Monday, December 5, 2016

Austrians Show They Have The Sense Not To Chuck Their Nation Into History's Dumpster

Image may contain: Phil Stahl
Yours truly outside Schloss Schonbrunn, in Vienna, Austria last September.

On our visit to Vienna last September, we beheld a thoroughly civilized and cosmopolitan city full of life and culture. Alas, it also had the reputation of being one of Adolf Hitler's haunts as he tried to scrabble together a career as an artist. (He failed). One theory is that his failures in the artistic sphere propelled him to become the notorious German Chancellor-Dictator by 1933. My suspicion is his mind was already made up for mischief long before that, and as an authoritarian narcissist he'd never have been satisfied - even as an acclaimed artist. His goal was to dominate other people.  And like the Germans, Austrians also remember with trepidation how an unhinged fascist took control of their nation more than 77 years ago.

So it was yesterday  the whole Austrian nation waited with bated breath for the outcome of an election that pitted an extreme right wing nationalist (and proto-fascist) against a leftish, former leader of the Green Party .  But in this case, the guy who got only 46 percent of the popular vote, the Nazi -glorifying Norbert Hofer - whose party traces its ideological roots back to the strident neo-Nazism of its best-known leader, the late Jörg Haider- was the one defeated.  This was compliments of Alexander van der Bellen, whose 53% popular vote win ushered in sighs of relief across Europe.

In the words of Sigmar Gabriel, the German Vice-Chancellor, "A load has been taken off the mind of all Europe. This is a clear victory for good sense against right wing populism."

Ulrich Kelber- a German minister-  went further, suggesting the Austrian vote represented a 'backlash' against the nominal election of Trump last month in the U.S.  Well, maybe, maybe not. More likely not. I would define a "backlash" as a more significant difference in popular vote, say at least along the lines of 67% to  33%.  But at least we may declare it a temporary repudiation of right wing nationalism which remains alive and well in other nations, including France and Britain. (In France, with the Socialists now in disarray, Marine Le Pen  and her National Front will face off against a center rightist, Francois Fillon.)

Van der Bellen’s supporters
Jubilant Austrians - many likely mindful of Hitler's Anschluss, hold a sign reading "Thank God!" after the election.

Europe had won at least a reprieve, and Austria escaped the calumniation and scorn had it elected a Trump-like populist Nazi sympathizer. Until the election many Austrian rightists and neo-Nazis believed Hofer would benefit from the manic wave that sent Trump to a minority victory in the U.S. A minority victory because had the same voting template in Austria been used in the U.S. Trump would have been dumped like Hofer.

At the run-off vote in May, 50.35% of the population voted for Van der Bellen and 49.65% for Hofer. This slight difference sent political tremors through the small nation.  In addition, many negative nabobs - maybe hoping for a Hofer win- predicted the Austrian public, facing cold temperatures and fatigued after almost a year of campaigning would stay home. They were wrong. The voter turnout was 73.8%, up from 72.65% in May.

Austrians - unlike too many Americans (namely millennials, African-Americans) -  knew what was on the line and understood they couldn't allow this election to be remotely close. According to the public broadcaster ORF’s first exit poll, Van der Bellen had gained 53.4% of the vote with over 60% of voting districts counted – too strong a lead to be turned around by Hofer, who had 46.6% of the vote. By 7pm local time with almost 100% counted, Van der Bellen was still on 53.3% – an improvement of 3% on the May vote. In Vienna 65% supported Van der Bellen and only 35% voted for Hofer.

Another note for optimism: It seems the British rightist  nationalist Nigel Farage went too far in some of his comments and angered the Austrian rightists.  Anton Mahdalik, a Freedom party member of the Vienna city council, criticized  Farage for contributing to the party’s defeat after claiming on Fox News that Hofer would hold a referendum on Austria leaving the EU. “  According to Mahdalik: "That didn’t help us, it hindered us,” saying that an overwhelming majority of Austrians support EU membership.

Hofer himself described Farage’s comments as a “crass misjudgment”, adding that “it doesn’t fill me with joy when someone meddles from outside”.

Meanwhile,  Le Pen took to Twitter to cheer on the Freedom party, which sits in the same party bloc in the European parliament as hers, saying “the next parliamentary votes will be those of our victory”.   Don't bank on it if sanity continues to reign!

Also yesterday, another, native born right fruitcake - actually an overgrown adolescent named Donald Trump - took to Twitter. This time to try to tear into Alec Baldwin's terrific SNL portrayal of him re-tweeting mentally unstable adolescents (kindred spirits?).  Baldwin returned to Saturday Night Live to mock President-elect Donald Trump and his Twitter habit, which this week included retweeting a 16-year-old high school student.

Seems the unhinged twerp Trump, like his splenetic followers, couldn't keep his mitts off his Twitter and had to expel his BS yesterday, not only at Baldwin but China too.. If he finally gets sworn in will he also be using Twitter to make his foreign policy? Maybe what we need is to get this guy 4 years worth of diapers and a sippy cup  as opposed to access to a cell phone or telephone.

BWAAAAHAHA! Kellyanne, You pwomised I could keep me Twitter!"

The best thing the corporate media could do is to cease re-broadcasting this overgrown baby's tweets, enabling them to virtually become an alternate media standard - when it embodies cartoon lingo.  Ignore the damned tweets, often fired off recklessly at anything that gets his goat, and force him to hold an actual press conference where he's held accountable. Respecting Donald Dump's tweet storms merely legitimizes an alternative,  deformed, infantile reality which ought to be rejected by sane citizens. I.e. grownups.

One thing you don't want to do is antagonize a nation that holds nearly $1.5 trillion in U.S. bonds.

Meanwhile, our Austrian friends are aghast a nincompoop like Trump could also be rejected by 53 percent of a population but manage to get in, based on an anachronistic electoral vote system. A system which, ironically, was intended to prevent the very sort of populist demagogue like Trump from being President.  The Trump Nazis and racist hate mongers seem to forget that James Madison - writing in The Federalist No. 10- argued that the electoral college is intended to protect the Republic from mischief of faction, i.e. instigated by a common impulse from misguided voters that is adverse to the rights of the majority of citizens. But don't hold your breath. It will likely go over their heads.

But most of us who accept Madison's principle would insist the electors on December 19th have the moral responsibility and constitutional right to support the popular vote winner in this election - like the Austrians did in theirs. That means becoming "faithless" electors in the interest of preserving the Republic, as opposed to allowing it to be finally hurled into history's dustbin.

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