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The Reincarnation of Benito Mussolini?

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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“It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep. My fellow-Italians we do not win any more. We must restore the Roman Empire: march on Rome, invade Ethiopia, revive law and order, make the trains run on time, stop the Bolshevists threat, close the borders to foreign influences on our Latin culture, restore Roman discipline and authority as symbolized by the bundle of wheat bound to an ax (the glorious fascist party), suppress strikes and social unrest, institute racial laws, take care of the people who have no voice, punish the crimes of the capitalistic class, restore discipline, in short make Italy great again, never mind constitutional guarantees and respect for human rights, never mind a free press or free speech, never mind political correctness!

We will insure all this through our elite praetorian guards, the Blackshirts. We must become winners again. I am destined to be the man who will restore the lost honor and the glory of Italy. Together we will construct an Italy which is commensurate to its great artistic achievements.”

If the above statements by Dictator Benito Mussolini sound slightly familiar, it is because we just heard them yesterday loud and clear at the RNC’s acceptance speech by Donald Trump. All that needs to be done is tweak them a bit. The very first quote about lions and sheep was actually tweeted by Trump only a few weeks ago. Then there is the quote about “we do not win any more” and “make America great again” propagandistically and mindlessly repeated time and again. “Fellow Italians” of course needs to be tweaked to “fellow-Americans,” closing the borders tweaked to Trump’s anti-Moslem immigration proposals, the anti-racial laws by some of the outrageous bigoted statements against Mexican-Americans, Moslem-Americans, women, people with disabilities, naturalized American citizens. Suppression of free speech can be tweaked by his anti-media statements, the Black-shirts advocacy can be replaced by his proposals that dissidents and protesters at his rallies be taken out on a stretcher. And of course “We must make Italy great again” gets replaced by “Make American Great Again.”

What has not escaped notice is that not only the rhetoric sounded familiar but even the body language and the gestures that appeared during the one hour plus speech were uncanningly and familiarly Mussolinesques. That raising of the chin with a firmly clenched mouth and a raised finger, that pose of determination and intransigence affirming one’s superiority. All that was needed was a war helmet and the resemblance would have been perfect. Some have gone as far as suggesting that we were witnessing a veritable reincarnation or rebirth of the infamous dictator.

For those who not know or do not wish to know much about modern history and believe that what happened in Italy between 1922 and 1945 could not possibly happen here, we have too many constitutional guarantees and checks and balances of power, it may be useful to be reminded that a majority of Americans actually supported Mussolini, at least his frightening rhetoric, for most of his dictatorship. They felt that he was molding a new race of patriotic nationalistic Italians who would be different from what they considered the undisciplined, impoverished, illiterate Italians arriving to the US from Southern Italy (among whom my own grandfather who arrived in American at the turn of the 20th century in his twenties). Mussolini, after all, was a different kind of Italian, with “high energy” (another Trumpian slogan), resolute, a man who built things, of few words, a man of action, even if slightly ridiculous at times. After all, he was making Italy great again and it would take nothing short then a dictator to accomplish such a feat, just as Trump is now posed to make America great again, after eight years of occupation of the White House by somebody descendent from an inferior non-while race, who was not even born in America and is therefore illegitimate.

One may ask: what are the characteristics which both Mussolini and Trump seem to have in common and which are found so appealing by so many Americans? Let me enumerate a few: xenophobia, ultra-nationalism parading as patriotism, anti-media and anti-free speech, the stressing of old-fashioned hierarchies such as authority, obedience, militarism, hard-work and discipline, the restoration of glory and greatness, ideological purity, the redressing of perceived social injustices, populism. Useful to remember too that Mussolini began his career not as a fascist but as a socialist in sympathy with the plight of the disadvantaged but then opportunistically changed direction when the political winds changed; something hat Trump has also done, for he began as a pro-choice democrat who is now a pro-life republican. The appeal to the gay community, trying to blame its persecution not on native bigotry but on international terrorism (hence the Orlando outrage prominently mentioned), is also intriguing. In any case, those who insist on declaring “that it cannot happen here” will perhaps have second thoughts now. At least one can hope so; for it rationality has already left our body politics, then God help us.

It may also be worthwhile to examine what the Europeans are thinking as we speak. After all Europe is the place where Fascism and Nazism took root. Europe is, after all, a place where the excesses of America are promptly denounced. It is safe to say that their sense of superior political sophistication is giving way to alarm and dismay. Europeans know quite well that democracies can collapse all of a sudden. They painfully experienced that phenomenon: that in times of fear and anger and economic hardship, stoked by those who would wrestle power, the demagogue appears promising the moon in the well and a restoration of law and order. He will point out everything that is corrupt in the polity; corrupted by money, that is. He knows it well since he is part of it; he had to become rich and famous and successful, as Trump in fact announced to his audience. The public interest is the least thing on his mind, although he makes pious pronouncements to it. What is at work, rather is a show-business parading as a political campaign. The crowd is entertained by circuses galore while the Empire disintegrates.

Enter the head-clown who promises a restored lost greatness with the bully’s penchant for the jugular. He attacks political correctness and takes over a Republican party which has prepared the way for him with bigotry, obstruction of the legislative process, and a racially tinged attitude toward the current US president. As previously mentioned, this is the Frankenstein monster coming to devour its maker. He is usually underestimated by its belittlers till it is too late; he may be anti-rational but he is not stupid; he is a master at deal-making and rabble rousing; a master at capturing resentments and a desire to reclaim something: power, confidence, vague unexpressed hopes and frustrations, and creating the right feelings and vibrations dissembling the fact that in reality he is a thug trafficking in contradictions fueled by hatred, but presenting himself as a savior of sorts; hence Mussolini redivisus.

This is something that is not seen very often. The closest we have seen it in contemporary Europe is Silvio Berlusconi’s political performance. The ones who most admire this Mussolini redivivus are politicians of the ilk of Le Pen, Putin, the Russian oligarchs, and just about all the right-wing populist leaders of the EU. No wonder Europe is alarmed. For the power of the Oval Office and the character of a bully necessarily make for an extremely dangerous combination, when combined with contempt for the media, a taste for the language of violence, a tremendous ego which swaggers as above the law. Indeed, as the likes of Adam, and Churchill have already warned, democracies do die at times; or as Socrates’ trial also teaches us, they are at times midwife to their own demise. Once dead, they usually stay dead and the best the bereft people can hope for is the patient waiting for a new Renaissance.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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