Tetet Nera-Lauron: Different but same-same? Movement building in times of right-wing populism

Tetet Nera-Lauron is the Program Manager of IBON International’s Climate Justice Program, coordinator of the Peoples’ Movement on Climate Change, representative to the Building Block on Climate Finance, and facilitation group member of Climate Justice Now and the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice. She is also one of the co-chairs of CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, an open platform that unites civil society around the world in the subject of development effectiveness. She lives in the Philippines.

We find ourselves in very strange and difficult times now —with the rise of protectionist governments and rhetoric; blatant xenophobia, sexism and discrimination; governments turning their concerns more and more inward (and backward, in most instances) to the detriment of the world at large, and power remaining in the hands of the wealthy elite and corporations. And in communities around the world we see this manifest as environmental destruction, violation of human rights, privatization of public goods, and even further decreases in access to public services. In these conditions—in these times—it’s sometimes hard to see even a ray of hope at the end of this tunnel.

Populism, by definition, is “a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic camps, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite,’ and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people”.

Populism in itself is not a dangerous thing. It is the combination of populism and a host ideology that one should be weary of.

While the world is deeply worried about what is happening in for example USA, waves of various populisms appeared in Southeast Asia in the wake of the Asian economic crisis of 1997, which also signaled the abrupt end to the spectacular rise of the so-called ‘Asian tigers.’

What we saw were populist ‘crusaders’, who mobilized for electoral aims by using nationalism, combined with an attack on the national elites and an attack on neoliberal globalization. They were eventually elected into presidency. Many of these had relatively short and unsuccessful terms of office, like Joseph Estrada (the Philippines) Roh Moo-hyun (South Korea), Chen Shui-bian (whose “government of the people” in Taiwan collapsed just after five months), and Thaksin Shinawatra (ousted as prime minister of Thailand after large protests and a military coup).

And now, we have Rodrigo ‘Digong’ Duterte, the Philippines’ 16th president, whose overwhelming victory has changed the political landscape dramatically. He was not the smooth and suave politician; on the contrary, he was rough and crude. He promised change – and the people, tired and weary from decades of broken promises wanted change and reason to be hopeful. And while there have been some whiffs of fresh air, nine months into office is ample time to get to the fundamentals.

Read the rest in Karibu Foundation‘s March 2017 newsletter.

The Osawatomie Speech: Obama and Roosevelt

President Obama is slowly swinging back toward his base as he moves toward a reelection campaign. Yesterday, he gave an important and revealing speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. Building on Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism language from Roosevelt’s 1910 Osawatomie speech, Obama lays the framework for reprising his platform of populist economics.

But Obama is not yet Roosevelt. “We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community,” Roosevelt said in his speech. “We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.” For Obama to get to that level, he needs to ask Elizabeth Warren to write his speeches and run as his 2012 vice presidential candidate.

Here are some highlights from Obama’s speech this week:

… Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let’s respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes – especially for the wealthy – our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, well, that’s the price of liberty.

Now, it’s a simple theory. And we have to admit, it’s one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That’s in America’s DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the 50s and 60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade. I mean, understand, it’s not as if we haven’t tried this theory. …

We simply cannot return to this brand of “you’re on your own” economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. We know that it doesn’t result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and in its future. We know it doesn’t result in a prosperity that trickles down. It results in a prosperity that’s enjoyed by fewer and fewer of our citisens.
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