subsequent EFCR commentary elaborated:

A majority of the 45 insurgent parties identified by EFCR were favourably inclined towards Russia and sympathised with Russian positions. The most pro-Russian of these parties (of a significant size) on the far right are: the AfD , FPÖ , Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik, France’s Front National, Italy’s Northern League, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang (VB). On the far left, the most pro-Russian parties are Cyprus’s AKEL, Germany’s Die Linke, the Czech Republic’s KSCM, Podemos in Spain, and Syriza . The Italian Five Star Movement and the Human Shield Party in Croatia also belong to the pro-Russian camp.8

There are reports of American money finding its way to some of these movements. As reported by Paul Lucardie in this issue, the David Horowitz Freedom Centre (founded to battle “the radical left and its Islamist allies”) donated over €100,000 to Geert Wilders’s PVV (Freedom Party) in the Netherlands. In his article, Lucardie notes that though the PVV did not do quite as well as had been expected in that country’s election, the overall result was more complex. Nationalist parties, seeking to protect national identity and sovereignty, restrict immigration and strengthen national defence and security, did well, but so did cosmopolitan (antinationalist) parties concerned with climate change, solidarity with refugees, diversity, privacy and civil liberties. The losers were parties that either defended the status quo or took an ambiguous middle-of-the-road position on these issues.

Something similar is happening in France. It was the pro-Europe independent Emmanuel Macron who emerged to face Marine Le Pen in the second round rather than the major party candidates. Nevertheless, as John Richards reports, the combined strength of Le Pen and far-left populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round raised concerns that will not go away despite Macron’s second-round victory.

In Germany, where the election will take place in the fall, the populist AfD will not be an important factor compared to elsewhere in Europe. Nevertheless, the AfD has done well recently in a number of key Land elections and, as reported by Philipp Harfst, is apparently being helped by a campaign orchestrated or at least tolerated by Russian authorities. Harfst expects a dirty campaign, with fake news from a variety of sources including the Russian media.

It can be said that, among Western countries, the populist story begins in Italy. Giorgio Malet writes about two major anti-elite uprisings, in 1994 and 2013. These two electoral earthquakes resulted from deep and widespread popular dissatisfaction with the political system and mainstream political actors and transformed Italian politics. Italy has witnessed the rise of Forza Italia, the party of the tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, the Northern League and, most recently, the Five Star Movement led by the former comedian Beppe Grillo, the choice of a quarter of Italian voters in 2013.

As the articles that follow describe and try to explain, somewhere between 15 per cent (Germany) and 40 per cent (France) of voters in these countries have so abandoned the idea that democratic politics will lead to progress that they are prepared to cast their votes for someone who rejects the whole trajectory of democratic development they have experienced.9 Whether these local populists’ attack focuses on the EU, immigration or trade, the appeal is the same: it finds its audience not in the expanding cities but in those outside of them, near or far, who feel, or are told to feel, abandoned. Given that the pressures that underlie mass migration are not likely to recede soon, and the cybernation of the world even less so, this state of affairs will be with us in the years to come.

Continue reading “The populist insurgency and its Russian friends”

Is it useful to compare Canada and Sweden’s policies, as set out in these next two articles, when it comes to taking in refugees? Yes and no. Both countries are relatively rich and open to outsiders. Both have programs in place to integrate newcomers. And both – especially Canada – are relatively sparsely populated. Yet there are crucial differences.

Sweden’s open border policy, as described in the article by Patrik Öhberg and Elin Naurin, resulted in the arrival between 2013 and 2016 of approximately 320,000 asylum seekers – more per capita than any other Western country – including 35,000 unaccompanied minors in 2015 alone, the vast majority of them young males. This for a country of 9.5 million. By contrast Canada, a country of 35 million, had brought in some 33,000 Syrian refugees as of June 2016.1

Sweden has also been per capita one of the biggest exporters of jihadists in Europe – during this period more than 300 people left Sweden to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. While it is too early to know if the two are related, reports on the situation of young Muslims in Sweden raise this worrisome possibility.2

In Canada the number of jihadists leaving for the Middle East is negligible. But Sweden is far closer to the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. In her contribution, Julia Smith suggests that Canada’s longstanding efforts at integration in the context of its multiculturalism policies are the explanation of the relative absence of would-be terrorists. But if that is the explanation, then Sweden, which has a wide range of services to assist newcomers to integrate, should have produced far fewer jihadists. Clearly, as Smith recognizes, distance from the terror centres from which refugees flee has enabled Canada to be selective and keep numbers within bounds.

There can be no doubt that Canada is turning out to be effective at integrating a still modest number of asylum seekers. This is best reflected in the fact that there is nothing like the backlash we have seen in much of Europe, and even the United States, which has taken in far fewer refugees than Canada.

The Swedish case is more complex. In the context of rising European anti-refugee sentiments, even in a traditionally welcoming country like neighbouring Denmark, Sweden stands out as especially generous. But Sweden overreached.

In the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Inroads, Patrik Öhberg and Elin Naurin told readers that in Sweden asylum policy was not to be publicly questioned since as “a matter of humanity versus inhumanity” any move to less generous policies toward refugees would be understood as playing into anti-immigrant views and thus legitimizing the populist, nationalist Sweden Democrats. Yet they predicted that while Sweden would continue to have generous refugee policies, the underlying challenge of combining these policies with a strong welfare system would only grow more intense.

For two years numbers continued to rise, placing increased stress on welcoming institutions and generating increasing resistance at the grass roots. Yet nothing changed in policy, or even the willingness of elites to consider reducing the flow. Then almost suddenly, in November 2015, everything changed. In this follow-up contribution, Öhberg and Naurin tell us about this change, how and why it happened, and what it means for the future of Sweden as a “humanitarian superpower.”

Continue reading “Immigration: A tale of two countries revisited”

In this section we publish two articles that are on the same theme, yet could not be more different. The subject is the relevance of the left-right distinction for understanding and positioning oneself in the political world.

Patrick Webber argues that the traditional centre-left versus centre-right distinction is no longer the main cleavage in democratic countries. He notes that social democrats and conservatives share a liberal understanding of the political world, one challenged on each side in not dissimilar ways by the “alt-right” and “regressive left.” To meet the challenge from their respective extremes, the moderate left and right must first face up to this reality and combine efforts. In essence, Webber is endorsing the German approach, which calls on grand coalitions to ensure that it never again relives the experience of the thirties, when the democratic left and right fought each other, rather than taking on the Nazis, until it was too late. He could also point to Sweden, currently being ruled by a de facto grand coalition to ensure that the illiberal Sweden Democrats do not enter government (see the article by Patrik Öhberg and Elin Naurin in this issue).

In his contribution, Gad Horowitz, from a wide historical perspective, argues that there is something fundamental that continues to separate Canadian social democracy from the mainstream: the vision of a cooperative commonwealth. While he admits that this current is not as important as he found it to be in the 1960s, when he wrote his classic essay “Conservatism, Liberalism and Socialism in Canada: An Interpretation,” Horowitz refuses to accept that it has been extinguished in pragmatic NDP policy pronouncements – or that it should be.

While he does not spell it out in terms applicable to contemporary political debates, Horowitz clearly has something in mind that transcends the illiberal political correctness on the left that Webber objects to. In a sense, these thoughtful, clearly written articles, whose authors have little to say to each other, reflect the state of political debate on the centre-left. The latest version of the two solitudes?

Michael Booth tears down the Scandinavians – but doesn’t really mean it

Michael Booth, The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia. London: Jonathan Cape, 2014. 416 pages.

Michael Booth’s wide-ranging and often amusing exploration of the Nordic world was spurred on by yet another survey describing his wife’s fellow Danes as the happiest people on earth. Not having encountered so many happy Danes, he decided that this was something he had to try to explain, to get a handle on their Scandinavian psyche. Dedicating a section to each of the five Nordic countries, he has much to say about Denmark, his adopted home, but his favourite target is Sweden. Like many people in his adopted country, he is at his most biting when it comes to laying bare the underside of its neighbour, the supposedly most perfect nation on earth.

There are, of course, other targets. In his generally lightly mocking tone, he tells us of such things as the Finns’ addiction to antipsychotic drugs, the Danes’ addiction to hyggelig or “cosy times,” the Norwegians’ antisocial isolationism, and the Finns’ sisu or machismo. He also finds space to recount the sad tale of the Icelanders’ suicidal corporate spending spree. Some of the time he seems to be asking us to treat his put-downs as part of a comedy routine, but at other times he implies that he is getting at some fundamental truth. Overall, he portrays Scandinavians as uncool nerds.

The fundamental problem with this book is the all too frequent lack of context. When describing a particular propensity, the language is unrestrained by any effort to determine how the non-Scandinavian world – for example the author’s own United Kingdom – fares in comparison. As journalist-observer, eschewing any claim to social science expertise, he sees no need to compare. Hence there are few facts and figures to back up his contentions, the sources for which are typically quotes from a book or author. And sometimes, if need be, a different book or author that takes the opposite position. This can make for good reading but leaves the nonexpert reader unsure as to what is credible and what is not.

Compared to the sections on Denmark and Sweden, Booth has relatively little to say about the other three, so I’ll start with those.

Iceland: From my short visits to Iceland, it was clear that it is the least Scandinavian of the five. It is typically placed in that category because its language has roots in the Old Norse spoken by the Vikings (though incomprehensible to the Danes, Norwegians and Swedes), and because it was a Danish colony in the past. Booth includes it, I suspect, to allow him to write of its huge banking crisis and throw in a few tales about beliefs in elves. In the end, he reveals its un-Scandinavian character. His explanation for Iceland’s failure to restrain its banks from building up huge debts is the inevitable nepotism of a very small country, which doesn’t really tell us very much about Scandinavia as a whole. In the remaining chapters we see that, at least in certain costumes, one size fits all – but not Iceland.

Finland: Here second-guessing Booth turns out to be unnecessary, since he shares my admiration for Finland, where I lived for four months and have returned frequently. It is the most resilient of the four Nordics, ravaged by invasions and civil wars and kept under the thumb of the Russian and then Soviet empires. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, Finland was able to overcome its dependence on Soviet markets, developing high-tech products based on its world-class system of education and research. It faces challenges today now that Nokia is no longer big enough to prop up the economy, but there is every reason to expect the resilience of its people to shine through again.

Norway: Booth has apparently spent some time here, a country I know fairly well. The chapter is not inaccurate, but somewhat mean-spirited nonetheless. After telling us about the Norwegians’ peculiar practically universal custom of wearing the national colours in traditional costumes and flying their flag on May 17, their national day, Booth turns to an event that still traumatizes them: the murder of 77 Norwegians, many of them youths who would have been the leaders of the future, by a right-wing fanatic who hated foreigners, Anders Breivik. This provides a springboard to what he sees as their ambivalent feelings toward foreigners who are doing the jobs that now-rich native Norwegians refuse. He goes on to write at length about how much oil riches have changed the Norwegians, at the same time admitting that it has changed them less than would be the case for any other country in their situation. Similarly, while critical of the national oil company, Statoil, he is forced to acknowledge that any other company administering so much oil wealth would do much worse.

He writes of a boat trip along the coast to the far north, pointing out that the importance of the coastal cities diminishes the prominence of Oslo, compared to Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki. For him, this is a matter of choice by Norwegians to invest heavily in their northernmost cities, noting how you see nothing like this when you cross to the south into northern Sweden. However, he fails to mention the fundamental factor underlying the difference: being on the coast, Norwegian northern cities have Gulf Stream–warmed milder winter weather compared to Oslo, let alone to the cities on the Swedish or Finnish side of the mountainous border.

The chapter peters out with a bunch of stale jokes told by other Nordics about the Norwegians’ antisocial nature, something belied by the many popular, trendy pubs of Oslo and Bergen.

Denmark: Given that Denmark is where Booth lives with his family, we need to take his analysis with only a slight grain of salt. He tries to resolve what he sees as the basic contradiction. The Danes do not have the best welfare state, they are not as rich as the Norwegians or Swedes, they do not have their neighbours’ imposing mountains and valleys in their flat and often grey countryside, and they smoke a lot and have high cancer rates. Yet despite all this, they are the happiest. Trying out various explanations, Booth suggests that perhaps they are not really quite so happy, but rather something in their makeup makes them feel the need to say they are. But he isn’t sure.

There is, I think, a rather simple explanation. The Danes have, if not the best, still a well-functioning welfare state, providing them with an enviable level of security and prosperity. But as simultaneously Scandinavians and continental Europeans, they have fewer inhibitions about enjoying the pleasures of life. They are more like the French when it comes to alcohol consumption, less burdened by the legacy of the binge drinking that was pervasive during their Nordic neighbours’ long and dark winters. Booth has loads of witty anecdotes about a country he knows well. If anything, he lets the Danes off the hook too easily. While he pays much attention to examples of ethnocentrism in the others, he does so less for the Danes, even though the Danes are now the most restrictive of the four when it comes to letting outsiders live in their country and the most prone to vote for anti-immigration parties.

Sweden: While he gives Denmark the benefit of the doubt, the same is not true when, in the last part of the book, he diagnoses the imperfections of Sweden, a country in which I have spent many months. His analysis betrays some of the resentment of his Danish neighbours that their upstart Swedish cousins get so much international attention, a resentment summed up for me by a colleague from Copenhagen pointing to the channel separating Denmark from Sweden and noting, “For us Danes, Asia begins here.”

When Booth crosses the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmö in Sweden, he is entering “the central piece of our Nordic puzzle, the hub, the crux, the Rosetta stone.” The truth, Booth somewhat accurately suggests, is somewhere between the Danes’ view of Swedes as prissy, pedantic and humourless and the left-leaning media’s characterization of them as a paragon of all that a country should be. But he dwells on the negative: the Swedes are breathtakingly rude, and even their good qualities are actually bad – they are too punctual, too consensus-oriented. They are good listeners only because they have nothing to say. And unlike the Danes, the Swedes are too politically correct when it comes to confronting the problems of integrating the many refugees they are admitting.1

Then Booth gets to the crux of his critique. Practising a form of “benign totalitarianism,” a (typically Social Democratic) Swedish government, in cooperation with docile unions and collaborative industrialists, tries to regulate everything for a Swedish population content to be regulated: “the most diligent of worker bees, happy to toil for the good of the hive.” Much is made of historical faults: sterilization of women, guilt over benefiting from Sweden’s neutrality by trading with Nazi Germany. These are seamlessly linked to a craven willingness to depend on services and subsidies from the state, a bad deal, he says, compared to depending on relatives or spouses (or, I would add, private charity). By the end of the chapter he presents – sort of – the other side from a couple of Swedish interlocutors, but he remains sceptical.

He decries the state’s (past) treatment of families, the state knowing better than mothers what is good for their children. But soon afterwards he comes around to say that if he were a woman, he could think of no better place to live. Pages then mock the entirely powerless Swedish royalty – strange coming from a Brit, but then the British never claimed to be egalitarians. The final Swedish chapter tells us that overall, despite this, Sweden is actually doing all right. But even this is presented negatively: he cites a couple of Swedish pessimists to the effect that current Sweden has lost its way, no longer holding on to those old certainties – certainties that he so viciously mocked just a chapter before.

The book ends with an epilogue which asks the reader not to overreact. In effect, he really didn’t mean much of this; he was just playing devil’s advocate. It is only because Scandinavians have succeeded that they need to be torn down. Perhaps that was the point: to remind Scandinavians of their imperfections. Shouldn’t he have warned the non-Scandinavian reader at the outset?

Finally, by seeking out opinions about generalities, you risk missing specific problems and potential threats. And there are problems. Ironically, in his epilogue, which is an almost unapologetic tribute to the “still enviably rich, peaceful, and progressive” Scandinavians, Booth tells us of an education system that not only is free but also has the best standard in the world. If only it were so.

With the exception of Finland, deteriorating standards in education are a serious problem in Scandinavia. This past spring, an OECD report concluded that Sweden has failed to improve its school system despite a series of reforms in recent years, noting a decline in the OECD’s PISA survey over the past decade to significantly below average. School discipline has worsened, with students more likely to arrive late for school than in any other OECD country. And, despite relatively high job satisfaction, only 5 per cent of lower secondary teachers believe that teaching is a valued profession in society.

Now here’s where things are not even nearly perfect. But it’s more fun to write of benign totalitarianism. Continue reading “Almost perfect people or uncool nerds?”

The big news in this election was strategic voting gone awry. “Anybody but Harper” voters deserted the NDP in larger numbers than expected, resulting in a Liberal majority rather than the Liberal minority supported by the NDP that almost everyone expected. What was also unexpected was that in francophone Quebec a fair number of these deserters went to Justin Trudeau, giving 36 per cent of Quebec’s vote and 55 per cent of its seats to the Liberals. As the NDP’s Anne McGrath put it, the niqab issue “shook the party’s Quebec supporters loose.”

From various discussions I had, one part of the answer to why so many went to the Liberals is simple bread-and-butter politics: lower taxes for the “middle class,” retirement at 65 rather than 67 and home postal delivery for those of a certain age, and federal civil service jobs and job security for residents of the Outaouais. The one really significant such promise made by the NDP, universal inexpensive day-care, meant nothing in Quebec, which has it already.

As I write, it is too soon to judge the wisdom of the voters. In my view, the most important consequence of the Liberals’ success at winning a majority rather than needing the NDP’s support to govern will be on the prospects for electoral system reform. The NDP was committed to bringing in proportional representation. Indeed, had we voted this time under PR, Trudeau – who promised that this would be the last election under first-past-the-post – and Tom Mulcair would be negotiating the fine points of a working relationship. (In his accompanying article, Wilf Day simulates how the seats would have been distributed had the election been fought under PR.)

Electoral reform is usually discussed in terms of PR’s well-known advantages in fairly representing the views of voters. The election results highlight this point. To put it bluntly, under FPTP strategic voting by NDP supporters brought an unwanted result: a much weaker NDP and, thus, a majority Liberal government. Here, however, I want to stress a second point, one that really hasn’t entered the discussion: the relationship between the electoral system and the workings of our democratic institutions.

A refreshingly revealing moment in the campaign came when Justin Trudeau said in his interview with Peter Mansbridge in early September that since it was his father who started concentrating power in his office when prime minister, it was only fitting that he be the one to end it. Mansbridge correctly reminded him that Stephen Harper had also promised to devolve power away from the PMO.

Underlying Mansbridge’s point is the fact that the problem of PMO autocracy lies more in institutions than in the will of individual politicians. But which institutions? In two full-column editorials in late August, the Globe and Mail bemoaned the lengths – as revealed in the Duffy trial – to which Harper’s PMO would go to control the flow of information to Canadians, indeed to everyone outside the small circle close to the Prime Minister. This theme was taken up on October 1 by Globe columnist Jeffrey Simpson. Noting the low quality of the Tories’ front bench, he asked why someone should want to be a cabinet minister when you had to get the permission of the PMO to make any sort of public intervention. (Simpson had written a book in 2001 portraying Jean Chrétien’s government as a “friendly dictatorship”).

The Globe’s solution was more free votes and the like to pull MPs out from under the thumb of the PMO. Such an approach presumes that our “Westminster” institutions can still function the way we are taught they do in our civics textbooks. In the standard Westminster model, Canadian voters choose among party programs and give a clear mandate to their preferred party. The “loyal” opposition identifies weaknesses in the governing party’s proposed measures and offers alternatives which find their way into parliamentary debate, and are reported by the press gallery to an attentive citizenry. The process produces, where needed, improved legislation plus a basis for judging the government on its record after four years.

The Westminster model is based on majority government. Minority governments are aberrations to be avoided since they are not clearly accountable. This is why the model is associated with our first-past-the-post electoral system. Unfair and unrepresentative as the outcomes of elections under it often are, FPTP has the saving grace of usually turning parties with plurality voter support into parliamentary majorities.

But the Westminster model simply doesn’t fit. While evident under previous governments, its weaknesses will not be perceived as a problem during Trudeau’s honeymoon period, with the Conservatives looking for a new leader and the NDP trying to figure out what went wrong. But the honeymoon will be over in a year or two, if not sooner. Then Trudeau’s adviser Gerald Butts, like Nigel Wright in Harper’s PMO, will be faced with the exigencies of majority government. It will be necessary for the PMO, or whatever the institution at the centre of government working closely with the party leadership will be called, to reassert itself.

It is the media’s job to get at the facts underlying the government’s pronouncements, the very same facts that the opposition needs to discredit the government. So the opposition, working in tandem with the media, will be trying to catch government spokespersons in an error of fact or a contradiction. Hence, whatever the initial inclinations of its boss, the prime minister, it falls on the central political body to keep this from happening by shaping and controlling what comes out from members of the cabinet, caucus and bureaucracy. This in turn makes the media only more determined to get at the underlying facts, which, in turn, generates greater efforts to control – a vicious circle. The 24-hour news cycle, the blogs, the Twitter feeds and the like make the process much more pressing than the one Simpson described 15 years ago.

Tweaking the system with more free votes will not change much: the problem lies in the accumulation of power in one place under majority government. One solution would be to adopt American-style separation of powers. But experience there suggests it to be a cure worse than the disease. The solution lies in sharing power at the highest level of our Westminster system, replacing majority government by stable minority government.

Minority government sometimes happens under FPTP, but it is considered the exception rather than the rule, and thus unstable. As we saw in this election, like the last one, in Canada you can win a majority of seats with less than 40 per cent of the vote, so minority governments’ priority becomes finding an excuse for calling an early election in which they ask for and expect to get a majority. To get stable minority or coalition governments, we need to put an end to this expectation. To do that we need to replace our electoral system with one used in most mature democracies: proportional representation. In his article, Wilf Day sets out the logic of a PR system made to measure for Canada.

PR elections result in power being shared by the largest party with one or more other parties. While these parties agree to support a common program, their relationship to the media and the population at large is beyond the control of the prime minister and his party. In other words, PMO autocracy is no longer possible. Minority government, the bane of the classic Westminster system, turns out to be a solid basis for adopting PR as an antidote to the way our institutions work today.

If Trudeau is really interested in making government less secretive and more cooperative, he will need to live up to his promise that this will be the last election under FPTP. Have we good reason to expect this? The language in the Liberals’ platform leaves much room for doubt:

We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system. As part of a national engagement process, we will ensure that electoral reform measures – such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting – are fully and fairly studied and considered. This will be carried out by a special all-party parliamentary committee, which will bring recommendations to Parliament on the way forward, to allow for action before the succeeding federal election. Within 18 months of forming government, we will bring forward legislation to enact electoral reform.

Mandatory and online voting are perfectly compatible with FPTP, while ranked ballots do not result in any more proportional outcomes than FPTP, but do favour the centrist party.1 There is good reason, thus, to suspect that this is the only alternative to FPTP that the Liberals will consider. I tabulated the numbers on the website of Fair Vote Canada, which contacted all the candidates for their position. The result was: 68 Liberals endorsed PR, 28 leaned toward PR, 30 were ambiguous, one was opposed and 202 gave no response. And that was when they could not expect to govern alone.

So it will be up to Justin Trudeau. He has proved willing to make institutional changes that went beyond his party’s traditional position – for example, by setting Liberal senators free of the Liberal whip. And, as reported in the Toronto Star, when asked on the day after the election, he did not step back from his commitment that this would be the last election under FPTP. But doing so in any meaningful way means standing up to those in his party who see in FPTP the assurance of their again becoming the natural governing party and relegating the NDP to long-term small party status. My own inclination is to be sceptical. Easy promises, a winning smile and a mastery of set pieces can win an election, but go only so far when it comes to governing. I very much hope that Prime Minister Trudeau II will exceed my expectations. Continue reading “Electoral reform, the power of the PMO and Justin Trudeau”

by Henry Milner, Rafael Belliard and Jeffrey Oberman

Canada has long had positive relations with the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the two countries that share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, and millions of Canadians visit Hispaniola each year. While seldom in the news until recently, the DR has found its way into many news reports and political statements about the plight of Dominicans of Haitian origin. In what follows, the authors of this article, who have lived for different periods in the DR, try to re-establish the facts and assess prospects for the future.

It all began in 2013 with the verdict in the DR’s highest court against Juliana Dequis Pierre.


Juliana Dequis Pierre was born in 1984 in the batey of Los Jovillos in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents who had settled in the DR in the 1970s. In 2008, she applied for a Cédula, the DR’s ID card, and was refused. An initial appeal in court was rejected on the technical grounds that she had supplied a photocopy of her birth certificate. She then appealed to the highest judicial body in the country, the Constitutional Court, and the repercussions of that appeal resonate to this day.

On September 23, 2013, the Constitutional Court again decided against Juliana Dequis Pierre, but its decision – “La Sentencia” – went much further.1 The ruling covered the children of all undocumented persons living in the DR born since the 1929 Constitution was adopted, affecting an estimated 210,000 people born in the DR. Almost all of these people are from families of Haitian origin. The current Dominican Constitution recognizes as citizens all persons born on national territory, except children “of foreign members of diplomatic or consular legations, of aliens in transit or residing illegally on Dominican territory.”2 The Court ruled that the category of children of “aliens in transit or residing illegally on Dominican territory” applied to children of undocumented persons living in the DR.


The decision was swiftly denounced internationally for rendering longtime residents “stateless.” (Use of this term is technically inaccurate, since children of Haitian parents retain their Haitian nationality.) Unquestionably, it posed a serious political as well as administrative problem for Dominican President Danilo Medina. Faced from all sides by condemnations of this human rights tragedy and demands to stop the impending deportations, but constitutionally prevented from appealing the verdict, Medina met with a group of those affected by the ruling to plan the government’s response.

In November 2013, he issued a presidential decree launching the National Regularization Plan (PRNE), which was executed over the course of 18 months and expired on June 17, 2015. Under the PRNE, anyone who was settled in the Dominican Republic before October 2011 was eligible to obtain a migratory visa confirming their legal status in the country, and eventually citizenship. The path to citizenship was elaborated in a new law, passed in May 2014. It first opened the door to DR citizenship for the 24,000 who had been inscribed in the civil registry and issued birth certificates before La Sentencia. The estimated remaining 186,000 born in the DR but without birth certificates could prove their birthplace by providing one of four acceptable documents, such as a signed statement from a midwife or witnesses, and then apply through the regularization plan, the PRNE.

Of the others affected, estimated up to 250,000, born in Haiti but living in the DR since before 2011, the plan listed the kinds of documents needed to prove their length of stay in the DR and “ties” to Dominican society. The possibilities included a deed to a house, a letter from a schoolteacher, a note from a boss or a notarized memo of good conduct from seven Dominican neighbours. The documents were to be presented at one of 31 designated offices. However, none of those offices are located in the bateys, the isolated company towns in which many of those affected live.

While there was no fee for applying for regularization to cover the estimated US$27 million the process is costing the DR, there was a cost incurred in gathering the documents. Moreover, those carrying out the process were not always sensitive to the situation of the applicants, many of whom spoke rudimentary Spanish. Rumours of abuses abounded and, no doubt, some eligible to apply did not do so out of fear or ignorance.

The international outcry

Expiry of the regularization period set off another round of international protest. An article by Rachel Nolan in the May 2015 issue of Harper’s was entitled “Displaced in the D.R.: A Country Strips 210,000 of Citizenship.” It was followed by a statement by José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, cited in a New York Times editorial under the headline “Stateless in the Dominican Republic” on June 12: “The Dominican Republic is denying tens of thousands of citizens their right to a nationality, and despite mixed messages, people are being detained and shoved over the border.” And on July 2, the New York Times Magazine featured “The Dominican Time Bomb” by Jonathan M. Katz, which told of plans to expel hundreds of thousands of residents of Haitian descent and buses to transport the deportees to processing centres at the border.

Racism was one of the themes of the reports, especially an August 23 article in USA Today by Yamiche Alcindor who noted that “many deportees and international human rights organizations believe that racism motivates the government’s immigration purge. They claim the immigration ruling is rooted in age-old racist notions of dark-skinned people as inferior to those with lighter complexions.” She was echoing the analysis of Jonathan Katz for whom the “expulsion … seemed like the logical culmination of decades of hate: a long-ticking time bomb finally poised to go off,” an expression of “the intensity of the hatred and violence long directed against Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent – and against anyone black enough to be confused for either.”

In the process, politicians also got into the act, notably New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who on June 17 publicly expressed concern “about the potential forced deportation tonight of hundreds of thousands of people from the Dominican Republic, including many children.” Others followed, including Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montreal, who, on June 23 sent out a statement voicing his “outrage over the illegal and immoral depossession (sic) of hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian origin” in the DR.

The full story shows that such characterizations are misleading. Multiple realities result from the fact that Haitian immigration developed over generations as an informal, extralegal process. And these multiple realities give rise to differing interpretations. The Haitian interpretation has, for understandable reasons, found its way into much current international coverage. Unfortunately, when an emotional issue becomes a matter of political correctness, the facts are the first victims.

In our view, in what is admittedly a complex and difficult situation, the Dominican government has, on the whole, acted appropriately. The U.S. Ambassador to the DR, James Brewster, has praised the DR’s efforts toward resolving the issue, accusing the international press of “being unfair to the DR” with its attacks. To be fair, we need to look at the context and go back to the beginnings of the strained relationship between these two peoples who share an island.

The immediate context was a change in relative economic conditions. Until the 1990s, most Haitian workers came to the DR for the sugar cane harvest and returned home once it finished. Afterwards, however, as conditions deteriorated in Haiti, many thousands of Haitians stayed. Meanwhile, more were coming. Especially after the earthquake in 2010, their numbers provoked Dominican fears of an “invasion” – rekindling painful memories of brutal invasions by Haiti in the 19th century. Still today there is no shortage of statements, typically on Internet blogs, evoking a conspiracy to unify the island through unchecked migration that will undermine the DR’s mulatto and Hispanic national identity, an identity incompatible with the Haitians’ African roots. Political leaders of the current generation do not express such ideas, but they were frequently voiced by Joaquín Balaguer, the authoritarian leader who dominated Dominican politics for 35 years after the death of dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961.

Distrust on the other side is typically associated with, and frequently reduced to, race – Haitians treated as virtual slaves on Dominican sugar plantations. Here memories are rekindled of the slaughter of 1937 when Trujillo ordered his army to kill Haitians who could not produce proof of their Dominican status. The killing of thousands went unreported in the media, all of which were government-controlled. Educated Dominicans, while not denying these atrocities, point out that typically Haitians were exploited with the cooperation of their own elites (the Haitian government accepted an indemnity of US$750,000 from Trujillo as compensation for the killings). But the historical roots of Dominican and Haitian reactions to recent events go back much further than that.

The weight of history

In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on the island he eventually named Hispaniola. Forced labour and diseases introduced by the Spanish decimated the indigenous Taino population, which lacked natural immunity to such ailments. To replace that vanishing labour force, the Spanish brought in African slaves. People from France and other countries began to settle Tortuga Island just offshore and later in the northwest of Hispaniola itself. While Spanish Santo Domingo, based in southeast Hispaniola, developed primarily as a land of small livestock ranchers and tobacco and coffee farmers, French Saint-Domingue relied largely on slave-based sugar cane growing.

In 1697 the French presence in Saint-Domingue, covering the western three eighths of Hispaniola, was recognized by the Treaty of Ryswick, which ended a war in which Spain was part of an alliance fighting France’s King Louis XIV. A century later, at the Treaty of Basel in 1795, Spain ceded the remaining five eighths of the now highly profitable island to France. However, France was preoccupied with wars in Europe and slow to occupy the former Spanish territory. During this time, Toussaint L’Ouverture emerged as political and military leader among the slaves and led a revolt against the French slavemasters. After defeating French landowners and the mulatto population in a civil war in 1800, Saint-Domingue ended slavery and in 1804 won its independence, though France extracted harsh reparations that limited the ability of the nascent nation, now called Haiti, to develop.

The Haitians sought to take control of the Spanish parts of the island with an 1805 invasion led by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, self-proclaimed Emperor of Haiti. Atrocities against civilians, an outlet for the Haitians’ hatred for their former “blanc” and mulatto rulers, left a very bitter taste among the Spanish-speaking population that by now defined itself as “Dominican.” The Haitians withdrew when a French fleet appeared, but in 1822, after the Dominicans had proclaimed their independence from a remote and neglectful Spain, Haiti invaded again. The harsh 22-year-long military occupation from Port-au-Prince that followed was deeply resented for its brutality. It was not until 1844 that the Dominican Republic was able to gain independence, though it had to repel four Haitian invasions at the cost of great loss of life and property. Dominicans are still reminded of this today, and of the fact that the DR has never invaded Haiti.

Haiti, at the time, was the larger and more powerful of the two, with a population of just over 510,000. The census identified three distinct classes: 452,000 Africans at the bottom tier, a middle tier of 28,000 mulattoes and 32,000 white colonials at the top. Over time, this developed into a two-caste population, composed of an urban economically and politically empowered mulatto elite of roughly 5 per cent of the population and a largely rural black underclass. These have viewed each other with utmost suspicion and no middle class was able to develop.

In Spanish Santo Domingo, the population numbered some 125,000, composed of 40,000 whites, 25,000 mulattoes and 60,000 African slaves. The population imbalance placed Santo Domingo at an obvious economic and military disadvantage. In 1861, out of fear of further Haitian incursions, Santo Domingo negotiated a controversial annexation agreement with Spain, an ill-fated relationship that by 1862 had given way to a “War of Restoration” that lasted until 1865 when defeated Spanish troops abandoned the island. In 1866 the Dominican Republic attained its “second independence.”

At the end of the 19th century international demand led to a boom in the Caribbean sugar industry. The countries best placed to take advantage of it were Cuba and the Dominican Republic, with large areas of fertile soil and abundant rainfall. In the DR, labour was acquired from abroad, first from the English-speaking eastern Caribbean islands, but soon mainly from Haiti. The Dominican census figures showed a total of 28,000 Haitians in 1920, which climbed to 53,000 by 1935. A major factor was the role of the United States, which occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and the DR from 1916 to 1924. The labour and other requirements of American owners of sugar plantations in both places were well served by the two military administrations.

With the end of the occupations, the two countries’ development paths diverged. Haiti’s economic power waned as a result of the loss of sugar markets to competitors and relentless unchecked deforestation to make vegetable charcoal for cooking fuel, an activity that endures to this day and has brought the country’s current forest cover to a meagre 2 per cent. In contrast, the DR made some progress. For all its brutality, the Trujillo dictatorship (1930–1961) in the DR achieved a degree of development through education, public works, road construction and public health. This was not matched in Haiti, especially under the dictatorships of François Duvalier (“Papa Doc”) from 1957 to 1971 and, even more so, his son Jean-Claude (”Baby Doc”) from 1971 to 1986.

The new Haitian immigrants

The sugar plantations were a state within a state. Law and order, housing, roads, transport, essential services and shops were provided by the company. A number of the companies were owned by the state – i.e. Trujillo – and a larger number for many years by American multinationals. In the bateys the status of the population was defined by the sugar companies. The municipality had no mandate for the population on the sugar estates. If you were lucky, the batey was a place where you could get help from local NGOs and church and philanthropic groups. Even when the international price of sugar, which fluctuated wildly, was high, conditions of the workers were worse than those of Dominicans in comparable industries.

While the traditional batey can still be found in certain areas of the country, significant change was caused by the collapse of the state-owned sugar industry in the late 1980s. The industry was hurt by the United States’s decision to reduce its sugar import quota for the Dominican Republic in order to protect its own farmers, along with the DR’s failure to invest in modernizing the plantations even when the industry was booming. In the 1970s average annual production was over one million tons, around 60 per cent of which was exported to the United States. By 1991 it was down to 340,000 tons.

Beginning in the 1980s, a wave of migrant labourers left the plantations to find jobs elsewhere in agriculture, in the construction industry and in the informal sector of the economy of the cities. During this time, economic dependence on sugar was replaced by the growth of tourism, foreign exchange earnings from remittances from Dominicans living abroad and the establishment of assembly factories in free trade zones. Agricultural production other than sugar also increased, in modernized rice and poultry cultivation and in coffee, cocoa and tobacco plantations protected by government subsidies and protective tariffs.

While migration mostly has economic causes, flight from Haiti for political reasons has also been significant at times. From 1991 to 1994, following the military coup that overthrew the newly elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, there was a mass exodus of up to 100,000 Haitians who escaped by boat or crossed the border into the DR. In the years that followed, the situation improved and the Haitians crossing the border came mainly to work in agriculture or construction, many returning at the end of the season. After 2003, conditions in Haiti deteriorated while those in the DR improved markedly: more Haitians came and more stayed, especially after the terrible earthquake early in 2010.

Although the migrants are still predominantly young men, women are also now migrating in significant numbers. Until recently, the vast majority of this migrant labour was “informal” – that is, it was uncontrolled in the process of exiting from Haiti, crossing the poorly policed border without visa or permit and accessing unregulated work in the DR. Powerful Dominican interests, like the sugar plantations of an earlier day, depend on a supply of relatively cheap and compliant labour. Cutting off the supply of labourers from Haiti would bankrupt part of the agricultural sector and create a crisis in the construction industry. Hence, until the Constitutional Court acted, Dominican authorities were ambivalent about introducing effective mechanisms to regulate migration. Unloved as they were, the Haitians were still needed.

Why Haitians increasingly wanted to go to in the DR is evident. While in the DR real annual GDP per capita, measured in 2005 U.S. dollars, increased from $1,085 in 1960 to $5,101 in 2014, that of Haiti actually decreased, from $1,070 to $497, during that same period. In other words, starting in roughly the same place 55 years ago, today the per capita GDP of the DR is more than 10 times that of Haiti.

After the earthquake

On January 12, 2010, Haiti was struck by a strong earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, followed by two aftershocks of 5.9 and 5.0 respectively, which destroyed large parts of its capital, Port-au-Prince, as well as other cities. Up to 250,000 perished. Most available infrastructure, including the international airport, hospitals and basic government services, collapsed, and the presidential palace crumbled. The DR acted immediately, sending shelters, field kitchens, drinking water, medical and rescue teams, food shipments, heavy equipment to remove debris and other necessities. Not a small number of the injured, including many high government officials, were flown to the DR for medical care.

Following this disaster, a massive wave of refugees crossed the border into the DR. Moreover, a severe cholera outbreak traced to Nepali UN soldiers occurred in Haiti, spilling over to the DR. The DR found itself having to provide medical care and many other basic services, services that are not available in Haiti even during normal times. In 2013 the University Hospital José María Cabral y Baez in Santiago, the DR’s second biggest city, offered services to 25,022 foreigners, of whom 24,507 were Haitian nationals. These represented approximately 25 per cent of the total patients, and 30 per cent of the total income of the hospital was spent on them, exhausting resources intended to care for the Dominican population. (The hospital receives only half of the required US$670,000 from the Dominican government.)

The DR contributes to the education of Haitians by charging the more than 12,000 Haitian students in Dominican universities the same fee as Dominicans, unlike other foreign students who pay a hefty premium. And 44,000 children of Haitians study in Dominican public schools.

Regularization takes shape

Of the estimated up to 250,000 who were born in Haiti but were living the DR since before 2011, those who submitted Haitian passports or the equivalent have received ID papers, though they often disappointingly found that they needed to be renewed in one or two years. Dominican authorities are very critical of Haiti’s civil registry (responsible for providing legal ID documents) for being unable to provide many of them with needed basic information and, initially, demanding a substantial fee from those who did receive copies of birth certificates. (Haiti has refused to recognize as Haitians those unable to register under the PRNE, accusing the DR of “mass deportations and creating a humanitarian crisis.” As noted above, the campaign bore fruit.)

Of those of Haitian origin with papers indicating they were born in the DR, only a minority of the estimated 55,000 eligible – including Juliana Dequis Pierre – have received Dominican ID papers. Obstacles include not finding names on the list, not having received requested documents and not being able to register their children. Overall, the process has been unjustifiably slow, though the government has assured them that they are not subject to possible deportation.

Including those claiming to be longtime Dominican residents but lacking papers showing where they were born, the total goes up to an estimated 435,000. By the June deadline, a total of 288,466 people had applied for regularization, and, in early September the government announced that 80 per cent of them, or more than 230,000, had been successful. By late September, more than 105,000 had received ID cards attesting to their regularized status. Still, there are certainly many eligible who did not apply under the plan out of distrust, lack of information and misinformation. Critics note the slowness to set up local units for receiving the applications, especially in border areas, creating additional difficulties for people living in provinces without local units.


By early August roughly 66,000 had returned to Haiti, with the right to return and regularize their status as long as they could produce the required documents and a visa. There have been conflicting reports about their status. The U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Pamela Ann White, accompanied by her Canadian counterpart Paula Caldwell St. Onge, visited the border to check on those charges and told the press that “there have been no mass deportations and no humanitarian crisis exists here.” She noted that the Dominican government had instituted a hold on deportations for 45 days following the PNRE deadline on June 17, so that those undocumented aliens without IDs had extra time to obtain them.

The Dominican government states that it is keeping Haitian authorities apprised of the identity of returnees, as well as the places and dates when its citizens are being repatriated. Haiti’s own consul in the DR border town of Dajabon, Noil Luken, told the media that he had not witnessed any violations of human rights after initial deportations began in mid-August 2015 following expiry of the 45-day grace period. The Dominican Army has strengthened security at the border with new recruits, noting that they have undergone a three-month course on how to combine courtesy with military discipline to respect human rights in immigration detentions.

Of course, promises are easy to make, and those affected are justifiably sceptical on the basis of past experience. In areas where large groups of Haitians are concentrated, there are reports of violent incidents and threats of intimidation by Dominicans in and out of uniform, reflecting the strain that the massive Haitian presence has placed on these communities and their institutions. Hence we should not be surprised that there is no shortage of reported cases of individuals treated unjustly. On many occasions, neighbourhood committees and public notaries asked for excessive fees, and some employers have refused to cooperate. There are numerous complaints that local officials have demanded additional documents not required by law, such as mothers’ birth certificates and extra declarations by midwives. In some cases misinformed hospitals refused or were unable to hand over the certificates of live birth. As a result some individuals entitled to stay in the DR were deported by overzealous officials.

An emotionally charged issue

In sum, what has been happening does not lead to the concludsion that institutionalized racism and xenophobia are the driving forces. Despite the real problems in the application of its measures, the overall approach taken by the highly popular Dominican government has been reasonable under the circumstances. Even critics of Dominican policy like Bridget Wooding of the Caribbean Migrants Observatory, OBMICA, acknowledge that the Dominican government has been making efforts to harmonize policies and practices throughout the system. Wooding sees this as a response to criticism from outside the country and from civil society organizations in the DR. Whatever the motivation, no one looking objectively, and from an international context, can simply dismiss Dominican efforts to rectify the situation.

Another important factor in the equation is the role of the Haitian authorities. As we write, Haiti has imposed a partial ban on imports of DR products into Haiti in advance of the Haitian election slated for October 25. Clearly the ban is politically inspired, since the main economic costs will be borne by Haitian consumers. And this is not the first or last of such tensions. Still, overall, there has been an improvement in relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, allowing for a certain level of cooperation on cross-border matters that has been sustained even during a protracted period of political crisis in Haiti. The weight of history, it appears, has been ever so slowly lightening.

Before casting stones, those outside Hispaniola would do well to examine how their own country has welcomed, or would have welcomed, the many thousands of poorly educated, poor, black migrants who continue to seek a better life than that offered by the chaotic, effectively failed state that is Haiti. It is easy to criticize the DR, but few compare what they are criticizing with the treatment by their own countries of would-be migrants from Haiti. American critics like Mayor de Blasio might reflect on how their country in effect made the situation worse, especially during the dictatorship that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide, turning boats carrying thousands of Haitian refugees back to Hispaniola. Haitians constitute a substantial number of the annual average of 400,000 illegal aliens deported by the United States in recent years. And unlike the United States or other countries critical of the Dominican Republic, the DR is still a developing country. According to the IMF World Economic Outlook Database of 2013, the DR ranked 91st in GDP per capita among the world’s 184 countries.

Constructive criticism is welcome, but politically correct denunciations only make a difficult situation worse. We hope that this article will help stimulate more informed discussion of this admittedly complex, emotionally charged issue. Continue reading “Multiple realities: Haitians in the Dominican Republic”

The main theme of this issue is the breakdown of the European consensus in the face of, and manifested by, different brands of extremism. This is not the first time Inroads has addressed Europe’s crises. As portrayed on the cover of our Summer/Fall 2004 issue, the most acute of those crises was the difficulty of integrating Muslims. In Winter/Spring 2010, writing at the time of the British election that brought David Cameron to power, Ian Malcolm noted that the Tories and Labour were clambering over each other to keep up with a public that wanted cuts to immigration, worried by threats of “terrorism, ghettoization, forced marriages, honour killings, anti-Semitism, homophobia, pressure to veil, crime and demands to import shari‘a.” Yet, Malcolm added, European journalists, academics and politicians, fearful of being labelled racist, were still engaged in wishful thinking on immigration, so that it took an American, Christopher Caldwellto lift the veil in his Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West.

Fast forwarding to now, there is no shortage of European opinion leaders who share what Malcolm depicted as Caldwell’s “implicit lament for old, conservative Europe, rich in tradition and self-confidence, a place that would have resisted the cultural challenge of Islam without hesitation.” There is nothing implicit in the argument by Éric Zemmour in Le suicide français, a much-discussed book published shortly before the murders at Charlie Hebdo, here reviewed by Philip Resnick. But most compelling are the laments of moderate Arab writers such as Mezri Haddad, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Kamel Daoud, which we have translated.

In Britain, Caldwell and Zemmour are given political voice by the United Kingdom Independence Party, which won 13 per cent of the vote in the May 7 election. The single seat captured by UKIP understates its impact, as it pushed both the Conservatives and Labour to be critical of open borders. In France Marine Le Pen’s National Front expresses a similar political tendency. But opposition to immigration is only one form the rejection of the postwar European consensus has taken. On April 28, The Independent of London claimed to have uncovered a loan to the National Front of €40 million (eight times its annual budget) from a bank with links to the Kremlin. The story went on to note,

Moscow has been building strong political – and allegedly financial – links with hard-right, nationalist parties all over the EU. There have been unconfirmed allegations in the United States that Moscow is funding the virulently xenophobic Hungarian party Jobbik and the avowedly neo-Nazi Greek party, Golden Dawn … While there have been no suggestions of Russian money going to UKIP, its leader Nigel Farage described Mr. Putin earlier this year as the world leader that he “admired most.”… Ms. Le Pen, who has made two visits to Moscow in 18 months, says that Mr. Putin is a “defender of the Christian heritage of European civilisation.”

We do not know just what Mr. Putin’s personal views are, but some insight is provided here by Ronald Beiner’s analysis of the ideas of Aleksandr Dugin, whom Foreign Affairs dubbed “Putin’s Brain.” How close he actually is to Putin is uncertain, but Dugin’s goal is nothing less than to unite all the global enemies of liberalism under Russian leadership, and to replace the current liberal dispensation with something virulently antimodern or premodern, a sort of fusion of totalitarian ideologies.

Finally, another kind of extremism is expressing itself on Europe’s Mediterranean shore. Grabbing the headlines are rickety boats full of would-be migrants, stoking the fear of uncontrolled immigration across the Mediterranean. But the threat cannot be separated from Europe’s economic woes. And these economic woes have given rise to what appears to be a different phenomenon in the south, Greece and Spain in particular, where parties on the radical left have surged.

Marc Sanjaume looks at Podemos, the Spanish anti-austerity party that has come from nowhere to challenge the established conservatives and social democrats in the polls. Sanjaume sets out Podemos’s program and prospects for next fall’s Spanish election, as well as its roots in the Indignados movement. Irene Martín Cortés, who wrote about the Indignados movement in our Winter/Spring 2013 issue, this time turns her attention to Greece and the history, program and hard choices of its anti-austerity party Syriza, which took power at the beginning of this year. Its predicament threatens the future of Greece and the European Union; its radical posture has antagonized its partners, placing into doubt the deal to bail out Greece’s debt. But it remains the favourite of Greek voters who, like Syriza’s leaders, cling to the hope of an arrangement that would allow it to at least appear to have kept its election promises. That enduring support says as much about the failure of the traditional parties of the centre-left and centre-right, both of which have governed in the years since the 2008 financial crisis and failed, as it does about Syriza.

In an important article in the Journal of Democracy, the journal’s founding co-editor, Larry Diamond, provides a wide-ranging analysis of what he calls the “Democratic Recession” that has accompanied the global economic downturn.1 The tide of democratization that Samuel Huntingdon called the “third wave,” which began with the collapse of Soviet Communism in the late 1980s and crested in 2006, is now receding. Since 2000 there have been 25 democratic breakdowns, as countries that enjoyed competitive elections and the rule of law regressed to dictatorship or military control. While 10 of the 25 have returned to the democratic fold, among the remaining defectors are significant actors relevant to this discussion. On Europe’s eastern front, Russia can no longer be classed as a democracy by any serious observer. Turkey is rapidly sliding toward authoritarian rule as the governing AKP subverts state institutions and President Erdoyan extends his personal powers to include punishment of media outlets that draw unflattering cartoons of his likeness.

In the face of the Western-inspired and Western-backed third wave, autocracies have evolved like strains of drug-resistant malaria. They have learned to mimic structures that gave Western institutions the ability to push for openness, press freedom and democracy. Thus, Russia’s RT television has all the professional presentation of the BBC – and the same disregard for facts and adherence to a party line of Fox News at the height of the Bush administration. Election-monitoring NGOs have sprung up in Russia and elsewhere with the sole function of rubber-stamping elections held by clients of Moscow.

This pushback against democratic institutions has accelerated in recent years as Russia endures the arrest, harassment and in some cases murder of opposition politicians, journalists and civil society activists. The inability of the domestic opposition or the West to respond to these attacks on what had been, for a brief bright moment, potentially universal human rights has emboldened autocrats like Putin. He is able to fund extreme-right parties around the world with impunity, and that leads to the heart of Diamond’s argument: democracy is under threat not only in Eurasia but also in the established democratic heartland of western Europe and North America. From a gridlocked Congress to deluded Texas governors declaring martial law to protect the Lone Star State from invasion by President Obama, there is not much to commend American governance structures. Mainstream European parties are seeing their support bases chewed up by extremists from the left and right, incapable of effectively defending the liberal, pluralist, social democratic structures that made them wealthy, successful and relatively equal.

Diamond concludes on a note of moderate optimism, noting that the receding tide hasn’t ebbed completely. People around the world continue to be inspired by the ideas of freedom and equality that underpin democracy. Autocrats who hold elections and claim to uphold principles of press freedom and judicial independence are demonstrating that democracy remains the only legitimate form of government. According to Diamond, we have not yet degenerated to the point that attacking those institutions is presented as acceptable or even positive.

We would like to share Diamond’s optimism, but what has been happening, as described in these pages, leaves us more pessimistic. As in the 1920s there is a weakness in the political establishment, left and right, that has led to a questioning, within Western democracies, of the legitimacy of our foundations. Europe is struggling with this hollowing out of its ideological heart, as the essays that follow illuminate in different ways. A question for readers on this side of the Atlantic is whether we offer any solutions or whether we will simply wait for this next, darker, tide to rise on our shores. Continue reading “Europe: Beset by extremes”