Editor's Column

The Populist Moment

By a strange alignment of the electoral stars, more than half the planet will cast a vote this year. In some countries, such as Taiwan, the conduct in January of free and fair elections whose results were accepted by voters, was a reassuring affirmation of the importance of democracy. The victory of the pro-sovereignty Democratic Progressive Party’s William Lai Ching-te, who won a historic third term for his party was, however, no cause for celebration for President Xi Jinping, who has labelled Lai Ching-te a dangerous separatist and warned that he would “not impede the inevitable trend of China’s reunification”. No one can take this threat lightly especially with the West so weak, divided and poorly armed, not least because Taiwan’s prosperity and freedom shine like a beacon of hope to those oppressed by the apparatchiks of the Chinese Communist Party.

The presidential elections in Russia, on the other hand, are a ghastly charade. Whatever eventually drives Putin from office, it’s unlikely to be the ballot box. Opposition politicians can count themselves lucky if they wake up breathing, even those like Vladimir Kara-Murza, who are serving lengthy prison sentences. Alexei Navalny was not tolerated even confined to a brutal Siberian gulag north of the Arctic Circle. Like journalist Anna Politkovskaya, lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, and numerous other deceased Putin critics, his death was shrouded in mystery. Yet everyone knows what happened.

India, one of the most vibrant democracies in the world, also goes to the polls, as does South Africa, and both are expected to hold free and fair elections. Yet in many Western democracies, the electoral cavalcade is shaping up to be a showdown between populist movements and progressive elites determined to impose a “Brave New World” agenda on the masses. 

The European Parliamentary elections in June are a case in point. How strong the Right will be is a cause of great concern to the progressive elites. Anti-immigration and Euro-sceptic parties are expected to increase their representation driven by discontent with the failure to manage immigration. In Germany, there have been progressive rallies calling for the banning of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party yet supporters point out that far from being anti-democratic the AfD supports freedom of speech and opposed vaccine mandates during the pandemic. Farmers’ rallies against punitive climate-driven agricultural policies have also frightened progressive elites as they have spread across Europe.

If you listen to mainstream media—the mouthpiece of the anointed—populism is a threat to democracy. In reality, what the progressive elites and the mainstream media denigrate as populism is majoritarian democracy and the reason they fear and disparage it is because they know that much of their program would never be endorsed at the ballot box.

Trump is presented as a menace to the legal system because he is critical of judges, a threat to the media for deriding journalists as the purveyors of “fake news”, and the harbinger of fascism because he denounced the results of the 2020 presidential election as fraudulent. Trump must be defeated at any cost it seems because—Heaven forfend!—he would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.

From the other side of the political divide, this portrait looks like a reflection in the distorting mirror of a fun fair. Hillary Clinton denounced the results of the 2016 election without being accused of inciting treason, as have many failed presidential candidates before her. The media failed miserably to interrogate Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia which, after years of investigation, was shown to have no basis in evidence. The media was also shamefully silent on the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop and swallowed whole the lie put forward by fifty-one former US intelligence officials that the laptop was “Russian disinformation”. Only the New York Post, particularly Miranda Devine who contributes to Quadrant, courageously reported the truth and literally wrote the book on “The Laptop from Hell”. The contents of the laptop, forensically examined and reported on by Devine, have given rise to credible allegations of corruption against Biden family members which are being investigated by Congress. Biden junior is also facing federal gun charges for allegedly lying about his drug use while applying for a firearm as well as a glacially slow probe from the Department of Justice into allegations of tax fraud.

Yet it is not Biden’s alleged corruption that has captured the attention of partisan media but the attempts to disqualify Trump from running for election. It all seems to be evidence of the profound politicisation of the administration and the judiciary in the US. The legal cases mounted against Trump are hardly better, especially given the anaemic investigation of Hunter Biden. 

Sadly, they look more like something one would see in authoritarian countries that use lawfare to criminalise and bankrupt political opponents. Indeed, in Putin’s Russia opposition figures such as Yekatarina Duntsova and Boris Nadezhdin were disqualified from running in the presidential elections on (pardon the pun) trumped-up charges.

We are delighted that the Real Clear Politics Foundation on March 7 awarded Devine its inaugural Samizdat Prize, alongside journalist Matt Taibbi and Stanford epidemiologist Dr Jay Bhattacharya, to celebrate their unwavering commitment to truth and free speech. It is sadly highly appropriate that the award should be named Samizdat, which was the only way dissidents in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc could publish information that was censored by the communist state.

There have been uncomfortable echoes of communist-style censorship throughout the Covid era. Martin Kulldorf, who was formerly a professor of medicine at Harvard, wrote in the City Journal this week, how he, together with Professor Bhattacharya and Professor Sunetra of Oxford University were disparaged as “fringe epidemiologists” for daring to denounce lockdowns in the Great Barrington Declaration. At the request of the US government, he was censored on social media which had decided that free-speech rights did not apply to honest scientific comments at odds with the official line. He writes, “I was tempted just to shut up, but a Harvard colleague convinced me otherwise. Her family had been active against communism in Eastern Europe, and she reminded me that we needed to use whatever openings we could find—while self-censoring, when necessary, to avoid getting suspended or fired.” Unfortunately, he was sacked for daring to defend well-established facts such as infection-acquired immunity is superior to vaccine-acquired immunity. 

The showdown between populism and the elites is not confined to elections. In Ireland, as John O’Sullivan writes, there was a “breezy assumption” that voters would accept “progressive” amendments to the Constitution that would have weakened the family as the primary unit of society and the role of women in the home. Instead, they were rejected by 68 per cent and 74 per cent of voters respectively. 

In New Zealand, as Oliver Hartwich writes, the legacy of the progressive government of Jacinda Ardern has been dismantled in 100 days with the abolition of the highly controversial Three Waters program, which would have put the nation’s water infrastructure into a race-based co-governance structure with Māori. The Māori Health Authority has also been abolished, uniting all health services in one organisation. Yet National Party’s leader Christopher Luxon and his coalition partners will take a lot longer to repair the damage of the Ardern years.

In the Rochdale by-election in England, Andrew Cusack writes that the victory of George Galloway “may be a sign of the weakening of the near-universal hold liberal progressivism has had on the European left” yet that is hardly encouraging considering that as Cusack writes, “Galloway has figured out that chasing after a politically radicalised but culturally non-revolutionary subset of voters from immigrant Muslim backgrounds highly concentrated in certain constituencies can be a successful strategy.” We have seen the Australian Labor Party attempting to pursue a similar strategy in electorates with a significant Muslim minority and the results have been to give greater leverage to some of the most intolerant voices in that community. 

As Rachael Kohn notes, “the former Grand Mufti of Australia, Sheik Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly, who publicly preached hatred of Jews and Israel and was a frequent promoter of the conspiracy beliefs contained in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was recently eulogised as ‘a man who reflected and embodied the spirit of the community’”. 

The goal of progressives is to tear down the constructs of national identity. As Mervyn Bendle observes, the destruction of Anzac tradition has been a long-term project of the Left and would delight them, especially given their success in destroying Australia Day and their desire to recover their momentum after the failure of their campaign to entrench the Voice in the Constitution. “Anzac Day stands alone on the calendar as a symbolic bastion of national identity, an identity the Left wants expunged not only to create further room for its ever-growing collection of ersatz days of pride and mourning but also to realise its goal of creating a cultural tabula rasa that can be re-engineered according to progressivist ideology.” Nothing better sums up the purpose of the progressive elite, nor why it will be resisted at the ballot box.

The Populist Moment will be the subject of discussion at an event jointly hosted by Quadrant and the Danube Institute on April 8 at the Fullerton Hotel in Sydney featuring former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the Australian’s Paul Kelly, and David Martin Jones and Istvan Kiss of the Danube Institute

Book via this link or call (03) 8317 8147

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